Moving a comment on this excellent post from PSA/Pathy sir up here in the hopes of generating more discussion. And some disclaimer first - 1) I am not against the concept of engagement/consultation. 2) there is no offence meant to anyone or any group of citizens that puts in time towards engagement/consultation. 3) Likes of PSA/Pathy/Murali/many more sirs deserve a lot of respect for taking part on the engagement channels that exist today.
The way things stand today, local engagement initiatives (like Ward Committees) mostly go in one of these two ways:
- Either the activist types, or those with little more time on hand (retired, or perhaps not employed full time) would participate. For anecdotal evidence, see how PSA sir/ Pathy sir and Murali sir have been posting here on this subject and attending the events. While their time is much appreciated, and is certainly worth it , we all wish and want more people to get involved.
- Corporators or MLAs would flood the committee with their "own" citizens. After all, its not like you would actually have well publicized elections to pick ward committee members. Local politicians can always pick or nominate their men, and looks like they do. And they will do this even more if the local committees start becoming a "problem" for them.
I am against such "event" (as in, a meeting to review things etc) and "group of named people" (as in a committee of so and so people) based current approach to citizen engagement or participation. Just can't work for lack of wider participation, plus lack of clarity on these things:
- What are the powers or possibilities of such "events" or "committees". Can they propose things? Can their proposal be tracked?
- How do you pick people fro this committee - self selection, or those who show the interest, get rewarded by being included?
- Do these committees have any real say on the budget meant for their local area?
- Is there full public visibility on the budget for the local area? Is there a local area budget itself in the first place?
- Is there a proper "city" / "larger urban area" level body to manage consensus building for projects that touch multiple local areas? Say - a mass transit project, which may call for an underpass in one local area (so they would oppose), but provide connectivity to other local area (who would have proposed in the first place).
Without making two basic things clear (budgets - how the money flows, and responsibility - what can or can NOT the local committees do and change) - I don't think the participation is going to get any wider.
Now, in the Praja spirit, can't just criticise, have to provide alternatives too. They would include things like:
- Publish budget for local areas in advance
- Make it clear to public that there is a separate city-wide budget too, city-wide budget is meant for larger-geo-spread/larger-impact-area projects
- Local committees have control over local area budget. If control is impractical, atleast full transparency.
- Local committee's vote is a deciding factor in projects that are funded from city-wide budget. There must be enough publicity about this fact, so that citizens take the committees seriously.
- Local committees can be virtual (meetings using skype/google hangout etc)
- Local committee votes can be virtual (no constraint to be present physically to vote)
- There is a law that makes my employer NOT count half day / full day leave if I go take part in local committee proceedings :)
- Controversial one, but here it is. Each committee member should disclose her political affiliation - just let us know who you voted for in the last local election. would be good to be transparent about political leanings of the local committee.
We know that 1/2/3/4 would not be easy - corruption etc come in on all matters that concern spending of public money. Transparency would hurt established interests, so its not easy. But sadly, unless I know that I can influence how public money gets spent, or at least go and count every paise of public money spent in my local area, I am not likely to find it worthwhile to sacrifice half day of work to take part in local events or local committees.
In the above paragraph, "I" = this group:
- 25-40 age group citizens,
- employed, working full time,
- are interested in 'these' things, but are seen to be apathetic,
- and, are routinely called out to as "middle class that doesn't care much" by many news reports.
Thanks for reading. This is a tricky topic, but dont think we have managed a deep discussion on this subject on Praja so far.