Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Our city is becoming ugly & that is a tragedy

Our city is becoming ugly & that is a tragedy

Bosky Khanna

Many believe that the city is in a steady state of decline. But it is not just the government and civic agencies who are responsible for this. Even the people are responsible. Janaagraha is an organisation that works to encourage people's participation in local governance and to ensure well-planned urban reforms. Swati Ramanathan, co-founder of Janaagraha, speaks to Bosky Khanna on the importance of public participation in civic programmes and ways to make civic agencies accountable.

Can you share some information about Janaagraha's four projects?
Some of the programmes we run are: Area Parisaramitra for garbage management; Area Surakshamitra, a civil defence programme for neighbourhood security; Area booth level leaders; and Jaagte Raho, to make voters participate in the election process. Each 'area' has about 300 households, and citizens from each area volunteer to be part of the programmes. Bala Janaagraha runs a programme for children.

How will the programmes help build a connect between civic agencies and people?
Imagine all registered voters becoming members of a formal platform called 'area sabhas' and then nominating 'area representatives' to take up issues and projects concerning the area with the local elected representative at the ward level. This will not be an ad hoc grievance platform but a legitimate platform for participation in civic programmes. Local governments will have to respond to the platforms' queries and demands with action, or give reasons for not taking any action. The ripple effects of such legitimacy and equity to participation will bring integration between needs and projects, and ensure accountability to the people in the execution of projects rather than to the higher levels of government.

The government announces policies to tackle civic problems. What are the difficulties being faced in solving such issues?
The plans and policies are very rarely implemented. It will be interesting to study how many of these actually get implemented.

How will your projects help make civic agencies more responsible?
These agencies are parastatal organisations created to address issues of water, power and planning, as city's needs increased. However, they all report to the state government, despite the 74th constitutional amendment decentralising these functions (except those related to power) to the local government. Local functions must be devolved to the BBMP, the local government. This is the principle of subsidiarity, which says that what can be done most effectively at the local level must be given to the local government. The JNNURM includes this decentralisation as a mandatory reform. Once this is done, accountability is important.

Which is the biggest problem the city is currently facing?
Roads, footpaths, and drains are the most visible problems. We are becoming an ugly city, which is a tragedy. Urban Planning is weak.

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