Tag Archives: India

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Public Participation in India

by Aparna Ravikumar

The participation of the Indian public in political affairs is a story much like any other. It has gone through a series of ups and downs that stretch across history and spill into the current days. The first major act of public participation in modern India took shape in the form of the freedom struggle. The freedom movement gave the extremely diverse population the identity of being an Indian. The idea of India took the nation and its people by storm, forcing a frenzied participation in the political sphere. It gave hope of better economic and social status to the average Indian, motivating his participation in the freedom struggle. Poets and lawyers marched with the poor and hungry, their minds captured by the single, powerful idea of a free India. The stroke of the midnight hour, however, brought with it a far uglier struggle for dominance. The partition again forced frenzied public participation- this time in a horrific, violent manner. The drafting of the constitution lead to the public actively participating in the process of policy-making. The public engaged actively in several critical policy decisions, like the drawing up of the Indian map based on the linguistic factors, Hindi becoming the official language of the nation and other such debates.

Once the glow of the nationalist sentiment wore away, people steadily withdrew from the public space. Public participation dropped drastically, fueled by cynicism at the government’s operations. The government has now come to be viewed as a distant ‘ruler’, and not as the people’s representative that exists to serve the people. The absence of the public from the political sphere has allowed the people in power to slack off and engage in actions that allow them to maximize monetary gain. Lack of public participation has severely disrupted the system of checks and balances that prevents people in government from misusing their power. Economic divides between the ‘elites’ and the ‘aam admi’ prevent the public from unifying as a single voice to check the rampant corruption in the political system.

However, it is not all bad news. The anti-corruption movement that began in 2011 again catapulted the people into the public sphere, bringing the idea of India back to the center stage. The ‘movement’ however, was too short lived to provoke major changes in the working of the government. This should not discourage the citizen as changes in public policy and the operations of the government can be effected only over long years of sustained public participation. Engaging in the working of local municipalities is a small step that every citizen can take in order to return power to the voice of the citizen.  

The changing nature of public participation in India was covered by Mr Mohandas Pai in the B.CLIP class. 

councillor

What can a Councillor do?

by Girisha Shankar
Edited by Apoorva Tadepalli

The Civic Leadership Incubation Program prepares students to undertake civic governance at the local level in their wards. While the BBMP is organised as a gargantuan hierarchy with several roles at play, the elected representatives do have an important role. There is a lot that a councillor can aspire for and also achieve during his tenure at BBMP.

The most basic function of a councillor is to form and chair the ward committee. The ward committee needs to be selected carefully in order to fulfil political compulsions while at the same time allowing for adequate representation for all the citizens of the ward. The other important function of a councillor is to hold ward committee meetings, which also can be useful in coordinating civic agencies like BWSSB, BESCOM, BBMP, etc. Without such coordination, civic issues are not addressed efficiently – the simplest example of that being when roads are cut by one government body soon after another asphalts the road.  Another aspect of these meetings is that they help ensure the public’s participation, and the councillors can get to hear directly from the aggrieved parties instead of waiting for the problems to precipitate into a crisis, like with the garbage crisis of Bangalore in 2012. Most of the problems in ward can have a local solution, if proper coordination can be ensured. The councillor can be instrumental in making this happen.

It is essential that the councillor exercise their right to raise questions in the council meeting pertaining to the general proceedings and also bring up specific issues from the ward, which need attention. A councillor who stays as a mute spectator of the council proceedings without any proactive participation is a liability and it is a failure on his/her part in performing his/her duties.

Another role that a councillor can aspire to take on is to join various standing committees (though, not simultaneously). Unlike the previous roles where they are representing their ward alone, here the focus is wider – encompassing all of the city. Irrespective of whether the councillor happens to be a member of the committee or its chairman, the councillor has to manage dual role of representing their ward as well as taking a larger perspective of BBMP as a whole in dealing with specific business of the committee – be it large infrastructure works, health in the city, public schools and so on.

After a reasonably long stint in the council and having gained adequate experience with the functioning of the BBMP, a councillor can aspire to be a Deputy Mayor or Mayor, the latter of which has to ensure the execution of the council’s resolutions. Both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor have access to funds that can be used at their discretion. Here in lies the ability of councillors in ensuring that the funds are used appropriately – not just in their ward, but also for the city corporation’s entire jurisdiction.

All said, these are but the starting points for the role an ambitious councillor or corporator can play in a city like Bangalore. The true scope of a civic leader’s role, whether they hold elected office or not, is only constrained by their political imagination and drive.

Girisha Shankar is an urban policy analyst with the Takshashila Institution and a student of the B.CLIP pioneer batch. Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution. This was a part of Girisha’s lecture on a ‘Bottom-up Introduction to the BBMP’.

Image: Frontline

Urban planning in India

We decry the lack of planning in India, both in our cities and elsewhere. This often leads to the idea that  culturally and historically, Indians have not been very good planners.

Image: Frontline

Image: Frontline

Above is the plan of ancient city of Dholavira, in present day Kutch, Gujarat. A bustling city of the Indus valley civilisation over 4600 years ago, Dholavira is evidence that Indians have been planning cities for millenia. Our failures in planning modern cities are but recent ones and can certainly be turned around.

This was a part of Nitin Pai’s lecture on ‘What is a city?’ to B.CLIP students on December 7, 2013.