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The 'Upper house' concept - some replies

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Governance

Dear Friends, this is to clarify on the concept of ‘upper house’ which seems to be widely discussed some time ago in Praja.  I stumbled upon the comments of ‘Leo Saldhana’ which I am reproducing.

‘Having said that, I am appalled that you are supporting the "upper house" concept of Mr Manivannan. I am not sure what has gone wrong with his understanding of the Indian Constitution, by which he has sworn to join IAS. But surely he knows this much: that a House is constituted not by bureaucratic appointees (as his illegitimate upper house is), but instead it assumes the honour of due representation only when its powers flow from the Constitution. Ask him please to stop talking such nonsense. Further, ABIDE is Ananth Kumar's "upper house" as BATF was S M Krishna's.’

If we ignore the unwanted anger in his expression, we are left with the fact that, the ‘upper house’ concept is being mis-understood. Instead of trying to understand the concept, people are still boxing whether the term used is proper or not.

Let me clarify it further.

  1. ‘Upper house’ is not the appropriate term. For want of a correct term, and considering that it was an informal discussion, the word ‘upper house’ was used, hoping that readers will give more importance to the concept than the term!
  1. What is meant is, an institution, consisting of the eminent citizens in the society, who can’t get normally elected, but who can contribute positively to governance thru their wisdom. This will allow the professionalism and wisdom available in the society is tapped by the government, for the benefit of its citizens.
  1. The question will come, why can’t they get elected? The answer is: They may not be able to get elected, because of three reasons:
    1. The election system followed itself is not fool-proof. ‘First- past- the- post’ (FPTP) system has its serious drawbacks, like, giving a situation where a person getting less than 30% of votes getting elected as the representative. This problem is more accentuated in a pluralistic society like India, as the votes are always split.
    1. Even in this first-past-the-post system, there are further distortions in practice, like money-muscle power, caste equations, voter apathy etc influencing the outcome. It may take another 10 or 20 years to make the elections free from these distortions.
    1. With 60% of literacy (real ‘education’ to understand the concept of political rights etc will be much less!) the possibility of electorate understanding the issues involved it is less. Thus the electorate itself is not in a position to select what is good for us. Because, democracy’s effectiveness stands on the foundation of certain amount of maturity among the voters.
  1. Due to these distortions, the current system of election will not be able to throw the appropriate leaders to govern us. But, at the same time, the voice of the people has to get its due. Hence we have no option, but to continue with this system for time being-popularly elected houses and governments. (all three tiers)
  1. Does it mean that we have no way to get appropriate leaders to participate in the process of governance, rather than thru the distorted process? If we don’t have, we better invent one. Else, if we leave it to the society and election process to mature, we may take decades, why, even centuries, while all other countries would have marched ahead.
  1. Many options can be worked out. One among the option is the ‘upper house’ concept as mentioned. Let’s rename it into something better before Leo Saldana goes into a rage again! (Praja friends can think of an appropriate name!)
  1. Now, the essence of this institution/platform is ‘selection’. Means, members will be ‘selected’ and not ‘elected’. At the same time, it’s not that some babus will arbitrarily select whomever they want! There should be transparent, scientific process. Again, one example is what was attempted in both Hubli-Dharwar and Mysore.
  1. In both the cities, the members were selected thru a vast number of ‘citizen committees’ formed per each polling booth. Like, each polling both will have 9 representatives ‘selected’, and one among the nine will be the team leader. All such ‘team leaders’ will form a panel, from which the members can be nominated to the house.
  1. Another option is to make the heads of proven NGOs as ex-officio members. There may be better options and ideas. But, I hope the concept is now clear.
  1. The citizen committees in both Hubli-Dharwad & Mysore were formed very scientifically (a special software was made!), selecting citizens among those who applied, giving weight-age to relevant experience, educational qualification, reservation for women etc.
  1. Both BATF and ABIDe might have not been accepted as they did not represent the cross section of the society. Whereas the ‘citizen committee model’ makes provision to select members from grass roots. The system was accepted by the citizens.
  1. If members are interested in that Mysore model, I will send the details in next post. I hope the concept is clear now. Nothing is fool-proof. But, this will definitely make the governance better. Feel free to comment. ‘Participatory governance’ is my area of interest.

