Tag Archives: urban governance

PRIA’s President speaks to ‘Dainik Jagran’ on Urban Governance in the context of ‘new government’

In the light of new government at National level in India, in an interview with ‘Dainik Jagran’ a national newspaper in India, Dr. Rajesh Tandon, President of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) stressed on the urgent needs and issues in respect to urban development and governance. Some of the key issues raised by Dr. Tandon were:

  1. Need for a Comprehensive National Urban Policy: India with its 40% of population now in urban areas, still doesn’t have a national urban policy that looks into the aspects of urban development and governance. The urban sector has been much neglected, urban local bodies at urban level are not incapacitated, there is yet no means of addressing the need for jobs and livelihood for large influx of rural – urban and urban – urban migration, large villages that are pretty much ‘urban in character’ continue to be classified as villages, the socio- economic growth of urban areas at large is yet not addressed and neither has its true potential realised in respect to national growth. New government in coordination and consensus with State governments should formulate a ‘National Urban Policy’ that addresses these needs of the day.
  2. Need to strengthen the National Planning Process: In India planning process is implemented through five year plans since 1951. We are currently in our Twelfth Five year Plan. This planning tool of ‘Five year plans’ has laid much of its importance and outlook to rural development in the past for India. Now that the urban issues need to be recognised and focused upon, this tool of five year plans cannot be directly applied to ‘urban scenario’. The urban needs and characteristics with larger level of complexities require a strengthening of the National Planning Process. The planning process for urban areas need to recognise the critical need of infrastructure such as transport, water, electricity, housing etc in urban setup. At the same time at planning and policy level adequate attention needs to be given to the ‘informal economy’ that absorbs a large urban population in the most unstructured way. Our cities need to recognise and appreciate these informal workers whose faces we see in rickshaw pullers, vendors, rag pickers etc. A large number of ‘youth’ are migrating to urban areas and job creation becomes a critical and urgent need. Infact lot of crime and violence in the city can be reflected back to the lack of adequate employment opportunities in our cities.
  3. Adequate institutional strengthening at National level: At present the urban development is divided in the two ministries of ‘Ministry of Urban Development’ and ‘Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation’. A single body that looks into and combines the visions of these two ministries is much needed for a holistic development of our urban centres. At the same time a dedicated nodal member at the Planning Commission that looks into matters of ‘urban development’ in specific is also required. Such institutional strengthening at the National level to address urban issues is the need of the hour.
  4. Capacity building at the state and local level: Even though decentralisation came in being at policy level in India long back, its translation on the ground is still missing. Urban local bodies do not have adequate capacity to plan, implement and finance urban development projects which are a clear mandate of these bodies. A lacking cadre in our urban local bodies also results in the staff being unwire of urban issues or with adequate training and capacity being designated responsibilities in these ULBs.
  5. Adequate attention to small and medium towns is required: Small and medium towns and cities have been most ignored in respect to national’s attention for planning, capacity building and financial support. Flagship programmes such as JNNURM focused only on large cities and ignored these small towns and cities. Towns such as Barely and Moradabad might offer great potential but are unfortunately ignored at both policy and planning level. Infact these small and medium towns are large catchment areas which not only see large influx of population from nearby villages but also offer an economical cost of entrepreneurship for these migrants when compared to their cost of living in large cities like Delhi. States like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc. need urgent attention to these small towns that are quickly urbanising. This again reiterates the need for a comprehensive national urban policy.
  6. Integrated infrastructural development for urban areas: Technology and infrastructure needs are high in urban areas. Unfortunately these sectors do not work in unison as a result our urban areas lack basic level of services. Three sectors require urgent attention and their related departments need to work in an integrated fashion. The first sector is the energy sector. Here its various departmental sub-divisions such as nuclear, power, un-conventional sources etc. – all need to work ‘together’ to come towards a valid and sustainable solution for our urban areas. Similar is the case with ‘transport sector’ – here the railways, roadways, aviation, ports – all need to work in unison such that the urban user is catered to well. The third sector is housing where again the planning and development needs to be more integrated.
  7. Recognise the ‘potential’ of urban areas: Urban areas are not just significant for urban GDP but also for national growth. Once adequate attention is given to small towns and cities that are actually ‘source’ of various products to large cities such as agricultural produce – there can be a holistic development at national level.

