As a CfB Volunteer/Coordinator, the ward committees and ward committee meeting sounded as a buzz word time and again, but I was neither part of the discussions or events around that, nor knew exactly what it means.
It all started for me when a CfB meeting was announced with the Mayor Gangamibike Mallikarjun at the BBMP office on the 2nd Anniversary of #SteelFlyoverBeda. The inquisitor in me made me go to the BBMP office in Hudson Circle for the first time on a working Wednesday to meet the Mayor.
As we were ushered in to her office, we did a round of introductions and handed her a letter seeking an announcement from her asking all the Corporators to hold ward committee meetings in their wards every month.
CfB requested that these meetings be conducted at fixed time and place – like first Saturday of every month to 11.30 am in the respective ward offices. The Mayor asked the reason for our demand, appreciated the logical reasons for our demand and she will consider our request.
During the conversation with her, I mentioned that I belonged to her ward 153 in Jayanagar. It came as jolt when she said that she has never seen me in any of the ward meetings or the RWA meetings. That was an apt reminder for me that no matter what I do in CfB as a volunteer working on City’s issues, my responsibility as a citizen must be towards my area/ward first and then the city.
We pursued the cause and met the Mayor again on October 31st and Commissioner before the council meeting and they agreed to bring up the subject in the council and they did. This was the defining moment in the sense, the regular ward committee meeting became a topic of discussion in the council.
As promised, the Mayor and Commissioner announced on November 16th that all wards must hold their meetings on the first Saturday of every month in their ward offices.
CfB held a Public Round Table event as a build up to the Ward committee meetings where the Mayor and Commissioner participated. The public participation in this event was awe-inspiring for us. The Commissioner unwaveringly answered all the questions posed to him. Mayor highlighted that “small issues are coming up in council and taking time, local issues must be solved locally and ward committee is the right place”.
This event gave us the required impetus to drive in the message to our volunteers and citizens in general, to push their ward Corporators to hold these meetings in their wards and also ensure citizen participation.
Ward Committee meeting for the month of December was scheduled for Dec 1st, it happened as a norm in some wards and with much coaxing in few other wards. In all, it’s a good start though not all 198 wards held the meeting. We need to look at it as the landmark for local governance.
As the first citizen of the city, the Mayor held ward committee meeting on December 1st in her ward -153, Jayanagar and set the example for the other Corporators to follow. She demonstrated that these meetings are effective and they are building blocks in local governance and participatory democracy.
I attended this ward committee meeting with lot of reservations in my mind about the effectiveness of these meetings, but was glad that they were wiped away by the Mayor duly by walking the talk. All the officials from Health, Animal Husbandry, BWSSB, BESCOM, Police (City and Traffic) were present for the meeting and so were all the ward committee members. I was told by few ward committee members that Ward committee meetings in ward # 153 is a regular affair and Dec 1st meeting was not the first in the ward.
All the issues that were raised by Ward Committee members and Citizens were addressed (yes, citizens were also allowed to participate in the discussion and raise issues), given solutions and timelines for implementing them. Mayor also discussed each and every suggestion/recommendations given by the citizens for its feasibility of implementation and directed officials to work on them at the earliest.
A suggestion on installing traffic light and deploying a policeman at Malabar Jewels Junction and Madhavan park circle were discussed at length by the Mayor, Area Circle Inspector and the citizens. Mayor directed the police officials that a signal would ease out the traffic at this junction and must be installed immediately.
The focus and attention given by the Mayor, response by the police on this matter instilled confidence in me that these meetings are indeed participatory and would bring in measured success in making our wards better.
Few things that came out as important take-away from my ward committee meeting:
- The intent to bring in the change must be paramount to citizens as well the change makers (Corporators, governing agencies)
- Citizen engagement within their wards and making local governing agencies more accountable is the key to improve living/commuting conditions across wards.
- Majority of the issues can be fixed at the ward level and they need not be part of the larger discourse seeking time and effort at the council level. This is something the Mayor stressed in every meeting we had with her and I could see it demonstrated in the ward meeting.
Even though traffic issues at every junction across the city stresses all of us, if each ward tries to address these issues with the area traffic police and find a solution, it goes a long way in making commutes better. Of course the larger issues of traffic irregularities, density, mass transport etc. need not be part of this.
- Well managed wards (like Jayangar-may not be perfect but it is far from other wards where the basic amenities/facilities are not even met by BBMP) must be benchmarked for Governance, Citizen involvement, action and solutions implemented. These wards must be emulated; wards can be assessed based on a scorecard with pre agreed parameters
- By way of representing the masses of their wards, fellow citizens can lend voice to the unheard issues of the ward, make the Corporators/Councilors feel the people pressure and make them more accountable in the tasks they do for the ward.
I look forward to the next ward committee meeting in January and am eager to know the measures taken by the officials in solving the issues raised by the citizens. If you are from Jayangar or interested in witnessing the Ward Committee meeting held by the Mayor, join me on January 5th at 11:30 am at the ward office. Ciao!
If you wish to join CfB campaign for ward committees ‘Namma Samiti Namagaagi’ send me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Shilpa Rao, an IT professional volunteering for Citizens for Bengaluru.