Arvind Kejriwal’s mohalla sabhas are an experiment in participatory governance
Jasleen Kaur | July 11, 2015 | New Delhi
Harvinder Singh, 42, a businessman, attended a mohalla sabha (number 4) organised in west Delhi’s Tilak Nagar assembly constituency in April, with lot of apprehension. This was the first time when people in the area had been invited by the Delhi government to come up with suggestions on how the money should be spent on development works. Such a thing had never been heard of after all.
“It was unbelievable and perhaps that is the reason not many people had participated,” said Singh. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers, area MLA and local councillors, along with the office of the district magistrate, had disseminated information to voters about the mohalla sabha through pamphlets with residents being identified through their voter ID cards. “More than 100 people in the locality had turned up for the sabha,” said Singh.
The residents were given sheets of paper and pens and were asked to write down the projects they wanted to be implemented in their area.
Singh, who was concerned about the continuous problem of theft and snatching in the area, had sought installation of CCTV cameras to be taken up on a priority basis. “The MLA was asking us how we want the money to be spent. We had never heard about it. The previous MLA had spent a lot of money (of MLA fund) on building decorative gates, when the area lacked the basic facilities,” Singh said.
Once the projects were listed, voting was carried out and the development work that secured the highest number of votes was given priority.
Singh’s concerns were on many minds – installation of CCTV cameras was accorded precedence, as it bagged the maximum votes. Second in the list was the construction of a library.
Varinder Kaur, 50, a housewife, is happy that her demand, of setting up a library, will be taken up. “Old age people have no place to go. They do not know how to spend most of their time. Library is a place where they can sit and spend their time. And even children can use it during their vacations,” she said.
Even after the entire process, Singh was only half hopeful that the process will actually be implemented. But his hopes were turned into reality on June 29, when the Delhi government presented its budget, and allocated Rs 253 crore for the entire process, which is 0.65% of its entire expenditure. “Now I feel that it will be actually implemented. And when people will see the work actually happening on ground, lot more will participate in mohalla sabhas next year,” he said.
The AAP government’s ‘janta ka budget’ exercise was conducted on a pilot basis across 11 constituencies in the national capital. For each of these constituencies Rs 20 crore has been allotted, which counts for Rs 50 lakh for each mohalla, with an average of 40 mohallas per constituency. Tilak Nagar constituency having less number of mohallas, will have higher allocations for each mohalla.
Soon after the budget, Tilak Nagar MLA Jarnail Singh got in touch with the office of district magistrate (DM) of west Delhi, the nodal agency of the implementation of the programme. “The DM office has to decide the estimate of the expenditure. After that we will start the implementation, by inviting tenders,” said Jarnail Singh.
He said the governing body, headed by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, is taking regular updates and monitoring the development of the programme. The estimated time for implementation is 3-6 months after the tender process is over. “Our priority will be to complete the process within this financial year,” said the MLA. “Rules and policy are made after consulting the public. And if public money is spent with the public opinion it will send a strong message across,” he added.
With an aim to bring governance closer to people, the Delhi government started its first participatory budget exercise in which locals were asked to vote for development work they wanted the government to undertake in their areas.
The sabhas offered a platform to residents to raise their concerns and take a lead in the development of their areas.
AAP’s new experiment
Mohalla sabha was an experiment started by Swaraj Abhiyan in February 2009, part of Parivartan an initiative of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was an RTI activist then. Following the concept of gram sabha, it was an effort to increase public participation in development works. It was first conducted in east Delhi’s Trilokpuri and later in Sundarnagri and RK Puram.
The MCD councilors wrote letters to all voters in the ward to invite them to attend the sabhas. Through this the community members demanded implementation of public works and ensured that funds were used appropriately. Also, if the work promised in the previous meeting was not implemented, people were able to grill the authorities.
But at that time mohalla sabhas did not have any legal sanction. Decisions taken there were not legally binding on anyone.
In an effort to change the paradigm of the existing governance system, AAP organised the first mohalla sabha in April. It provided a platform for people to interact directly with the authorities and demand their rights and needs.
This was the first participatory budget exercise in which locals suggested on how money should be spent for the development work they wanted the government to undertake in their areas. The government plans to start the process for all the 70 constituencies from next year.
“The response was not great, it could have been better,” said CR Garg, former district magistrate (west) who handled the entire process in the district. He added, “There are many reasons for the low response. First, it was conducted for the first time and people did not have enough faith in it. Also, we did not get enough time to prepare and advertise about it.”
When people will actually see the implementation of the work on ground, the government will be able to build trust and more participation will be seen next year, said Garg.
After the entire process of mohalla sabha, the expenditure estimates for the civil work was made by the DM’s office with the help of the engineering wing of PWD. Most of the demands made by people in various sabhas, like opening of dispensary or repairing or installing street lights, were covered under the existing schemes. But for many, like installation of CCTV cameras, there was no existing scheme which could cover it.
“When people told us their requirements and demands we did not question them or asked for reasons,” Garg explained. The monitoring of the entire process and implementation of the programme will be done by the local MLA, who will report to the governing body headed by deputy CM Manish Sisodia.
Also, people have been told that they can monitor the progress of a project and lodge their complaints at the DM’s office in case of a grievance.
“The government will make efforts to ensure that all the work is completed within this financial year. Then only people will build confidence and participation will increase next year,” said Garg.
He added that this was the first time when the government reached out to people involving them directly in the budget-making process. Otherwise, the DM used to decide what all work had to be done or what was the priority of the area.
“The biggest thing about this is the spirit behind this exercise. The budget may not be that big but its impact would be huge. Earlier the government used to decide the requirements and priority of projects. But now people are heard and work is prioritised on the basis of their needs.”
(The article appears in the July 16-31, 2015 issue)
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