On January 18, A Sivasankaran took a session for students on ward-level participatory planning and budgeting. Mr Sivasankaran retired from government service a few years ago to settle in Bangalore, and has since been very active in local governance and planning processes in his ward (#60, Sagayapuram) and at several other parts of the city. Having worked in collaboration with Janaagraha, CIVIC and other Bangalore-based outfits, he founded the Jago Federation to scale and sustain his work. Mr Sivasankaran also works on electricity governance and advises the state governments of Karnataka and Kerala.
As someone who has already been able to do much of what B.CLIP participants hope to in the coming months in their wards, Mr Sivasankaran’s talk was inspirational and he urged the participants to work harder, be patient and work smart to achieve their goals. A few points of his suggestions for the participants follow.
In preparing ward-level activities and engaging local public officials, the role of evidence and knowledge is key. If one prepares a comprehensive ward budget outside of the government system but with sufficient legitimacy and realism, it can become the official budget as there are no documents that currently compete. Having a firm grasp on local realities, costs and solutions can eventually win the respect and cooperation of local officials.
Participation of residents and constituents requires leaders to go to them, rather than the other way around. Large meetings and mohalla sabhas are difficult to manage, but can be necessary to confer legitimacy to plans and provide public support that pushes them through. However, as people can be fickle as well, public approval of plans and priorities may often have to be taken in writing.
Maps and markings help as they reduce the scope for discretion and confusion, and making budgets for 5 year periods help as it often takes that long to cover all concerns. In the absence of longer term plans, anything that gets chosen could get the appearance of arbitrariness. Mr Sivasankaran demonstrated how stakeholders and their interests can be aligned with the right incentives that leadership can provide.
Mr Sivasankaran also highlighted how creating a local newspaper can both teach a lot of things as well as provide a platform that fosters change. Running on advertisements from local shops, professionals and merchants, a local newspaper can showcase news and developments from within the ward. When most people like to see their photographs and their names in newspapers, even initial hostility can be overcome when people see others’ names in a paper.
Further, given the paucity of record-keeping within government, public officials end up using newspaper reports as a track record of their success. To the entrepreneurial civic leader, a newsletter/newspaper service is a vital tool.
Finally, he stressed on how individuals will always find it difficult to effect change, and people need to build organisations and groups of people around them who can make things possible.