Nothing will change in India, what is the point in protesting?
Let me tell you a success story from today.
Around August of last year, #CitizensForBengaluru, my favourite (and my own 🙂) citizens movement started a campaign to establish Ward Committees in all 198 wards of Bengaluru.
Sounds like Greek?
Every ward in every city of India is meant to have a committee to help administer it, deliver ward works like street lights, good roads, garbage management and the like, and create and manage it’s budget. This is mandated by the 74th Amendment of the Constitution.
This committee, consisting of active and interested citizens, is supposed to be constituted in each ward and work with the ward councillor to manage the ward. The laws leave it somewhat loose as to how this committee is constituted, the corporator may herself select from an interested pool of citizen applicants.
No one cared about this, as also in other cities in India. Not the city government (BBMP.) Citizens were mostly ignorant.
When we first ran the campaign, it was to build awareness that such a committee was provided for, by law, needed to existed, what it’s role was, and in fact what the role of a ward councillor was, as opposed an MLA or MP. Most MLAs serve as glorified ward councillors, marginalising city government and worse, not delivering on their roles as state legislators. This has citizens confused. That unlearning needed to happen first.
Then we ran a campaign on the heels of the Karnataka High Court ruling to set up Ward Committees in all wards within a said date. Our campaign captured the public imagination to such an extent that we got 1100 odd nominations for citizen members of the Ward Committees, 600 submitted applications to the BBMP to enrol in their Ward Committees and get this! Over 250 showed up in person at the BBMP offices to submit their applications. This is a first ever occurrence of an outpouring of citizen enthusiasm to participate in the governance of their city.
Other civic organisations, notably CIVIC and Kathyayini Chamaraj have been championing this via advocacy for years!
Following the #NammaWardSamiti campaign, we built a grass roots citizens manifesto called the CfB manifesto in Dec 2017. A whole section of the manifesto is devoted to Citizens Participation, asking for Ward Committees and monthly meetings with published budgets and spend. This manifesto agenda was circulated to all political parties in the run up to the Karnataka Assembly elections earlier this year. The leader, and manifesto committees of the INC, BJP, JDS, AAP, including our CM and Dy CM received this by May 2018.
Recently, on Oct 16th 2018, to mark the 2nd anniversary of the #HumanChain for #SteelFlyoverBeda and CfB’S existence as a citizen movement, we presented a specific petition to the current Mayor of Bengaluru, Gangambike and BBMP Commissioner Manjunatha Prasad, on monthly ward committee meetings. We requested that they announce this by Rajyotsava Day (Nov 1) that standing, recurring monthly Ward Committee meetings will occur, starting immediately. We even met the Mayor’s Secretary to ensure that this item was on the agenda for the Councillors meeting today.
Earlier, we had socialised this very thing with the previous Mayor, Sampath Raj also.
This was peppered with numerous Corporator outreach initiatives over the past week and through the past year on Ward Committees and monthly meetings via #CallYourCorporator campaigns and approaching them in BBMP council and ward offices. Over 150 councillors were reached by phoning and impressing upon them our requests for this, petitioning them, Whatspping them and meeting them at the ward and council offices.
The result of persistence?
The Mayor, in one stroke of the pen has made a historic announcement for democracy today, after many volunteers from #CitizensForBengaluru petitioned her again today – see the photos. We were joined by Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC and Mukunda Namagondlu of Citizens Action Forum.
She announced officially in the BBMP Council meeting today that
– Ward Committee meetings will henceforth happen monthly in all 198 wards.
– They will happen on the first Saturday of each month, starting immediately.
Thank you to the Mayor & Commissioner of BBMP! They saw the light.
This seems like a small step forward but indeed this is a huge inflexion point for participatory governance and a citizens led grassroots agenda for the city. It is only a start, yes, but a watershed moment for urban governance!
It means not only that Ward Committees have monthly say and oversight on ward budget and works but citizens of the ward who are not members are also welcome to watch and listen in.
This opens up hitherto opaque ward administration to a more transparent and accountable set up.
The ball is in the people’s court now. To show up and keep the elected representatives accountable. The ensure monthly meetings are well attended and that they serve the purpose of delivering to people’s needs.
This may indeed be the most reliable step for bottom up and grassroots citizen led governance.