Comments

n's picture

Excellent analysis and

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Excellent analysis and information! I believe something similar was recommended in the governance recommendations for Bengaluru - that resident welfare association (RWA) representatives be given representation. Comments below are purely from an "armchair" perspective with no experience whatsoever and nothing (except praise) is meant to be personal.

- You have correctly pointed out that upper house is a misnomer and has snobbish connotations (British legacy?). Instead of lower and upper house, they could be called House of Elected Representatives (ERs) and House of Nominated Representatives (NRs). Or, other easily understood names.

- Very, very commendable and transparent selection procedure. There will be people who criticize; you cannot keep everyone happy.

- Participation in the process of governance should be clearly defined. In other words, are recommendations of NRs fully or partially binding? Will the NRs have veto powers on all items of discussion or on certain important ones?

- The biggest problems in India in general have always been the speed in decision-making and effective implementation (leaving out the elephant in the room - corruption).

- More number of people involved on a given issue directly translates to more delays in the decision-making process.

- The NRs do bring in their expertise and professionalism to most issues / projects.

- As long as the balance is struck between the professionalism and efficiency, the concept of ERs and NRs will be a success. The better the synergies, faster the decisions.

- Hopefully, weightage will also be given to locals experts who are domiciles for a long period.

- There is always the danger of excessive friction and status quo due to ego-clashes due to differences in age, position / power perceptions etc. There need to be well-defined procedures for quick resolution; these will be fine-tuned through experience. Perhaps, people with people-management skills (MBAs) might help. It wouldn't do to spend precious time firefighting than working toward development.

- Similar turf problems may occur with incumbent ERs being resentful of the "intrusion" by unelected NRs.

I am sure with your better experience, you would have already sorted through majority of the above issues.

Conclusion: an eminently workable and democratically suitable idea that results in professional, inclusive development but one that needs to be fine-tuned so that clarity of roles are well-defined. The requirement exists as the ERs are generally not technically qualified and bureaucrats have to handle multiple technical and other issues. In today's world of increasingly specialized professions, it is important to have experienced (not necessarily well-known) professionals. It might also help to include the most vociferous opponents of any development so they can see the big picture (of course, in the process stifling their voice to a great extent) ... ;-)


Naveen's picture

Why not elect "advisors" too ?

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an institution, consisting of the eminent citizens in the society, who can’t get normally elected, but who can contribute positively to governance thru their wisdom. This will allow the professionalism and wisdom available in the society is tapped by the government, for the benefit of its citizens

requirement exists as the ERs are generally not technically qualified and bureaucrats have to handle multiple technical and other issues. In today's world of increasingly specialized professions, it is important to have experienced (not necessarily well-known) professionals

democracy’s effectiveness stands on the foundation of certain amount of maturity among the voters....Due to these distortions, the current system of election will not be able to throw the appropriate leaders to govern us

 

All very true - & explains the pathetic state of the country's governance mechanisms & the negligible progress that we have made for improving the same.

If India has to keep pace with other nations, it badly needs the expertise of professionals for governance in various fields. The current system leaves almost everything to the mercy of these "elected reps". In better evolved democracies such as the United states, even judges are elected.

Is it not time now to extend the election process not just to a set of "elected representatives" (who, though elected, are not competent to take decisions that need expertise in specialized fields), but also to a set of "advisors" to the govt in various fields ? This would legitimize their positions whilst also encouraging the middle classes (who so far have not shown any inclination to be involved in the election process) to visit the polling booths, at least to cast their votes for such professional "advisors", if not for MLAs or MPs.

silkboard's picture

Why not hire? Mandatory govt service !?

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Wanted to understand the issues with Govt hiring industry professionals. Since babus are not made to specialize in given areas (silk worm today, electricity tomorrow :)), there is a need for resident groups to build and retain specialists. What would be the issues in hiring specialists?