Catch the youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRz5C3NKtrc&feature=youtu.be



Addressing Urban Poverty and Reformed Urban Governance

Addressing Urban Poverty and Reformed Urban Governance

National Campaign

Speaker Hall, Constitution Club of India

28 March 2014

The event Urban Poverty and Reformed Urban Governance was jointly organised by PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) and FIUPW (Forum for Informal Urban Workers). The objective of the National Consultation is to bring together different stakeholders from the local to the national level, who play a crucial role in the governance and management of cities as well as those who are engaged on issues of urban governance, especially urban poor. It is an effort to bring together organizations of the urban poor, local NGOs, research institutions, media and other coalitions in creating a buzz in Lok Sabha 2014 elections on the issues of urban poverty.

The participants included the following:

There were about 120 participants who included people from media, CSOs and representatives of informal slum dwellers. The CSOs which participated were PRASAR, Delhi Forces, JJEM, B.V.S, Janpahal, Jivan Sudha Samiti, Samanata, RUPOEM, Matri Sudha, Hawkers Joint Action Committee, Pahel, Delhi Hawkers, Madhyanan, AIKMM etc.

The discussion was moderated by Mr Manoj Rai, Director, PRIA


The panelists were:

Surendra Singh, Child Rights/Matri Sudha

He spoke on the issues of children of urban poor and the need to improve the condition of Anganwadis was raised. In Delhi, 70% urban poor women are employed and hence Anganwadis have an important role in their lives. While there are many benefits with respect to children of urban poor like ICDS, Right to Education etc, in spite of these schemes 42% of children in India are malnourished. For these services to reach urban poor to “Pehchan Patra” (identity cards) should be issued for them.

Jawahar Singh, Jhuggi Jhopdi Ekta Manch

Jawaharji spoke about the problems of housing schemes for urban poor such as RAY. He quoted that 70,00,000 people of urban poor donot have any home in Delhi. He highlighted the issue of Kathputli colony which was evicted by Ajay Makan and sold to private builder for 6 crore. The slums are promised 4 storeyed homes in faraway places which separate them from their livelihood. Slums are evicted randomly without efforts of renovation or proper planning. Eviction of slums was not a goal of RAY. He also felt that the Congress manifesto includes an exhaustive list of unrealistic targets. He stressed that the issues must include, Roti, Kapda, Makan, Swasthya and Shiksha.

Mr Dharmendra Kumar, Janpahal

Dharmendraji state the Informal Urban Poor Workers should be formalised in every way. Only when every informal is made formal will he have access to voter id, aadhar cards, bank account etc. In urban a different type of poverty prevails. Here every poor urban home has a TV, a fridge, a bicycle, electric fan but it does not mean they are not poor. Here poverty is in terms of identity cards, access to proper education, sanitation and health services. The definition of urban poverty is changing with time. He also suggested that monitoring of manifestos of political parties should happen in parallel.

Rajendra Pratap Gupta, Manifesto Committee, BJP

Rajendra Guptaji said that  BJP manifesto provides specific solution to these problems. Employment has to be created. The main reason for urban poverty to grow is because there is no livelihood. Aim is to increase manufacturing sector to increase employment opportunities. Tourism is a very important source for India which will be ventured. Every scheme proposed by BJP will go through Social, Economic and Environment audit. India requires 1,80,00,000 homes all over country. This is a very big challenge which cannot be addressed in short span of 5 years but it is a vision.


Ashok Thakur, Cooperatives, BJP

Ashok ji said that Construction people stay in Jhuggi Jhopri only. Only when the manpower from these JJ is trained and investment is made in their development then their situations will become better.

In the last session there was open discussion, where the community people participation actively.

The main aim of this consultation was to voice the issues of urban poor. The issues were directly raised by the community people residing in various slums of Delhi. Their issues gained voice through the event and the political parties paid attention to their issues in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.


