By Shyam Singh – Samarthan- Center for Development Support
Article published by the Mainstream Weekly magazine
In the wake of the unprecedented growth in the urban population, the existing system of citizen participation has been found ineffective in providing equal opportunities to all people to participate in the process of urban governance. Unlike rural areas, urban areas have two-tier system of local self-governance, that is, munici-pality and wards. The representation ratio (population per elected representative) in urban areas is very high. In Bhopal city, according to Census 2011, a Councillor of a ward, on average, represents 25,652 citizens. In this case, interactions of elected representatives with citizens become rare and difficult. Similarly, possibilities of citizens’ participation in public governance also get lower. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has proposed a solution of this problem by suggesting the enactment of a Community Participation Law (CPL) in all those states which are taking benefits of the JNNURM. The CPL proposes division of a ward into smaller units with lesser segments of population, so that citizens can be involved effectively in planning and governance activities in their localities. To abide with this provision, the Madhya Pradesh Government has passed the Madhya Pradesh Nagar Palika Mohalla Samiti Act in June 2009. This Act provisions the constitution of Mohalla Samiti (MS) as the lowest unit of local self-governance in the urban areas. But questions regarding the ability of this Act in addressing the concerns that are central to the participatory urban governance remain unanswered.
‘Mohalla’ in this Act is defined as a portion or sub-set of a local body, a colony, an apartment or a hamlet where a minimum of 100 households reside. This definition does not provide a homogeneous structure of the MS and that raises concerns over the uniformity of jurisdiction and the distribution of power and resources to the MS. For instance, a colony can be a larger hamlet while an apartment is a tiny residential settlement. The problem exists as to what pattern or framework should be adopted to assign functions and distribute resources to the MSs so that the sense of equality among the MSs remains unquestioned. A ward in a city, generally, is constituted of 20,000-25,000 population. It means that the number of MSs to be constituted would be higher.
This is good from the point of view that if the MS is smaller in size, access of citizens to functions of the MS would be high and effective. But at the same time, accommodating the demands and aspirations of all MSs could be a herculean task for the authorities. On the other hand, the CPL proposes to form an Area Sabha (AS) in one or more polling booths. A polling booth generally comprises of 1200-1500 population. It means that in a ward there could be 15-20 ASs, while in case of the MS, this number can go up to 50. Therefore, the proposed arrangement of the MS puts a question on the feasibility of the application of the Act.
Another important aspect of urban governance is the devolution of power and financial autonomy to the lowest formation of urban local bodies. The Act does not give power to the MS to prepare annual plans and annual budgets for the Mohalla. Similarly, the MS has not been given control over the financial resources such as house and market taxes. The only ways through which the MS can generate funds by its own are either through contributions made by its members, MLAs and MPs or getting supervision charges for the work carried out on the behalf of the local body. The executive functions and duties assigned to the MS in this Act are not as substantive as provided in the CPL. The functions assigned to the MS in the Madhya Pradesh Act are generally about providing assistance rather ownership of the activities such as sanitation, water, road, drains etc. The Act clearly provisions that the MS has to work as an agency of the local body. But such provisions introduce the MS as an agent or outsourcing agency, instead of an independent and effective stratum of decentralisation. It is to be noted that the number of duties assigned to the MS are more than what has been provided in the CPL, but assigned duties and functions to the MS do not assure an effective implementation of such functions by an effective institutional arran-gement.
Similarly, the CPL gives power to the AS to identify beneficiaries of developmental and welfare schemes in their areas, so that irregularities in the distribution of such benefits can be checked. But, the MS does not have the power to carry out such activities. This has been proved to be a contentious point as experiences reflect that more often, at the ground level, the real beneficiaries remain excluded from the list prepared through national/Statewide surveys. The ASs have also rights to seek information from the municipality and officials who are associated with works being carried out in the Area and the work influence/affect the Area. The MS does not possess this right.
More importantly, the Madhya Pradesh Act does not talk about the structures and functions of the Ward Committees as the CPL does. The Act does not mention whether the MS representatives would be members of the Ward Committee or not. Since no specific channels for interface between the MS and Ward Committee have been proposed in the Act, a doubt prevails on the liasoning between these two layers of the urban local self-governance. The establishment of the MS as the lowest strata of local self-governance in the urban areas can only be effective when it has acquired autonomy in performing the given functions and managing its financial needs an its own. The Madhya Pradesh Nagar Palika Mohalla Samiti Act is still to be enacted. The seven-year tenure of the JNNURM (2005-12) is over now; no Mohalla Samiti has been created in the State so far. Let’s see how feasible and effective it would be in enhancing the real participation of citizens in urban governance.