  • There aren't enough people (capacity) with the required experties. Universities aren't teaching urban planning, egovernance etc. Right?
  • Govt can't compete with private sector (builders, developers, IT companies) for such expertise. Low salaries etc?
  • Can't hire many full time life-term employees? Project based temporary hiring could be an option.

Upper house, Nominated members in Metropolitan councils etc are all suggestions to address the quality/capacity problem on government side. Since this is such a critical need for our cities/governments, mandatory govt service for all professionals (say, any 2 years in your career) could be a radical approach here. Forces us all get our hands dirty, and at the same time exposes govt functions to all educated citizens.

Mandatory govt service would require someone to match jobs and skills. Some jobs would be more in demand than others. There would be more complications, but why not think different and force everyone to do their bit for the nation?

kbsyed61's picture

Citizens Committees, ABIDe, BATF!

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Mr. Manivannan,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I would propose the nomenclature to be "Citizens Committee" which gives the right impression and purpose.

ABIDe and BATF are not in the same league of Citizens Committees. As you have mentioned citizen committees are all about citizens say in planning and implementing civic works. It is about participation from citizen as part of their civic duty in keeping the agency and govt in check.

I am afraid ABIDe like groups are not meant for that. Basically they are formed to showcase that city would be turned into "World class" by having a parallel body which unleashes plans and policies which may or may not have any mechanism to listen to the citizens. What amuses me is the need for body like ABIDe. The fact is state govt,ministries and its agencies have failed in their duty to meet the citizen's demand for better PT system, garbage disposal system, transparent tax collection system & building permits regime and accountable governance. This is a grand wish list because of corruption, inefficiencies, indifferent public representatives and un-caring citizenry. Since government and ruling parties doesn't want to fix these, as these are the issues they feed and flourishes. Instead  a parrallel body like ABIDe to do some cosmetic changeover - more flyovers, More fancy buses etc.

[Edited for clarity and removing off-topic relevance]


 

silkboard's picture

Getting back to the intent

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Syed, better not turn this into ABIDe bashing thread. But, to develop this concept (upper house, citizen council etc) further, it is important to understand and distinguish between multiple problems that these try to address:

  1. Shortage of expertise in designing public systems / urban planning? In other words, our lack of trust in existing ways of getting such expertise (corporators, KAS, or technocrats in governments)?
  2. Or, is it to get "prominent" citizens (who may not be able to win elections) to contribute in local development? (Rajya Sabha types)
  3. Or, is it to improve citizen participation in making decisions and resolving conflicts?

To me, ABIDe/BATF were trying to do either #1 or #2, but certainly not #3. If they claimed doing all 3, then criticism is certainly to be expected.

For point #2, shades of Rajya Sabha like model at local city level are seen in local governance reforms proposals - refer to nominated members in Metropolitan Planning councils or equivalents in various proposals like Kasturirangan co. report, similar proposal from Abide(!), etc.

idontspam's picture

ABIDe + G1

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  It started well with higher frequency and was well placed with convenience. Now it has reduced to same old story of BMTC's apathy towards public convenience

I dont see how the comment tarnishes direction based routing as a concept. G1 does not prove or disprove anything for the other 12 + circle routes. That way you can make the point that just because Majestic has a good population all buses should touch that point otherwise its a failure even if it serves 90% of the route. With bus priority for the big routes implemented there is huge potential for people to congregate around these routes as trunk. For that to happen BMTC has to persist with high frequency for years on end regardless of fluctuations of demand in between. Trunk Bus & train routes has to lead development not the other way round.

 

silkboard's picture

Please ...

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There are other better posts to discuss Big10/routing itself. Let one offtopic note not derail this thread. However, it goes to show how half-experts (not pointing anyone out, referring to all of us here) get to discuss implementations (arguably) without detailed knowledge, data, and with opinions.

See, there are subtle differences between:

  1. requsts - telling govt what we want fixed
  2. proposals - suggesting govt few concrete ways of fixing a problem
  3. implementation - telling govt how exactly (technology, vendor) we want it fixed

Citizen committees/NGOs etc should not be into #3 just by themselves, MUST NOT have large roles in implementation, except for watching for corruption and promoting transparency, which will lead to more data about public works, and in turn better requests and proposals from citizens.

