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Towards a New Social Contract

Indra Nath Mukherji

Edited by Ponna Wignaraja and Susil Sirivardana
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 459, Rs. 595.00


Nearly 500 million people live under conditions of poverty in South Asia, representing almost half of the total number of poor in the world. All the major countries in the region are experimenting with decentralization reforms, ostensibly to provide more power and resources to local governments, but there is as yet no clear cut evidence that these reforms are helping to reduce poverty. Successful pro-poor efforts hinge on other complementary reforms in governance that foster participation, accountability and transparency without which decentralization can simply concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few at the local level.   This book attempts to bring three agendas centred on governance, poverty reduction and decentralization in a coherent manner. It seeks to link governance agenda with emphasis on participatory development to decentralization of power and resources to the grassroots level in order to lay the basis for sustained poverty reduction.   The book is the outcome of research on poverty under the auspices of South Asian Perspective Network Association (SAPNA), a network of individuals and institutions who collectively have been learning from the ground experience in South Asia through action research and praxis, and conceptualizing macro-micro strategic options for good governance, participatory democracy and development, with empowerment of the poor as the entry point.   This book on the pro-poor and governance questions is the seventh in the series and addresses the questions of existing democratic deficits at different levels of governance and points to the opportunity provided by decentralization and social reforms for reversing the adverse consequences of highly centralized state structures and decision-making processes in South Asia. It highlights “how to build countervailing power, particularly of the poor and vulnerable groups so that they can participate as subjects, not objects of development”(p.17).   The volume is structured in three parts. Part I provides a conceptual framework. Part II consists of six case studies from selected locations in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal which demonstrate different models of the link between pro-poor growth, decentralization and poverty eradication. Part III draws some critical lessons from those illustrative cases. The editors maintain that SAPNA’s approach to poverty eradication was not technocratic, but value-led and a political one. Its pro-poor growth strategy is based on the observable evidence of the efficiency of the poor and a three sector model—the public, private and the poor. To bring out its efficiency, the poor had to be ...

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