has a network of 20-odd documentation centres on developing countries
based in its different cities, The oldest one,
CRIDFV, based in Rennes and founded by the
eminent soil scientist Alain Ruillan, recently
completed 20 years of its existence. As part of
its anniversary celebrations, cmow invited me
to deliver a series of lectures in Rennes,
Lorient, Caen and Lyon on 'Environment and
Democracy'. In 1994, the French magazine Les
Realites de Vecalogic had given me the
Environmentalist of the Year award, primarily
for my writings on how local and global
democracies are important for environmental
caring and sharing.
At the formal reception arranged for me
by the Rennes municipality, I asked the mayor's representative what she did in the city's
municipality. She surprised me by saying that
she was an elected councillor responsible for
managing the city's relations with NGOS Or
Iassociations', as they are called in France. She
explained that the city worked closely with
NGOs and even had agreements with serve of
them for carrying out specific activities. She
had been looking after this work for two
terms, that is, nearly 12 years.
Loic Gerard Of CRIDV explained further
that the city had set up a separate office for
interacting with and supporting 1,400 local
NGOS, out of some 2,000. CRIDEV itself received
considerable support from the city. In this
way, Gerard added, the city had steered clear
of building up a relationship of patronage
with NGOS. Usually, in many urban centres,
favoured NGOS get more support and the less
favoured ones are shown the door.
At the reception, there were other councillors who equally intrigued and interested me.
A young man introduced himself as a councillor who had just been given the job of nurturing the city's relations with developing
nations. He was just two months in the position and was trying to build up a programme in this area.
Another young man said that he was a
member of the city's Red and Green Party.
Over the years, the French Green Partv has
split and changed political ideologies, especially owing to the mercurial character of its
celebrated founder, Brice Lalonde. Lalonde
had led a militant struggle in the 1970s against
nuclear power stations in the country. Later,
-6-e-cemb-er 1 5ji% DoWn To"rth
he had founded bne of Europe's strongest
Green parties. But in the 1980s, he split the
party and joined the socialist government of
President Francois Mitterand. In recent
months, he has moved further on and joined
the right wing ruling party.
This left the French Greens in considerable political disarray. So a group of young
people in Rennes, with about 250'adherents',
decided to form the city-based Red and Green
Party to emphasise that they were greens with
a clear socialist core. In a traditionally socialist
city, they won four seats in the city's
53-member council. A councillor present at
my reception laughed when I told him that all
environmentalists were supposed to be like
watermelons, as a popular saying goes: green
on the outside and red on the inside. "I wish
all greens in France would remember that," he
I he reception left a deep impression on
me on the power of local democracy and
decentralisation in making rich and vibrant
innovations in social and political spheres.
Cities can and do nominate their own ministers to deal with j(-.os and developing countries. Local groups can establish their own
parties to deal with their own particular problems; in fact, the Green Party phenomenon
started in Europe at the municipal level. And
all this in a country like France - which
together with the UK, remains one of the most
centralised of all western European states
when compared to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. In India, on the other hand, we have
completely destroyed our village and city governments. In recent years, thanks to the fillip
given by the Rajiv Gandhi government, there
have been some efforts to revive local governments in villages, but the movement towards
city governments still remains stultified.
I am quite sure that if local democratic
institutions are strengthened in this country,
with the ongoing simultaneous strengthening
of the civil society, India too will witness increased vibrancy and numerous innovations.
Already, several NGos have started working
with panchayats in the rural areas, playing the
traditional role of educators and trainers.
Some NGOS have even tried to influence these
institutions directly by setting up their own
candidates. In fact, every effort in this dircetion can only make the country more dynamic.