Naveen's picture

Too few elected

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shades of Rajya Sabha like model at local city level are seen in local governance reforms proposals - refer to nominated members in Metropolitan Planning councils or equivalents in various proposals like Kasturirangan co. report, similar proposal from Abide(!), etc.

The problem actually lies here - when we elect only a handful of politicians who control or have a say in who gets 'nominated', they tend to 'nominate' their own party members or members who they can handle. In worse cases, they misuse such powers by favoring their own children, nephews, etc whilst the opposition keeps screaming.

In any case, the 'nominated' members are unlikely to be the most suitable that the state or city has for the position. Citizen participation is desirable & also necessary in 'electing' such nominees instead of having adhoc bodies such as ABIDe. However, citizen participation is not needed beyond this point other than to make recommendations, monitor corruption, check favoritism, etc. else citizens will keep making more & more demands.

idontspam's picture

 How is 'suggesting a few

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 How is 'suggesting a few ways of fixing a problem' not the same as 'telling govt how we want it fixed'?

abidpqa's picture

Rajya Sabha elections

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Let all the citizens have the right to vote in Rajya Sabha elections. Slowly extend the people who can vote for Rajya Sabha, like members of the local bodies, finally all the citizens.

kbsyed61's picture

Jittery??

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[Deleted]

kbsyed61's picture

Citizen Council, Why, What, Where,Who and How?

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SB,

 For a useful discussion It would be important to get answers for Why, what, where, who and how of 'upper house" or "Citizen Council". The questions would be:

  1. Why do we need these upper house or citizen council?
  2. Where does it needs to be?
  3. Who will form the council house?
  4. How will the council be formed? Appointed? Anointed?Selected?Elected
  5. What does it would do?

Hope we will find answers to these questions that would set the tone for a vibrant discussion.

 

silkboard's picture

IDS - about options

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Should probably word it better. asking how exactly something should be fixed (with stress on a particular technology) is implementation in my book, which can't be done by citizen groups alone. You would need partners (who will bring expertise). And also, NGOs can't take liabilities, because legally speaking, they are setup to be very low liability organizations.

Went back and edited that comment.

@Syed - not jittery about Abide etc. In a prev comment, listed 3 things that these experiments (abide/batf) may have been trying to achieve. If they claimed to be doing #3 as well (which they were NOT). then I am with you in bashing them. But names of these orgs (task force) suggest they were trying only #1 or at best #2 as well.

To list the 3 objectives again, which always get mixed up (and that's why such concepts get into controversies)

  1. Address shortage of expertise in designing public systems / urban planning
  2. Get eminent citizens to contribute towards local development (Rajya Sabha types)
  3. Improve citizen participation in making decisions and resolving conflicts

#3 can be done via elections (vote, or contest) or joining political parties. And if you design something to improve #3 during the tenure of an elected government, I would check for election ink mark on fingers before letting any citizen participate.

Naveen's picture

About ABIDe

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Syed - how exactly do you want ABIDe (or any such body) to interact with & keep citizens informed about developments ? In a formal way through organized meetings, dissemination of information through their webpage, or on ad-hoc basis by answering every query posed (for which they might need to maintain a separate cell) ? After all, the group consists of part-time members who have their own professions first (similar to praja).

1) TOI report dtd 13-7-2009 about ABIDe task force meeting citizens.

2) Minutes of meeting dtd 1-2-2010, available on ABIDe's web page.

3) ABIDe's constitution, which states that it is a task force to "give constructive & positive suggestions", "for reviewing PPP programs" & "for giving suggestions & guidance to govt on how civic amenities can be improved".

4) Public consultation document for Vision-2020.

5) ABIDe's homepage.

The only problem with ABIDe is that it does not have legal standing & therefore becomes vulnerable to questioning by citizen groups that demand that such bodies be 'elected'.

kbsyed61's picture

Charity starts at home!

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Naveen,

I had almost signed off from this post, but your comment needs answer from my side.

Syed - how exactly do you want ABIDe (or any such body) to interact with & keep citizens informed about developments ? In a formal way through organized meetings, dissemination of information through their webpage, or on ad-hoc basis by answering every query posed (for which they might need to maintain a separate cell) ?