Participation by informal urban poor at its best



Urban Poverty and Urban Governance : Lok Sabha 2014

by Abhishek Jha, PRIA

“Soul of India used to live in villages but in the present epoch of time most of its souls have deviated and migrated to cities and other urban spaces and they will continue to do so”. These were the words shared by one of the speakers during the PEPAC (Pre-Election Political Awareness Campaign) consultation at Bhagalpur, Bihar. If we analyse and reflect on the above mentioned quote, it clearly connotes and indicates towards the unplanned urban growth in our country, exactly like the disturbed and restless souls which doesn’t know which way they are heading. In the same context one of the urban sociologists coined a term called ‘Pseudo Urbanisation’  which broadly meant  a state or situation where the population of urban areas continue to grow  unprecedentedly without any improvement in core basic service for addressing the needs of its citizens.  This situation is being faced by most of developing nations across the world and India is no exception.  

This fact that urbanisation is an outcome of economic change across the world has been widely accepted and hence urban areas widely referred to as engines of economic growth. But ironically the discussions and deliberations around making these engines perform better have been very less. It can be said that this has been primarily due to lack of political will among citizens as they have failed to raise demands (can clearly be understood by the status of cities) and among the political parties (since very few of them have urban on their  election agendas).   So the question arises what can be done and what should be done?

Taking these into account Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) initiated a dialogue process in the campaign mode with different stakeholders at multiple locations across the country, it must be noted here that representatives from political parties were at the core of discussion to share their views on how to change the challenges of urbanisation into opportunities. And what could be seen predominantly was that, at many places (specifically across small and medium towns) no such dialogues were ever initiated to discuss the issues of Urbanisation or to be specific issues of Urban Governance and Urban Poverty. It can be said there has been an absolute lacuna of vision for the so called these Engines of Economic Growth (bigger and smaller).

Now if we analyse the approaches being followed traditionally at national level the situation is not very encouraging as well. According to data available, out of 551 Lok Sabha Seats near about 201 will be contested from urban areas, but at the same time if we look at the Planned Expenditure under 12th Five year plan it is Rupees 68080 Crores for urban areas and at the same time it is 55 lakh Crores for rural areas.  It is worth noting that, all most all the states in country amended the state specific Municipal Acts incorporating the provisions of 74th CAA, but regrettably very few states could perform up to expectations which was envisaged under the amendment i.e. to make urban local bodies into vibrant self- governing institutions.

The inefficiency of the urban local governments can be understood as a direct manifestation of many actions (known and unknown) coming together as whole process of urbanisation is not a standalone phenomenon. The recipe of urbanisation involves many ingredients which are politically and socially high priced, land, infrastructures (social and physical), economic linkages to name a few. This altogether makes it a politically lucrative delicacy and takes it even farther from the reach of urban poor, who have been living and serving the cities since decades.

So the question remains what can be done?  

Citizens in a democratic set-up, get some selected opportunities to demand and negotiate from the candidates and the political parties and that is only during the time of election. Here comes the election again (Lok Sabha 2014 ) and its the time that we as a part of civil society need to demand collectively for our towns and cities, as Harvey has rightly said we all have a right to city.                         

“To claim the right to city in the sense I mean it here to claim some kind shaping

power over the processes of urbanisation, over the ways in which our cities are made and

remade and to do so in a fundamental and radical way.” (Harvey)

Urban poverty and governance – West Bengal

PRIA and Child in Need Institute is organizing a campaign in West Bengal on urban poverty and governance issues. Here are some of the issues raised:

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“How Feasible and Effective would Mohalla Samitis be in Urban Madhya Pradesh”?

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.

Learning through South-South Exchange: Urban Governance

By Bhavita Vaishnava, PRIA  , Published in DVV international

“South-South-Learning and Cooperation is about developing countries working together to find solutions to common development challenges.” This helps develop a sense of ownership of the development process. Partners are mostly at par with each other, and their relationship is free from any kind of dominance and power. Bhavita Vaishnava, programme officer of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), one of dvv international’s oldest partners in Asia, describes the experience of stakeholders from three countries from the South, India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, who work together to promote urban local governance.

Learning through South-South Exchange: A Case on Improving Urban Governance

1. Social Accountability and Citizen Participation in the Urban Context

In a small mohalla (neighbourhood) called Satnami in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, the citizens had more than one reason to celebrate. Firstly, they had successfully been able to influence the municipal authorities in installing a new water tank in their locality as well as getting the old connection repaired. Secondly, these changes had happened within a week’s time, due to the consistent efforts of community women who prepared a resolution demanding improved water supply services.

