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#puneonmymind: Satish Khot, a citizen activist, on how citizens must take ownership of their city for better governance

Mohalla/parisar committee movement brings citizens together to take up their disenchantment, problems and issues to the civic administration. As a result of our efforts, it has become compulsory for PMC officials to meet with citizens in their wards. The next step is the citizens’ participation in the budgeting process and taking up projects. It is a matter of pride for the person whose project goes into implementation to take the responsibility of monitoring its progress.

pune Updated: Jul 22, 2018 16:43 IST
Satish Khot
Satish Khot
Hindustan Times, Pune
Satish Khot,puneonmymind,citizen activist
Satish Khot.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Today, Pune is one of the fastest growing cities, not only in India but even in Asia. It offers great potential and many opportunities for people with aspirations, whether young or old. It has become a desired destination for students and professionals alike. Perceived as a happening place, it is consistently attracting IT and engineering industries as well as those in sectors such as medicine and education among others.

The expectations of those who have chosen to make Pune their home are understandably high. However, the municipal corporation has not been able to keep pace with these hopes and expectations of the citizens. Why is this happening? Having said that, there is no sense of responsibility on the part of citizens towards their city. Their sense of responsibility stops at their home. You will note that any kind of house, may it be a luxury residence or an EWS (economically weaker section) dwelling, is typically spic and span. But the denizens of both areas tend to toss their garbage carelessly outside their homes. How can a community which is so clean in their personal spaces create dirt in their public spaces? This can only be because we have not yet acquired a sense of ownership of our neighbourhood and our city.

We at the National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC) have realised that this lack of a sense of ownership is the cause of the problem of cleanliness in the city. It is not solely the fault of the local urban body. It is necessary also for the citizens to be significantly involved in their own governance. Both bodies need to come closer and support each other. This is basically what we at NSCC are trying to make happen. Every citizen has to learn to take ownership of her or his city. This concept of ownership cannot be inculcated overnight. It will naturally take time and there are a number of steps to be taken for this.

The first step to be taken is the mohalla/parisar committee movement which brings the citizens together to take up their disenchantment, problems and issues to the civic administration. As a result of our efforts, it has become compulsory in Pune for Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) officials to meet with citizens in their wards. This becomes a single window redressal forum and is successful as citizens get a chance to sort out their problem themselves. The next step is the citizens’ participation in the budgeting process. Here, citizens have been suggesting the projects they want to be undertaken in their neighbourhoods and some of these have indeed been taken up. It is a matter of pride for the person whose project goes into implementation to take the responsibility of monitoring its progress. After all, it is his baby, so to speak. This makes him involved in the governance in his city. He gains confidence and learns how to interact with the administration for maximum effectiveness and how to suggest further improvements for his city.

This is already happening. Of course, it is not enough. The way to go further is to bring about a sense of transparency at the urban body level. The first step would be that the process of selection of projects (from those suggested by citizens) should be streamed live on TV or on a screen outside the ward office so that citizens can see how the selection has been done.

Further, of course, there should be detailed reasons explaining the rationale of the selection process. This will help the citizens to know that their suggestions are not being ignored or being trivialised but are being seriously considered. More importantly, this selection process will reduce corruption, cronyism and favouritism. Once this streaming is established, it would become applicable to all committees, including the general body, standing committee. This transparency will bring the citizen closer to feeling that this city is theirs.

Then comes the critical issue of accountability. Each project that is accepted by the above process will have all its specifications, time chart, quality control and other aspects put up publicly for all to see. Also, it will feature the name of the officer given charge of the project. He or she would be responsible to ensure that all specifications indicated are met and the project implemented in the given time frame.

It is sad but true that citizens never come to know of what is planned in their areas. Take, for example, a modification of land usage that takes place. The notice about the proposed modification usually appears in some obscure newspaper with a small readership. Moreover, it is couched in such technical and official language that no ordinary citizen can comprehend it. It is only when the citizens actually see their beloved park or playground being dug up that they realise that a modification has been “legally” undertaken. By then it is too late for any protest. This brings about a dissonance between the citizens and the administration and governance.

Any modification in the town plans should be informed to the citizens concerned via notices sent to them explaining the reason for it. Further, a town hall meeting should be called to explain and, even more importantly, to understand what the citizens have to say about it. For better governance, the distance between the voters and their elected representatives must be reduced as per the Nagar Raj Bill.

First Published: Jul 22, 2018 16:31 IST