Thursday, February 26, 2009



Civil society has as an equally important role to play as the government in crucial functions of a city, believes Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of Janaagraha


Ramesh Ramanathan conceives a
citizen’s role in an interesting manner: ‘Ask not what your city has done for you but what have you done for your city’. Instead of harping on what he describes as ‘passionate patriotism’, he urges every Bangalorean to opt for ‘practical patriotism’. And to his credit, he has moved beyond mere concept and rhetoric to create effective means of executing his ideas.
One such proposal is the creation of Area Sabhas. Ramanathan feels that the entire broad structure of a corporation should be replicated in a more people-friendly manner. “The corporator after elections does not really come and meet us. And moreover, people’s problems don’t reach the higher-ups and neither do the solutions percolate,” said Ramanathan. To counter this problem, Ramanathan and his team thought of Area Sabhas.
These are nothing but gram sabhas in the urban sphere. “Area Sabha is nothing but a platform of engagement at the neighbourhood level. This is a very inclusive concept where every voter of a particular neighbourhood is taken into account,” explained Ramanathan. He goes on to add, “See till now what we used to do, we used to vote and then someone would get elected and we would go back to cribbing about our problems with the person in charge not doing anything about it. But now with Area Sabha, every voter will get to participate.”
“Every ward is built around a police booth. A police booth is the number of its registered voters. So by that definition, every ward is identified as a neighbourhood, and a representative is chosen by the people there. This representative will be like a bridge between the people and the corporator. It’s like a hierarchy. Our representative to the ward committee, from there to the Municipality,” Ramanathan explained.
“Bangalore does not really have 1,000 problems, it only has 100 problems repeated a thousand times. There are 1,467 wards in Bangalore and problems that the voters face are just the same across the board,” he added. According to him, the representative will chalk out the problems that the area is facing, like, “infrastructure and tree felling are common across the city, but there will be some problems particular to each area. There may be a case of dengue that is being spread due to open drainage, etc. These problems will get lost in the bigger picture and this is where the representative comes in handy,” he said.
Calling 2009 the Year of the Citizen, Ramanathan said, “Now there is slowly a movement among the citizens. It’s no longer why we should participate, it’s now how to do it? Enough of lighting candles and complaining, now is the time to get involved in solving problems.”
Considering the fact that for Bangalore, the new year so far has not been very encouraging, what with a spate of murders taking place across the city, Ramanathan’s concept of civil defence will have many takers. This concept includes the creation of an Area Suraksha Mitra. “Every police booth of a ward will have a suraksha mitra. This suraksha mitra will be one which keeps a track of what’s happening in the neighbourhood. And he will be person who will have connections with the police of that neighbourhood,” said Ramanathan.
Ramanathan adds that this idea had its genesis in the Civil Defence Act of 1968, which was amended. “According to the act, the Chief Warden will have about 50 division wardens and almost 500 sector wardens, but that was never thoroughly implemented,” said Ramanathan. But won’t having such a profile dissuade the person from doing his own work? “Not at all. This job entails just two hours of work per week. And in fact, many people have already come with their applications. There are some requirements that the person needs to follow, like not having a criminal record definitely helps, but other than that, the person should maintain good relationship with the police station, so that he or she is taken seriously and the grievances of the neighbourhood is relayed properly,” he explained.
According to him, having such a representative is extremely helpful. “They will be given a form on which they would be asked to find out the number of tenants in the area, also the number of construction workers among other things,” said Ramanathan. In this case, unlike the Area Sabha concept, no election takes place. “No election occurs, this is open for everyone. From a retired man to a homemaker, anyone who wants to put in an effort to work for the neighbourhood is welcome,” said Ramanathan. Pointing out the symbiotic relationship between the police and the Suraksha Mitra, Ramanathan said, “The police who have heard about this concept are more than willing to help. They have said that they will even train the Mitra.”
It sounds hunky dory, but isn’t there a chance that it will all fizzle out in practice? “For exactly that purpose, we have thought of having an advisory council of various people like heads of associations, the archbishop, the imam, the merchants associations etc. There will be a monthly review and based on the results, corrective measures will be taken,” said Ramanathan.


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