In recent years many cities and towns across the globe are experiencing these kinds of demand driven changes or rather developments, which are notably initiated by sections of the urban poor. The analysis of this phenomenon is quite simple. It is ultimately the urban poor residing in slums, resettlement colonies, shacks, streets etc. that are most affected by the growing menace of rapid urbanization. This is due to the fact that on the one hand they lack resources, both financial and material, to deal with the nuances of urbanization, and on the other they are mostly “excluded” or barely “superficially included” in the development agendas and processes designed towards attaining urban growth.

The last couple of decades have witnessed a remarkable shift towards urbanization, where cities have fortunately or unfortunately emerged as engines of economic and commercial growth as well as centers of socio-cultural and political activities.

They have acquired a strong multi-cultural and metropolitan identity on account of their dynamic and ever expanding population base. However, the flip-side of this process of urban growth is equally stark. According to Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of United Nations,

“The emerging picture of the 21st century city fits many descriptions. Some are centers of rapid industrial growth and wealth creation, often accompanied by harmful waste and pollution. Others are characterized by stagnation, urban decay and rising social exclusion and intolerance. Both scenarios point to the urgent need for new, more sustainable approaches to urban development. Both argue for greener, more resilient and inclusive towns and cities that can help combat climate change and resolve age-old urban inequalities”.1

Moon’s statement clearly reiterates the paradox of urban growth and development that has struck even the best planned and organized cities around the world at some point or other. As far as the small and medium sized towns are concerned, they tell an even worse story. Especially in the developing countries, they bring to light the poor status of urban services and resources, be it water, sanitation, electricity, health and education. This is partly due to the perpetual rise in urban population, which creates immense pressure on the limited resources, and partly due to the lack of effective systems and mechanisms to manage and govern cities that face this crisis. This is particularly true for the developing countries of the global South, especially Asia, which hosts the majority of the largest cities in the world. In 2000, the region contained 227 cities with 1 million or more residents and 21 cities with 5 million or more inhabitants. Of every 10 big or large cities from the global South, more than 7 are located in Asia. Moreover, of the 100 fastest growing cities with populations of more than 1 million inhabitants in the world, 66 are in Asia.2

And this is not where it ends! The situation gets worse when this enormous growth in towns and mega-cities is not complemented by the emergence of new, or strengthening of existing support structures at the local level, especially those that are entrusted with the responsibility of managing and governing the towns and cities. At the local level they are mostly the service providing agencies such as municipalities, city/town development authorities or water supply authorities that are created by the state. In most scenarios, these institutions in themselves are not adequately armed (in terms of financial and human resources) to deal with crisis situations, nor are they clear about their roles and responsibilities, which are often overlapping. At the end of the day, the ones who have to bear the brunt of this adverse situation are the citizens, more so the poor and the marginalized.

Cambodian delegates discuss with the Mayor of Varanasi during their visit to India

Cambodian delegates discuss with the Mayor of Varanasi during their visit to India Source: PRIA

The world over, many countries and their governments are realizing the increasing danger posed by unplanned urban growth and trying to devise measures to effectively come out of it. Apart from the state, different actors in the civil society, academia and media are also promoting innovative mechanisms to, a) sensitize citizens about the nuances of urbanization, b) build their capacities to collectively work towards change that they can foster at the community level, and c) engage them in dialogues and demanding better services, where it is totally dependent on the authorities. The power and potential of civic engagement are not unknown to the world. Especially in the developing countries such practices are increasingly being experimented as they have exhibited some truly positive results. In some cases they are led by individual leaders/community members, and in others through a process of collective action mostly triggered by the intense need to bring about a shift in the way things are happening. Citizens in such initiatives are often supported by civil society and/or media, who play a crucial role in strengthening their voices and giving them a shape.

