Mission Mumbai part 3 – grass root democracy

I once spoke to the then- MMRDA Chairman about the need for engagement with the local people before making a city plan. He told me “What does a paanwala or shopkeeper know about planning?” I retorted “The paanwala probably knows more about where to locate the market, parking and local road more than these foreign planners” and in an excess of anger I added “Whose city is it? Yours or the people of Mumbai”.
That is the real problem. Not only is there no institutional process to engagement with the real stakeholders, but the decision makers do not even acknowledge that citizens need to be consulted. It is so different from other democracies in the world, where citizens are the primary stakeholders in most decisions that affect them and structures are built for people-consultation. 
For example, when Bill Clinton was the President of the USA and probably the most important man in the world, and he wanted to change the outer facade of his house, he had to go and seek permission from the local borough (kind of local neighborhood government). That is the kind of power that the local government wields.
During my urban planning phase, I went and stayed with an Indian-origin city planner in a small town called The City Of Ventura in California, US. They made the master plan for the town, then uploaded it on their website, communicated it to all citizens and after 2 weeks, in the town hall, citizen, mayors, elected representative, the architect came together and they discussed some of the crucial changes suggested by the locals. The following week, the architect brought in the revised plan and then finalized the same. That is the citizen interaction that is needed. http://www.cityofventura.net/. Every weekend citizens volunteer to clean the beach, do community service and be involved and engaged with the city.

In rural India, after the restructuring based on the Panchayati Raj Bill, there is now, one elected representative for around 425 people. In Mumbai there is one elected representative viz the municipal corporators for every 55000 people. Therefore democracy in Mumbai is 110 times away compared to rural India. So, in villages, there is low economy but good democratic governance, while Mumbai has high contribution to economy but lesser democracy.

There are 3 levels of urban governance today- the central govt, the state government and the local government. Is that good enough? I believe that there should be one more tier of governance structure.
In cities, this additional level is in the spirit of the 74th amendment on devolution of power to the people. A tier that is much closer to the people. A polling booth is made up of 1100 voters. If we can create a mohalla Sabha of 3 polling booths, then we would have around 10 to 12 mohalla sabhas in each corporators ward. Hence an elected representative that is accountable between 3000 to 4000 voters.

Along with Municipal elections, mohalla Sabha elections should take place. So, two electronic voting machines would be placed and votes cast, one for the corporators and one for the mohalla Sabha representative. These mohalla sabhas representatives along with the corporators will form a Ward Sabha, with the elected corporators as the Chairman of the Ward Sabha. The staff of the Municipal Corporation will work under the instruction and guidance of the Ward Sabha.

This ward Sabha will now start taking all decisions, instead of the Corporator, on various issues like the planning, supervision of maintenance of parks, gardens, roads, footpaths and other infrastructure of the locality. It will help the EC in voter list enumeration, ration card issues, getting proper municipal service as well as police support. Most importantly, it will create a budget planning of their area and then monitor and supervise implementation of all activities.

This will also reduce corruption and pilferage of government treasury. The feeling of alienation that city-people feel will also get reduced due to these neighborhoods.

What needs to be done is to plan the funds, functions and functionaries based on mohalla Sabha, corporation and state parastatal bodies. 

Gandhiji believed that the whole basis of government was that it could provide individuals the opportunity to participate in the management of their own affairs and self-government. 
Article by deepak

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