If eight million citizens could participate in planning its growth as mandated by the Constitution of India, Hyderabad could go beyond being just a smart city and become an Intelligent City! Article 243 of the Constitution of India along with the 74th Amendment and GO No.57 of 2010 issued by the erstwhile Government of Andhra Pradesh have together laid the foundation for the constitution of Ward Committees and Area Sabhas under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) with the objective of involving all citizens in the process of governance and truly taking democracy to the grassroots.
These three provisions, collectively, imply that it is the common people the voters -who are to take all decisions about development activities and selection of beneficiaries for all government schemes in their areas through participation in the Area Sabha meetings of their localities.
Government officials and elected representatives from the Corporator to the Member of Parliament from the area cannot take decisions.
They are responsible only for the implementation of the decisions taken by people in the Area Sabhas and Ward Committees.
However, in practice, people are allowed to decide only once in five years when they cast their votes and thereafter, it is the elected representatives and officials who start taking all decisions (blatantly usurping the constitutional prerogative of the people) and also implementing them leading to total exclusion of people from the development and governance processes, which is unconstitutional, undemocratic and illegal. Hyderabad city has created history in the urban body elections in India by giving the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) an unprecedented mandate of 99 out of 150 seats, in the recently concluded GHMC elections. The winning party during the election campaign had assured to activate Area Sabhas and Ward Committees. After the unprecedented victory, its senior functionaries have gone on record to reiterate that Area Sabhas and Ward Committees will be constituted at the earliest with provisions to function as per norms already laid down. But for this to indeed be possible and productive, some actions will need to be undertaken by the government and GHMC at the earliest.
First, Area Sabhas and Ward Committees must be constituted immediately and their meetings must be held regularly and as per norms, i.e. once in two months for Ward Committees and once in three months for Areas Sabhas.
Second, regular orientation and training programs should be organised for all Corporators, Ward Committee and Area Sabha Members and concerned staff of GHMC in the principles, procedures, requirements and social national benefits of ensuring participatory governance as required by Article 243 of the Constitution.
Third, the government or GHMC must consider the idea of inviting personalities with proven accomplishments winners of international, national and state government awards in different categories to ac cept nomination to Area Sabhas and Ward Committees.
Even if 500-600 such people of eminence are inducted into the 150 wards of GHMC (out of around 3,000 to be inducted into these bodies), it can prove to be a game changer in building the brand and stature of Area Sabhas and Ward Committees, ensuring participation of people in local bodies, introducing people-relevant development programmes in each area and transparency in governance, at the grassroots.
Fourth, a publicity blitz should be undertaken as majority of the people are just not aware of the provision for their participation in local governance even 66 years after this privilege for citizens of India was laid down in the Constitution. And finally , an allocation of 20% of the budget of the Ward to the Area Sabhas (about 2% of the budget to each of the 10 Area Sabhas in a Ward) to take up minor repair and maintenance works, as required under the rules of GHMC, and that could ensure immediate and appropriate repairs and rectification of any defects improvement in local civic amenities, must be made. About 80% of all complaints relating to civic issues of the areas could be effectively addressed within one week through this mechanism already available.
If all this indeed happens, it could create a new paradigm for governance from the grassroots level and turn into reality the vision and core value of the Constitution of India of participatory governance, which alone can be the bedrock of democracy .
(The author is Executive Director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations)
Source: The Times of India
Updated On: Feb 25 2016