In fact, it is through the collaborative efforts of the different stakeholders, who, when acting as strategic partners in this process of change, are able to bring about the desired outcomes. The grassroots knowledge and energies of the communities, coupled with technical guidance and inputs of civil society, as well as the support of local authorities, are some of the vital factors that facilitate change, if converged at the right time with the right approach. The example of the Satnami mohalla quoted above (in the first paragraph), therefore brings to light the fine interplay of resources and knowledge as owned and shared by the different stakeholders. In this case, they were the affected women of Satnami, the authorities of Raipur Municipal Corporation as well as the civil society organization, PRIA (Participatory Research In Asia), who together helped in making the local governance system more accountable and responsive. To yield best results and make the process more participatory, PRIA in this initiative ensured that all the relevant stakeholders are engaged so that a shared ownership is built since the very beginning. Similarly, myriads of innovative endeavors have been undertaken in a collaborative manner by concerned stakeholders across different regions of the world, which offer a lot in terms of mutual learning and sharing.

2. Learning from Each Other (Specially South-South Learning) through the Sharing and Dissemination of Such Practices/ Interventions

Therefore, provided that there are emerging models or trends that showcase the impacts of collective action, and enough opportunities where they can be replicated and adopted, there is a need to create a link between them so that more innovative, need-based and participatory mechanisms are developed and promoted. In doing so, there are a couple of aspects that need to be kept in mind. First, it is extremely important to ensure that the principles of mutual learning and sharing are maintained so that all the stakeholders involved in the process are able to contribute their expertise and knowledge towards the common goal. Secondly, it is also crucial to realize the extent of commonalities among the different stakeholders/regions in terms of the socio-economic and political contexts, before forging an alliance among them. This is essential so that they do not feel threatened or overwhelmed by the extremes that the others bring to the table, but relate with each other in a way that the learning process becomes more meaningful for all of them.

This is what the concept of South-South learning talks about. South-South learning and cooperation is about developing countries working together to find solutions to common development challenges. This approach promotes closer technical and economic cooperation among developing countries by employing experts from the South, sharing best practices from the South, and helping to develop a sense of ownership of the development process.3 South-South cooperation is increasingly being used as a popular means to accelerate learning among the Southern countries as it provides practical and feasible solutions to some of the most impinging questions that the developing countries are facing today. It has proved to be far better than the system of North-South knowledge transfer where the Northern countries/ stakeholders usually control the process of development and the Southern partners are at the receiving end. When developing countries learn from each other by exchanging their knowledge and expertise it is bound to be a more enriching and fulfilling experience. This is so because they are mostly at par with each other and their relationship is free from any kind of dominance or power; in fact it is based on the principles of mutual learning and sharing.

In pursuance of this principle, PRIA, through the “Deepening Local Democratic Governance through Social Accountability in Asia” initiative, is trying to bring together stakeholders from three Southern countries, namely Bangladesh, Cambodia and India, to facilitate a process of mutual learning and knowledge exchange on the issues of urban governance. This initiative is being implemented with the support of United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) as a resource providing agency, and PRIP Trust in Bangladesh and SILAKA in Cambodia as implementing partners. It aims to improve democratic practices in urban local governance institutions through social accountability for improving the provision of basic services to marginalized families in two Asian cities – Rajshahi in Bangladesh and Takhmao in Cambodia.

Neighbourhood Committee Members developing a pictorial monitoring chart

Neighbourhood Committee Members developing a pictorial monitoring chart Source: PRIA

The initiative is designed to share PRIA’s experience on improving urban local governance and accountability in Indian towns and cities with the identified cities in Bangladesh and Cambodia. It focuses on enhancing organized civic action and participation through mobilization, capacity building, campaigns and participatory monitoring in ensuring accountability. The overall objective is to build the capacities of local intermediary civil society organizations and communities through trainings, exposure visits, and mentoring for influencing national and sub-national policies on social accountability and urban governance issues.

This endeavor is therefore seen as an opportunity to promote and facilitate South-South learning, since all the three partner countries, apart from belonging to the global South, also have a shared threat and concern for the emerging development crises. They bring to the partnership their unique set of knowledge and practices that makes it a vibrant platform for exchange of ideas and meaningful deliberations. As a whole, the collaboration provides an opportunity to the partner countries to balance their limitations and weaknesses and project the best that they have to offer.

In the recent past, the governments of many developing countries have brought about a paradigm shift in their mode of governance by adopting more decentralized and participatory approaches towards development. This shift has however not been very smooth for most of these countries because it challenges notions of power and authority. Therefore, embracing the same has not been an easy task for many countries, and most of them are still struggling to cope up with the new identity.

