Sunday, July 04, 2010

A SmartVote Case for Organizing Ward Sabhas in Bengaluru

This is a campaign proposal, I'm making to other SmartVote members. So 'we' from hereon means SmartVote.

To begin, here's a photo I took from a May Day mela organized by MKSS in Bhim, Rajasthan. It shows what is possible :-)

According to the 74th Amendment to the Constitution (Nagapalika Act), Ward Sabhas (meetings) are supposed to be organized every 3 months, where Ward Committee members meet the citizens of the ward. Ward Sabha being the 'parliament' to which, the ward committee 'cabinet' is answerable.

Since no such meetings are happening, we can organize them ourselves. In our case, merely getting the Councillor to meet the citizens would suffice. We had promised to help create a Citizen's council and organize meetings with the Councillor in Koramangala Ward 151.

As part of our Ward Sabha campaign, We can go to a Ward, talk to the councillor, RWAs, local papers, few active citizens and convince them to come to their Ward Office, the first Sunday of a month and just meet each other. We'll be doing this only once per ward. We will request the group to take it forward in subsequent quarters.

We have about 34 months to the 2013 assembly election. There are 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru. So we can realistically try to organize 28 such wards sabhas (one per constituency) before we get busy with any program for the assembly election.

What can be done in a Ward Sabha?

1. Citizens can quiz the Councillor on issues concerning their ward. This is an achievement in itself.

2. Form 6 or Form 7 to register/remove names from voter rolls can be distributed. We can invite volunteers from Janagraha/Jaagore too. We can also encourage the citizens to organize Voter registration Melas.

3. Citizens can be informed of published voter rolls, upcoming census, pulse polio campaign or income tax filing event at palace grounds, so that they can plan to make use of the opportunities.

4. BBMP, BESCOM, BWSSB workers can meet the citizens so that there is an amicable relationship between them. So the next time, there is an overflowing drain somewhere, a concerned citizen can perhaps call the local BWSSB worker him/herself, instead of complaining at higher levels and putting the workers in a spot.

5. Some active citizens can cajole others to join them in cleaning up a lake/canal or garbage dump in their ward. Or atleast signing petitions towards such causes.

6. Citizens can inform each other about their attempts in Solid waste management or rain water harvesting. And explore the possibility of implementing them in their localities.

Applying some of Ashwin Mahesh's broad guidelines in building our organization.

1. Be fast, seem to be doing stuff.

Organizing a ward sabha every month will turn out to be a pretty hectic activity. There will be enough work for every smartvote member to contribute. This will also help prevent our group from fizzling out. And we will be noticed. More people across Bengaluru will come to know about us. We will get more volunteers. Media will understand us better. Politicians may eventually take us seriously.

2. Confusion is good. Be seen everywhere.

At ward sabhas, we can propose any number of ideas and see if there are any takers. Educating children on civic issues, provoking people to file RTI petitions, PILs against ward reservation, RWA verification of voter rolls, plant trees on the roadside etc. Wherever citizens are willing to try them, we can get involved as volunteers.

3. Intervene, go tell the govt, what to do.

Councillor may want to listen to our ideas and offer it elsewhere. If we are successful in bringing ARO or any official from the para-state bodies to these meetings, we can propose our (process, not policy) ideas to them. Say, we can offer to thoroughly verify and clean up the voter list in a ward as a pilot project.

4. Build an Ecosystem.

There are folks like CIVIC, who are working towards broader implementation of the 74th Amendment. Any plan for Bengaluru will be lot more successful if done by the MPC (Metropolitan Planning Committee) as proposed by that amendment with proper oversight over BDA, BBMP et al. Our Ward Sabha effort may help such larger campaigns.

Besides, if Ward Sabhas become regualr events, we will provide citizens and other voluntary organizations, a platform to work on. Any number of civic groups can come and try to catch the attention of the citizens. CMCA, Janagraha, Jaagore, Greenpeace, rain water club etc. Heck, even the kadlekai/chai/goli soda guys might get some business.

Why organizing Ward Sabhas may help other competing SmartVote proposals?

1. Certifying or block vote to 'Good' candidates:

At present, why would candidates come to us to get certified? Or how will we make a good candidate win? If Lok Satta or SBPP or CPM can't make 'Good' candidates win in Bengaluru, what chance do we have? Why would people listen to us? Becos we have money and can print pamphlets? To even have an outside chance of influencing election outcomes, we need credible ground work for a reasonably long period of time. Organizing 28 ward shabhas in 3 years may give us some credibility. Let us revisit this idea, 3 years from now and see if its feasible.

2. Policy intervention:

Again, what expertise or experience do we claim as a group to influence public policy? If we organize ward sabhas, and hence mobilize voter registrations/cleanup and provoke wider citizen-councillor-bureaucrat cooperation for the next three years, we can gain some experience in Urban civic governance and maintenance of public records.


Siddhartha Prakash said...

But who will pay for organizing the Ward Sabhas?

Balaji said...

hmm, i can't think of any expense in organizing a Ward Sabha.

any public park or school would do. or in the absence of which, laying a carpet in a public building (BBMP contact point) is just fine.

ofcourse we at Smartvote can incur some expense, if needed.