“Elite Capture in Participatory Urban Governance
By Debolina Kundu
The responsibility of municipalities to provide crucial services is being increasingly passed on to the resident welfare associations located in middle and upper middle class areas in cities. Similar tools of intervention are absent in the slums and low-income neighbourhoods and even the local ward committees fail to represent their needs and aspirations. The RWAs are trying to sanitise their neighbourhood by attempting to remove encroachments and petty commercial establishments from their “gated” colonies. The very mechanism of the functioning of RWAs is likely to accentuate and institutionalise disparity within urban areas.
In recent years, there has been a sea change in urban governance in the country. The economic liberalisation initiated in the country followed by decentralisation measures adopted by all tiers of the government as an aftermath of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) has resulted in gradual withdrawal of the State and increasing private sector participation in capital investment and operation and maintenance of urban services. The institutional vacuum thus created has sought to be filled up by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Also, the inability of the wards committees, institutionalised through 74th CAA, to usher in decentralised governance has led to the growth of middle class activism through the resident welfare associations (RWAs). The municipal responsibility of provision of services is being increasingly passed on to the RWAs (Smitha 2010). Their involvement has been broadly in areas of operation and management of civic services, capital investment in infrastructural projects, planning and participatory budgeting, and maintenance of neighbourhood security. In fact, efforts have been made to institutionalise them as partners in the development process, through government-led programmes like the Bhagidari in Delhi. The RWAs have been supported not only by the government but also by private agencies and other civil societies. Importantly, their functioning has been restricted largely in the middle income and posh colonies. Correspondingly, the informal settlements, which house the urban poor, are unable to exercise their voice through the same form of activism.
In India, urban development is a state subject, which has resulted in variation in the powers, tasks and membership of the ward committees (WDCs) across states. Also, the provision in the CAA that the state governments are to decide the criteria and procedure of selection of the members of the WDCs has made their very existence and composition a prerogative of the state machinery. There is limited citizen’s participation in planning and implementation at the ward level as these committees have not been constituted properly nor has the CAA clearly spelt out the scope of the functions or their composition. There is also large variation in financial powers of the WDCs across states. Many state governments have remained silent on this issue while some have delegated marginal powers to them (Kundu 2009).
It is noted that WDCs in most of the cities are ineffective in representing the aspirations of the common people. The concept of participation between the people and the local government did not succeed in most cities due to the large size of the constituencies. In many cities they are non-existent and even where they are functioning there is hardly any participation from the citisens at large. WDCs are, thus, non-functional and structurally flawed in most of the metro cities. Further, there is limited participation of both middle and upper class, which led to an alternative system of participatory governance in the form of civil society organisations.
Involving Civil Society Organisations
RWAs are emerging in almost all big cities and are effective as people in a locality or belonging to a group can see their interest being served by these organisations. The participatory model helps the people to get involved to voice their concern by building local pressure groups. RWAs found in middle class areas serve their interests as consumer-citizens. Participation in associational activities is skewed quite heavily towards those with higher levels of education and income (Harriss 2005). Harriss found that in Delhi, the poorer and sometimes also less well educated people are more active in political life, and that poorer people, especially those with some education are more active in solving public problems. He noted that the same is not true of associational activity as there is a strong tendency for wealthier and particularly for more educated people to be involved in associational activity, which questions the notion in the current development discourse that poor people are able to secure effective representation or “empowerment” through participation in associations in civil society.
The NGOs, the government and the private sector are supporting the participatory governance through RWAs in a big way. Asian Centre for Organisation, Research and Development, an NGO, has been assisting the Delhi government with the Bhagidari scheme. A similar involvement is witnessed in Mumbai. Further, the state has in a way sponsored the RWAs. Many state and local governments have signed memoranda of understanding with the RWAs with the latter being accountable to them. In the National Capital Territory of Delhi a majority of the RWAs are registered with Delhi government as their “Bhagidars” (partners) in the Bhagidari or Citizen-Government Partnership Scheme.
The RWAs are required to coordinate with a number of government departments and parastatal and civic agencies to address their day-to-day problems. As an illustration, the RWAs in Delhi need to coordinate with the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to resolve their problems related to drinking water and sanitation. The RWAs also help the DJB to collect water bills, to distribute water through tankers, replace old/leaking pipelines, in water harvesting, etc.
Neighbourhood security is already being maintained by many of the RWAs. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has allowed them to construct gates for security purpose after obtaining necessary clearance from the police, fire department and the MCD itself. Several RWAs have come forward to take up the responsibility of cleaning the roads, maintaining street lights, community parks and roads, and managing community halls as well. The RWAs are trying to sanitise their neighbourhood by trying to remove encroachments and petty commercial establishments from their “gated” colonies. Importantly, in Delhi, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has been brought under the participatory framework as the RWAs have joined hands with the authority for prevention of encroachment, maintenance of community parks, other common areas and parking facilities inside the colony. The RWAs are also coordinating with the Delhi Police for crime prevention and regulation of traffic in their respective colonies. In Mumbai too, residents are trying to ward off the unauthorised encroachments from their immediate neighbourhood as a part of the Advance Locality Management Programme. (…)”
(Quelle: India Environment Portal.)