This situation is also true, to some extent, for the three countries in this partnership. India, however, can be said to be relatively ahead of Bangladesh and Cambodia in this regard. This can be attributed to the fact that the Indian government adopted decentralization in 1991 (with the enactment of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment acts), which is much earlier than in the other two countries. India has also made considerable progress towards political empowerment of the marginalized groups through democratic decentralization over the years, and by virtue of this offers useful learnings to both the partner countries. In Bangladesh and Cambodia the legal frameworks for democratic decentralization are also in place with the enactment of the City Corporation Act and City Corporation Rule 2009 and the Organic Law 2008 respectively. These legal frameworks outline the roles, responsibilities and authorities of local governance institutions. However, democratic local governance is much more than a set of institutional procedures and rules. The spaces for citizen participation to co-govern the cities, to demand transparency and accountability, and to collaborate to find joint solutions are far from satisfactory.

Though “good governance” is at the heart of the Cambodian Government’s Rectangular Strategy and is highlighted as a requirement for the country to achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development, the country is characterized by weak accountability and strong corruption as well as poor enforcement of the rule of law. The highly centralized nature of the Cambodian state reduces the ability of citizens to influence issues that directly affect their lives. The distance between local protest and national government is vast4. Similarly, though Bangladesh has recently made improvements on some of its Human Development Indicators, its poor record on governance holds its potential back. Successive governments have been unresponsive to the needs of poor and marginalized communities. Instead, state power is used for personal and partisan ends, and the accountability mechanisms of the political system do not function as they should, and corruption levels remain high5.

Interestingly, in spite of the above mentioned limitations in their governance systems, all three countries possess some strong ingrained characteristics that have helped them evolve from the most adverse of situations. Be it the ever-changing nature of the Indian democracy, the Khmer Rouge and civil war in Cambodia, or the dynamics of party politics in Bangladesh, they have overcome these obstacles and exhibited their strengths in more ways than one. This partnership hence creates a greater opportunity for them to share their strengths and learn from each other.

3. South-South Learning in Practice: How Are PRIA and Partners Doing it?

In order to effectively deal with the concerns of urbanization and democratic deficit (as described at the beginning), PRIA is trying to create an enabling environment for knowledge exchange and enhancing the capacities of the engaged partners so that they can together design appropriate solutions for them. In doing so the tenets of adult and Lifelong Learning6 as well as participatory methodologies are practiced in various forms. In fact, the initiative has been designed in a way to create opportunities for interaction, discourse and negotiation wherever necessary and possible. Participatory techniques have been adopted at various stages, be it programme management or implementation of different tasks and activities. This is important as the learnings have to be contextualized before they are adopted and replicated so that they can yield the best results.

Exchange of knowledge and capacities is fostered both vertically and horizontally. In other words, cross-country sharing of knowledge by the associated civil society organizations (horizontal learning) is further disseminated in their home countries with other relevant stakeholders such as the civil society organizations (local partners, community based organizations, media, academia etc.), the community as well as with the concerned government departments in the form of vertical communication. At times these interfaces are formally incorporated in the structure of the intervention, but mostly they are allowed to emerge on their own as and when the situation demands.

In a way it can be said that learning is shared and capacities are being built at different levels through a myriad of ways. These are explained below as:

Thematic learning among the partner organizations

First, there is the exchange of knowledge at the programme level among the partner organizations, which is related to seeking and providing technical guidance on the various components or themes of the programme. In this case they are urban governance, tools/mechanisms of social accountability (citizens’ charters, grievance redressal systems and information disclosure), citizen participation and monitoring (citizens’ reports, community based monitoring) etc. This learning helps in enhancing their capacities and prepares them to take up similar thematic interventions in the future. There are different ways in which this learning is being pursued. New and innovative means of communication are adopted to accelerate the process of learning among the partner organizations. Apart from the regular exchange of ideas and information through resource material, manuals, books, e-mails and phones, newer communication tools are being explored to make the best possible use of the available technologies. A major part of the “handholding” support is being offered “virtually” through the use of video conferencing and online meetings. This provides scope for direct interaction, where doubts and queries are raised and addressed on a regular basis, which helps in managing and implementing the initiatives at the local level.

