Steps to enable citizens

Steps to enable citizens

Data-driven ward-level planning

With the change in the Karnataka government in July 2019, it was reported that crores of rupees allocated by the earlier government to constituencies represented by MLAs of the JD(S)-Congress alliance were withdrawn and re-allocated to constituencies with BJP MLAs. On the other hand, a recent news report says that Karnataka is “set for a big data leap” to provide “evidence-based governance” to prepare effective data-driven master plans in urban areas.  So, how does the ad hoc re-allocation of constituency funds by each new government gel with data-driven planning? Should fund allocation be based on the needs of a constituency, or on which party’s MLA happens to represent it?

Now is the time that departments collect inputs for the 2020 budget. In Bengaluru, now that many ward committees are functioning, albeit half-heartedly or willy-nilly, citizens are keen to take the next step towards citizen-driven, bottom-up planning for their wards. One political party has been developing Citizens’ Ward Handbooks to aid them in this process.  

If ward plans are to fulfil the chief function of “Planning for Economic Development & Social Justice” delegated to local governments under the Nagarapalika Act, what should their focus be? This would require broadening the ambit of plans towards inclusivity and genuine ‘human development’ rather than focus merely on the physical development of roads, drains, etc., which currently appears to be the main sphere of ward planning. But, do citizens have the data needed to prepare evidence-based, human development plans?

For instance, a recent visit to an Anganwadi in the heart of Bengaluru revealed that it consisted of just one room, stacked with food-grain sacks all around, and a kitchen in one corner, with hardly any space for the children to play. It had a water tap but no sewerage.  Hence, children were not allowed to wash their hands under it as the water would drain out on to the road through a hole in the wall and the neighbours would complain about it. There was no toilet, so children who needed to relieve themselves were sent home!

So, there exists an Anganwadi on paper, but does it meet the norms of ‘attractive ambience’, separate classroom, restroom, dining hall, kitchen, storeroom, toilet, outdoor playground,  etc., as recommended by the Justice NK Patil Committee, on the implementation of which the High Court is now demanding a report from the government? Also, the Supreme Court has asked Anganwadis to be upgraded to full day-care centres.

A domestic worker’s pregnant daughter, who visited a BBMP maternity home-cum-primary health centre recently, was not given a ‘Mother’s Card’ until it was demanded, as the post of the doctor who was supposed to issue it was vacant. Being severely anaemic, she was asked to bring iron injections from outside, which cost Rs 500 each time, and to get a scan done which cost Rs 1,000. So, there is a PHC on paper, but is it as per the Indian Public Health Standards? 

A government elementary school in the centre of Bengaluru has no BWSSB water connection as it has an unpaid bill running into lakhs of rupees. It receives an electricity bill for more than Rs 3,000 per month, to pay which its school grants are insufficient; hence community members are paying it. The school had long-term dropouts who had never been brought before the Child Welfare Committee and placed in free government residential schools as per RTE Rules. So, there is a school, but does it have infrastructure as per the norms mandated in the Right to Education Act? Is it ensuring the fundamental Right to Education of every child, on which, too, the HC is now demanding a report? 

There is a three-decade-old slum with 60 households on private land just off a busy arterial road in Bengaluru. The landlord collects Rs 1,000 as rent from each of the households but has provided only tin-sheds and three toilets and no drinking water. Garbage is strewn everywhere. But no ward plan has brought this slum under the JnNURM or the Rajiv Awas Yojana — schemes which required the city to be made slum-free by acquiring land, if necessary, and going in for in-situ development of slums.

To bring about greater focus on inclusivity and human development in ward plans, CIVIC had been advocating that a ‘Human Development Index’, at zonal, if not at ward, level should be developed as is being done at Gram Panchayat level. To meet human development goals, there is a need for a ‘Ward Social Infrastructure Index’ (WSII) to indicate whether primary health centres, schools, anganwadis, creches, as per their mandated norms and population standards exist in the ward; and also whether there are sufficient decent housing units to make the ward slum-free, etc.

CIVIC had suggested that this WSII should be used by the Area Sabhas and Ward Committees to prepare a five-year ‘Ward Vision Plan’, setting targets for social infrastructure and human development outcomes and measuring and reviewing the outcomes periodically. The tragedy is that though this suggestion was included in the Draft Ward Committee Rules of March 2014, it did not find a place in the final Rules gazetted in June 2016. While BBMP alone may not be responsible currently for all the domains listed above, due to deficient decentralization of powers to address them, the Citizens’ Handbook mentioned above contends that “corporators and BBMP officials must help to solve problems pertaining to other agencies and departments.”  

So, unless the municipality provides to citizens the standards for social infrastructure mandated under laws, and the database on their status in each ward, how will citizens make evidence-based and inclusive human development plans for their wards?

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