When governments don’t want strong local bodies or citizen participation

Multiple groups are protesting the manner in which BBMP instituted ward committees in about 2/3rd of the wards – ignoring citizen volunteers and public interest groups, and taking only the input of the corporators. Such protests were bound to happen – and anyone who understands the history of urban failure will see clearly why.

About 40 years after the Republic of India was founded, Parliament decided that the system of Central governments and State governments managing everything was ineffective, and therefore we needed to add three other pieces. To make this happen, they passed two laws – one for rural areas (the 73rd Amendment) and another for urban areas (74th).

(a) The first was regional planning – not by the state government, but by regional councils in different parts of the state.

(b) The second is transfer of more executive powers to local bodies – i.e. municipal councils like BBMP in urban areas, and to panchayats in rural areas.

(c) The third is direct participation by citizens in ward committees – through which they could monitor and direct actions locally.

But the state governments don’t want any of this. As a result, they have dragged their feet for 25 years in implementing this, and even then they have done so only when courts have ordered them to do it.

That’s why BBMP formed the ward committees – in response to a court directive.

Now there are two parts to any law – the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. The spirit of the 74th Amendment Act, which introduced all this, is that there should be more data-based decision making, and more citizen participation in local matters. In an ideal world, the letter of the laws following the amendment should reflect this spirit. But in practice, the opposite happens.

State governments grandly announce ‘citizen participation’ initiatives in which it is explicitly stated that corporators can veto the citizens. They create new planning councils, but never convene their meetings. They claim to make decisions based on data, though they have never collected this data !! And so on.

Naturally, the people protest. This is neither legal nor fair, they say. And it will harm the city, they say. And they are right.

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