Obviously it has to be in formal way and in transparent manner.

When any entity calls for public comments, it must have a process where it defines how the comments are received, processed, analyzed and recording of final disposition. More importantly how the final disposition information is disseminated to public. Otherwise it will become like writing "letter to the Editor" whose destiny lies with Editor. If this is a tall order so be it.

I am looking for at least one answer from ABIDe. In its report on Transport it recommends BMTC to increase its fleet from current 8000 to 12000. I have asked ABIDe for its rational and justification. I would like to see the data and demand analysis that suggest this recommendation. If my request is tall order, what can I say :)

Since I am guilty of taking the discussion in other directions, I am signing off from this post.

Thanks,

Syed

 

silkboard's picture

yep, but how will they do it?

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Syed, from your now deleted comment:

I have sent tons of suggestions ... but I have not seen even an acknolwedgement of being received by them leave alone the response to my comments.

That is a realistic problem that needs a solution. How to be able to respond to each and every comment to originator's satisfaction? Should someone be judging quality of suggestions, and respond only to 'relevant' ones? Things like that. One way perhaps is to have groups that would filter and merge suggestions, and send evolved inputs. Could nominated representative's council(s) do this filtering and evolving?

You are bang on with this one:

When any entity calls for public comments, it must have a process where it defines how the comments are received, processed, analyzed and recording of final disposition. More importantly how the final disposition information is disseminated to public.

Without this in place first, what is the point in creating newer ways to send them direct suggestions?

Mani1972's picture

More clarity and direction!

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Dear friends,

Before we start, let’s get the direction right. Kindly allow me to clarify certain points, which may help us. It may also answer the 5 points raised by Syed.

1.   We will give an adhoc name to this upper house: ‘Participatory council’ (PC). The PC is basically a temporary body, which may exist for say 30 years, till the democracy and the election process in India matures, and distortion free. Thus, CP is like a crutch. We need the crutch, because, we are handicapped by our nascent democracy and evolving election process. And we can’t wait for natural evolution, as India is competing with the world. If we don’t innovate, we will be left behind and pushed into a negative vortex and banished forever.

2.   At the same time, let’s be clear in our mind that, in a democracy, the governing body of the society, i.e. the Government, essentially has to be a ‘elected body’. ‘Selection’, however transparent and scientific, can’t substitute ‘election’, as it won’t have the strength of the voice of the people, and hence not sustainable. And if the democracy is mature, and election process is proper, then the government will be an exact microcosm of the society. That will mean, good and wise people also will get elected, and there is no need to have separate ‘selection’ or PC.  Whatever is provided in Rajya Sabha/state LA will be sufficient to get wise men in government.

3.   Now, the PC should have representation from all sections of the society, so that we get 360 degree perspective. It will be voluntary, and will have a transparent selection procedure, and professional working standards. It will not only ‘advise’ the government, but if required, it will also ‘assist’ the government in making blue print/road map. It can also act as a watchdog. But, it will not implement anything. It will be a forum for debate, advice and support. Debate itself is a big thing, when it comes from a forum representing A to Z in the society. And its conclusions will be of help to the government in deciding whether we need 12000 buses or not. And if they want, PC can form a sub-group and given an action plan or be a watch-dog in tendering process etc.

Yes, ABIDe will not serve the purpose, because, its selection is not transparent enough to make it a representative body of the city/citizens. Unless it is represented by all, its output will not be accepted by any popular government, which will lead to natural death like BATF, notwithstanding its ‘good’ suggestions.

I hope that this post has added some clarity.

Manivannan

 

Manivannan

murali772's picture

next step?

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@ Mr Manivannan

If you go through the comments as they evolved (published in the earlier blog that I had started, and to which you have already provided a link), you'll notice that the 'upper house' concept was fairly well received, even amongst the sections who would normally militate against such 'exclusive clubs'. Well, of course, there are and will be the odd dissenters, who are essentially the status-quoists and go about it mostly out of habit. If you discount them, I then think it's an idea whose time has come.

