Direct democracy dobara in Delhi

The Aam Aadmi Party is all set for its second tryst with people’s participation in budget spending. Will it receive Delhi’s support this time?

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | May 6, 2016 | New Delhi


#Arvind Kejriwal   #people's budget   #mohalla sabha   #AAP   #Aam Aadmi Party  
Matiala MLA Gulab Singh at one of the  mohalla sabhas in west Delhi in 2015
Matiala MLA Gulab Singh at one of the mohalla sabhas in west Delhi in 2015

Installation of CCTV cameras. Setting up of a library. Putting up streetlights. Setting up of Mother Dairy booths. Opening of dispensaries.
 
These were some of the basic demands that had emerged when the Delhi government last year went to the people to hear from them their needs through mohalla sabhas ahead of the state budget. 
 
It was the first participatory budget-making exercise introduced to bring governance closer to people. Through this innovative concept, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government aimed to provide a platform to people to interact directly with the authorities and demand their rights.
 
The ‘janta ka budget’ exercise was conducted on a pilot basis across 11 constituencies in April 2015. For each of these constituencies '20 crore was allotted, which came to '50 lakh for each mohalla, with an average of 40 mohallas per constituency. In the process, citizens were asked to vote for development work they wanted the government to undertake in their areas. 
 
After the entire process of mohalla sabha, the expenditure estimates for the civil work was made by the district magistrate’s (DM) office with the help of the engineering wing of PWD. Most of the demands made by people in various sabhas, like the opening of a 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. Also, people were told that they can monitor the progress of a project and lodge their complaints at the DM’s office in case of a grievance. 
 
Common people came up with problems affecting their day-to-day lives. This was the first time when the government reached out to people, involving them directly in the budget-making process. Earlier, it was the DM who alone decided which works had to be undertaken and what were the priorities of the area. In some cases only a fraction of the budget was used to meet most of the demands of the citizens. 
 
Yet, the exercise last year received only a lukewarm response. Some blame it on lack of mobilisation at short notice and lack of awareness, while some believe that it was an experiment which was bound to fail. 
 
 
Learning lessons from the last year’s pilot project, the AAP government has introduced several changes in this year’s mohalla sabhas and expects a lot more participation from people. This year, all the 70 constituencies will hold mohalla sabhas, enabling people to have a say on what civic projects are undertaken in their areas. All the departments have been directed to appoint nodal officers for each mohalla sabha. Each sabha will cover four polling booths, on an average covering a population of 4,500. This year the government has allocated '350 crore under the Swaraj Nidhi Yojna, covering 2,969 mohalla sabhas across the national capital.

jasleen@governancenow.com

(The article appears in May 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)

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