Learning among the different stakeholders

Secondly, learnings are also being shared among the other stakeholders both directly or indirectly. There is enough space for direct interaction and communication among different stakeholders from the three countries that has been materialized in the form of exposure visits and study tours. One of these, a study visit, was organized that brought together a range of actors including members of the civil society, media, citizens, municipal officials and elected representatives from the three countries. This visit was conducted in the two cities of Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and Jaipur (Rajasthan) in India, where PRIA has had considerable work experience and association with the respective municipalities and local citizens on issues of social accountability and urban governance. This visit opened up new avenues for dialogues and proved to be an effective platform to nurture and facilitate mutual learning and sharing. It was a three-way learning process where the delegates from Bangladesh and Cambodia got an opportunity to not only learn from their host country (India) but also from each other. For the Indian counterparts (officials, elected representatives, citizens etc.) too, it was an occasion to share their experiences as well as gather from the delegates how they function in their respective countries, what are the different institutions, frameworks and procedures of urban governance etc. On the other hand, knowledge is shared indirectly through the partner organizations, who learn from each other about the best practices and then transfer that piece of information to the concerned stakeholders. This sharing and capacity building happens in different ways, some of them being trainings, workshops, regular dialogues and meetings with the respective stakeholders. 

The pictorial monitoring chart

The pictorial monitoring chart 
Source: PRIA

● Joint learning as a group of Southern countries

In the course of implementation of this initiative, it has been realized that the learnings from the partnership go far beyond the programmatic or thematic aspects. It offers huge learnings not only in programme management and implementation but also on how such multicountry initiatives, especially among the Southern countries,can be made more effective and meaningful. What can be the dynamics and challenges of these initiatives and what are the roles and responsibilities that each partner needs to play in order to materialize the partnership? What decisions need to be taken at the local level and where do the partners need to consult each other and then arrive at a common understanding? These learnings, that can be found in many partnerships, are of utmost significance in cases of cross-country collaborations as they are of a totally different magnitude and nature. Therefore, they need to be realized, understood and put to best use by discussing them internally as well as disseminating them to others who are pursuing similar initiatives.

4. Some Results

This collaboration in South-South learning between India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, although still in the nascent stage, has already been able to exhibit some positive results. At the community level, citizens in both countries are being mobilized to participate and engage with the municipal authorities in raising demands for improved basic services. Due to the absence of organized civic action, citizens have been encouraged and supported to form neighbourhood committees. Around fifteen such committees have been formed in both countries, and they are being strengthened to identify and deal with emerging issues at the neighbourhood level. These neighbourhood committees and identified citizen leaders have also been capacitated to take up community monitoring exercises. Citizens’ Reports on WATSAN7 services have been prepared in both the cities that have revealed the unhappy state of affairs of the municipal services.

Another encouraging sign has been the positive attitude and behavior of the government officials and municipal authorities in taking this initiative seriously. In both countries they have extended their support and shown interest in collaborating with the partner organizations. Efforts towards strengthening the social accountability mechanisms in both municipalities are being pursued in full swing. In the Takhmao municipality, a task force has also been formed which is deliberating on formulating a citizens’ charter based on the services that the municipality provides to its citizens.

Apart from the citizens and municipal officials, the local media and other community based organizations have also been engaged in this partnership. Ties with media persons have led to publishing media briefs in local newspapers in Bangladesh and Cambodia that have been successful in generating awareness among the citizens about their potential role as partners in the process of change.


1 State of the World Cities 2010-11, Bridging the Urban Divide, UN-Habitat.
2 State of the Worlds Cities, 2008-09, Harmonious Cities, UN Habitat.
3 Ajay Tejasvi, “South-South Capacity Development: The way to grow?” Capacity Development Briefs, No. 20, February 2007, World Bank Institute.
4 Cited from the website http://khmerviews.com/2008/12/social-accountability-in-cambodia/
5 Cited from DFID’s report called DFID’s Programme in Bangladesh, Third Report of Session 2009–10,
6 Adult Education and Lifelong Learning is a continuous process with a more participative approach. It encourages dialogue and debate amongst people from the community, which is a good way of getting to know the “others” point of view. (Taken from PRIA distance education appreciation course module on “Concepts and Trends in Adult Education”)
7 Water and Sanitation.