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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An NGO Our Democracy Can Really Use

I remember reading an interview of Karan Thapar, with his usual 'got you' style, talking to P. Chidambaram about reservations issue during the peak of student protests, last year, who were protesting against Arjun Singh's brand of perverse educational justice. In the interview Chidambaram refused to answer any data related questions on quotes and castes. He kept saying Thapar's forum is not people's forum. Of course, Chidambaram was refereeing to the country's Parliament, which to most MPs is the only valid people's forum - that doesn't mean they take it seriously. Parliament, in it's various forms, is supreme in any democracy. Hence the importance of PRS.

PRS is an NGO, run by C. V. Madhukar within the premises of Center for Policy Research (headed by Pratap Bhanu Mehta), that summaries bills in parliament, potential law of the land, into short, readable bullet point pages stripped of partisanship. Clear bills are an important aspect of parliamentary debate and for future interpretation of the law by executive and judiciary branches. But first there has to be an informed debate. That's why organizations like PRS are extremely useful and vital for a democracy to function.

Madhukar said his six-person team, financed by the Ford Foundation, is the country’s first non-partisan research service focused on pending legislation. So far, about 60 MPs have used the service, he said.

The briefs are sent to all the MPs, about 700 journalists and 1,000 non-governmental organizations around the country. The group boils down 40-page Bills into four-to-six pages of bullet points and analysis, stripped of legalese and partisanship. They highlight key points and provide context—the product of a month of research and interviews with stakeholders, outside experts and the government officials who drafted the Bills. The briefs are available for free on the PRS website (www.prsindia.org).

PRS, at an MP’s request, also prepares backgrounders on specific topics, often on short notice before a parliamentary debate. Those notes are then available to any MP who requests them. [LiveMint]

The work done by PRS is an alternative to Parliament library service (Larrdis) but, I think, is equally important. We have too many politically motivated useless NGOs in our country. This one stands out and well worth keeping.