Times of India: Pune: Saturday, February 11, 2017.
Dissatisfied with the efforts of the Pune Municipal Corporation in laying a concrete road in their locality, the residents of South Avenue in Kalyaninagar decided to take matters into their own hands.
They approached the additional city engineer and insisted on the road having a footpath and crossings. The citizens also pointed out flaws in the plan, and suggested revisions so that the slope of the road is gentler; otherwise, rainwater would accumulate in residential areas. The civic body listened to those suggestions and worked accordingly, monitored by the residents.
In other parts of the city, Mohalla Committee members actually measured the diameter of the water pipeline to be laid in the area, and discovered that the contractor was planning to lay smaller pipes. They contacted the civic administration in this regard.
"Vibrant civic activism and participation in civic planning and execution has worked well," Satish Khot of National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC) said, adding: "From garbage segregation to participatory budgets, citizens' groups have been active, and helped facilitate good governance."
Pune is among the few cities which allow direct participation of citizens in the annual civic budget. The Janwani organization has proactively worked towards promoting and facilitating participatory budgeting. As a result, the PMC increased participatory budgeting allocation. The aim of participatory budgeting, according to Janwani, is to bring out citizens' engagement in the city's governance, and thus create liveable neighbourhoods.
The total participatory budgeting allocation in 2015-16 was Rs37.4 crore, and 6,000 citizens had suggested development works in their localities to utilize the funds. Around Rs2.4 crore was spent in four administrative wards Ghole Road, Ahmednagar Road, Bhawani Peth and Kasba Vishrambaugwada.
Citizens' groups have made use of Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which allows for the inspection of municipal records. Common people are using this is keep track of development works.
Pune municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar admitted that key policies, such as the Pedestrian Policy, Comprehensive Mobility Plan, Hoarding Policy, were possible only because of participation from citizens. "The Smart City Mission plan is the best example," Kumar said. "The entire plan was based on suggestions made by Puneites," he further said, adding that citizens and administration joining hands facilitates the smooth execution of development works in the city.
The NSCC holds a monthly meeting with PMC officials to discuss civic issues. "An antagonistic approach is not going to resolve any issue. Citizens and PMC must work together, and that is the key to good governance," Khot said.
In stark contrast, politicians have shown little interest in involving citizens in civic works.
"A majority of politicians want to keep people in the dark," said Siddharth Dhende, who is the only Pune corporator to organize regular area sabhas to involve citizens in the planning and execution of projects at the ward level.
In fact, it was a citizens' movement which forced the civic body and state government to open up the metro project plan to the people. The project went under public scrutiny even as the state tried rush the project through.
"When civic officers were putting forward facts and figures to show that the project is infeasible, citizens presented a detailed study to the PMC and the state," said Aneeta Gokhale-Benninger, a member of the Green Pune Movement.
Citizens' groups are also working with the PMC to improve quality of education in civic schools. "We are working with housing societies and civic groups to resolve the garbage issues. Citizens have actively supported the PMC in its efforts. There is a long way to go, but with citizens and PMC joining hands, I am confident we will reach a sustainable solution," said Rajendra Jagtap, the head of PMC's solid waste department.
Groups like Sajag Nagrik Manch, Nagrik Chetana Manch, Surajya Sangharsh Samiti have repeatedly objected to elected representatives making domestic and foreign trips in the name of study tours. These groups have also sought reports from corporators who went on such tours. Ahead of this month's, the Parivartan organization has published a report card of corporators, with the belief that only close scrutiny will hold elected representatives accountable.
"As concepts, participation and citizen engagement focus on the idea that involving stakeholders in decision-making about their communities and broader social issues has important social, economic and political benefits," states the United Nations' Economic and Social Council note.
Pune's citizens have set an example of citizen engagement.