ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Budget Transparency and Participation

Recommendations to the Fourteenth Finance Commission

In a formal sense, the Government of India provides considerable transparency in the budget process, but in a substantive sense, public participation is very limited. The Fourteenth Finance Commission has the opportunity to recommend true budget transparency, accountability and participation.

The hallmark of a vibrant democracy is the strength and quality of participation by its citizens. Electing representatives to Parliament and state legislatures every five years is not enough. The real measure of participation is the extent to which citizens are actively engaged in the political process during those five years. In particular, citizens should question representatives continuously and hold them to account. Similarly, elected parliamentarians should perform their oversight duty and hold the executive to account. Public participation in the budget process is especially important, as budgets that reflect the needs and priorities of a country and its people are fundamental to the success of any public policy, particularly policies related to service delivery. To help ensure that services respond to citizens’ needs and are of good quality, citizens – the recipients of services – must engage throughout the budget process. Effective engagement in turn, whether at the national or sub-national levels, depends on the citizens’ access to timely and relevant information as well as the establishment of formal spaces for participation in the budget process.

India is fairly transparent with respect to its budget on the national level and some opportunities to participate in the budget process do exist. For example, India’s score on the 2012 Open Budget Survey (OBS),1 an independent and comparative study of budget transparency and accountability, was 68 out of 100, giving it an enviable rank of 14 out of the 100, countries participating in the survey. Further, instruments such as citizens’ charters, right to information, e-governance, report cards, and social audits have helped strengthen transparency in the functioning of the government and empowered citizens with information required for a meaningful citizen-government engagement. Yet, given the critical role of transparency, accountability, and participation in ensuring good governance, more can and should be done.

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