Well, so as not to hurt the sentiments/ ego's of the elected representatives, perhaps this body can be called say a 'mezzanine' house, or even the 'basement' house (not 'underground', of course :))) ), since anyway, as compared to the House of Lords (from where the term probably originated), here it comprises largely the youth (with the exceptions, of course).

The question now is how to take it forward.

Muralidhar Rao
Public Agenda's picture

The status quoists are .......

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In fact there are already well entrenched vested interests in subvertng elected democracy and they will not benefit from an aware citizenry 

These are the well known "policy making community" where laws are prepared by corporate law consultants such as a draft of the NIA bill 2010 for UIDAI was prepared with inputs by Amarchand / Mangaldas

sometimes the tenders are issued but more often than not it is not followed. e.g the way a Vision 2020 document was  prepared by Price WaterHouse but without any draft being issued for public inputs 

and if we look closely the Karnataka Municipal Corp Water Supply rules 2004 which paved the way for KUWASIP bringing in Veolia in 3 north Karnataka  cities were also prepared by such a policy community.

SO there already exists a de facto upper house at state level which is not transparent in its inputs or its outcomes 

increasingly they are determining the development trajectory of states supported by the GoK and WB / ADB etc 

whether to overlook these or not? Unfortunately the criteria for determining how the selection is made to such policy communities or 'PC' are not transparent  


murali772's picture

political processes alone not good enough, at least for now

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@ Public Agenda

What you have stated is what results out of a lack of a proper platform for citizen participation, and it's that void that is proposed to be filled up by the PC. Admittedly, the earlier avatars like BATF, ABIDE, etc may not have been totally satisfactory, though their intent cannot be faulted, and neither some achievements denied. It will be good if you can contribute to fine-tuning the concept to achieve the overall objectives, rather than raise the bogey of 'de-politicisation' every time such ideas are mooted.

That the political process alone cannot be relied upon to do a proper job of governance is brought out clearly from a reading of the following press release issued recently by the LokSatta, Karnataka, the text of which I am reproducing in its entirety, considering its relevance to the point being made.

Expressing shock at the election of Mr. Govindaraju to the BBMP Standing Committee, Loksatta party Spokesperson Mr. C N Deepak  said, “It is frustrating to see a corporator who has been caught red-handed for corruption now being promoted to higher and more lucrative positions. Promotion for the corrupt is only going to promote more corruption.”

The corporator from Ganesh Mandir ward, Mr. Govindaraju had, in July, been caught red-handed by the Lokayukta accepting a bribe of Rs. 2 lakh from a builder for ‘regularising’ illegal construction. In October, the Karnataka High Court stayed his suspension order on grounds that there is no provision for an ‘elected representative’ to be suspended. Mr. Deepak continued, “The corruption charges are as strong as ever. The stay order is only because as per the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (KMC) Act, there is no provision for ‘suspension’ of corporators. The KMC provides for ‘disqualification’ for such mis-doings. But no proceedings for disqualification have yet been initiated by BBMP even 4 months after being caught for corruption”. It is an irony that rather than being punished, he is now being rewarded for his mis-doings.

What is more worrying is that his appointment to a Standing Committee is not even a necessity. Not all corporators are appointed to Standing Committees. Loksatta party member Mr. Ajit Phadnis highlighted, “Out of a total of 148 elected corporators, only about 130 are elected to Committees. But even then it was not considered fit to leave him out. This is a reflection of scant respect for the law and lack of willingness to act against corruption.”

The surprise is that while Mr. Govindaraju is from the Congress party, none of the other parties represented in the Council have raised an alarm over it, rather have expressed tacit support. It appears that all these parties are supporting each other in protecting the corrupt within them.

The apparent condoning of the  corporator attempting to illegally regularise an illegal construction, has left no credibility for effective implementation of a regularisation scheme for building violations. As Mr. Phadnis retorted, “There is no need for a Sakrama-Akrama scheme since illegal regularisation is already happening and will continue. The only difference is that rather than the regularisation money being spent for the welfare of the people,  it is now going into private pockets”.

Muralidhar Rao
idontspam's picture

Participatory Council

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