A bond for better Bengaluru

Last Updated 15 August 2015, 19:53 IST

This Saturday, a rare opportunity awaits Bengalureans to either ventilate their collective angst over unaddressed civic issues or back a work exemplarily accomplished. On August 22, as they head out to vote in the BBMP polls, they would have their options clear: Look out for candidates they perceive to be accountable, clean, ethical and socially committed.

But do citizens feel empowered after the elections? Do they have an option to demand action on their immediate civic issue from the corporator they elect? These are big questions put to the backburner, as candidates in their hyper-active campaign mode beckon every voter. Yet, a ray of hope has arisen across the City with citizens and residents’ collectives regrouping to chart out their demands, and get the candidates commit to them.

Incidentally, Deccan Herald has already launched an initiative, “Citizens For Change” to get residents and residents collectives engage meaningfully with their candidates. Citizens from across the City are already listing the 10 most critical issues in their wards, and getting candidates sign an undertaking that the issues would be addressed within a specified timeframe.

The Citizens Action Forum (CAF), a prominent collective of residents’ welfare associations, has prepared a Citizens Charter, listing out best practices to be followed by the candidates before and after the BBMP polls.

The Charter seeks clean candidates free of corruption and criminal charges for which maximum punishment is of five years or more. It urges all parties to adopt a zero-tolerance to corruption, and avoid conflict of interest. This is particularly important since in the past several corporators have been found to have personal business linkages with the Palike.

Going beyond its charter of demands, the Forum has planned a slew of ward-level debates to help residents engage directly with the candidates. One of these is scheduled on Sunday at Kalyannagar, where all corporators from the constituency are expected to converge.

But the objective goes beyond establishing a direct link. The stress, as with Deccan Herald’s ‘Citizens for Change’ initiative, is to get the candidates sign a pledge that once elected, they would abide by the charter.

Inaction by elected representatives in the past have often triggered public apathy, eventually widening the disconnect. Pre-election debates and interactions could ideally avoid or delay this trend provided the pledge to be accountable goes beyond mere signatures.

Every corporator has at his command, Rs 3 crore to ensure his / her ward’s upkeep. If the corporator-residents link endures, citizens could keep a verifiable tab on this amount is spent and for what projects.

Technology could help residents accomplish this task with relative ease. For instance, with the Mobile App launched by CAF, citizens could upload the picture and details of a drain that needs immediate attention.

The corporator’s response could then be tracked, and if the problem is fixed, he / she would get instant appreciation.

The App has already been downloaded hundreds of times. But the purpose would be served only if corporators adopt the concept with genuine interest.

“Even if 20 people in each ward participate actively, it could bring in some change. It has also the potential to attract the younger crowd, who tend to stay away,” says Mahalakshmi from CAF.

Of course, there is much social media action both on the elections and civic issues. But those vociferous debates online often do not translate to active engagement offline. Otherwise, the voter turnout should not have hovered around a dismal 40 per cent.

Bengaluru, with a voter base of 72 lakh, can hardly be proportionately represented by 198 BBMP corporators. This is where the residents’ welfare associations hold the key.

Here’s why: Enactment of the 74th Constitutional Amendment to strengthen participation of citizens in governance at the local level. Essentially, the idea was to devolve the powers to the Urban Local Bodies, thus reflecting the will of the people.

But there was a method to be adopted by state governments to make the Amendment really practical. Setting up ward committees and area sabhas was critical. Yet, both the BBMP and the state government have not shown any seriousness in empowering these institutions.

Residents’ Welfare Associations across the City are dominated by senior citizens. Their ability to pin down corporators to their local issues has been limited. But if the RWAs are to really take that decisive shift to be Ward Committee and Area Sabha members, more youngsters need to come in actively.

The recent upsurge in involvement of the youth in facelift, spot-fix solutions across Bengaluru offers hope. On weekends, youngsters are increasingly taking up the broom to wipe streets, clean up garbage dumps and beautify the dirt spots that attract waste. This very visible engagement has the potential to become something bigger.

Yes, building a symbiotic link with responsive, interested, socially connected ward corporators should be the next step.

(Published 15 August 2015, 19:46 IST)

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