GHMC Enhancing Community Participation and Civic Engagement

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Adwait Kumar Singh

In Hyderabad, the experience of people’s participation has evoked overwhelming response. They have adopted the flagship initiatives of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) with great zeal and enthusiasm. Such an emotive response has also allowed the administration to go ahead with its social outreach agenda confidently, writes Adwait Kumar Singh, Additional Commissioner, GHMC.

Enactment of the 73rd and 74th Amendment in 1993 marked a major intellectual watershed in the way governance and administration was conceptualised and thought of in the policy making and administrative setup of the country. Prior to its enactment, traditional discourse had assigned State the role of a paternalistic provider which was supposed to know and cater to the varied needs of the vast population of the country. However the experience of four and half decades had proved beyond doubt that the Indian State in its quintessential mai baapsarkar avatar had not only failed to live up to the expectations of its citizenry but also was ineffective in implementing the mandate enshrined in the Constitution. I am reminded of the statement of our former Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi who with great indignation had remarked that for every rupee sent by the Government of India only 17 paisa reached the common man. Therefore, it was widely understood and believed that topdown approach of policy formulation with no social engagement on key issues had resulted in a mammoth unaccountable bureaucratic maze which stifled creative formulation and responsive implementation of policies.

Out of this situation arose the idea of giving constitutional sanctity to the framework of local self government. It was expected that greater public participation and civic engagement in local and community issues would lead to better appreciation of the needs and aspirations of the citizens by the administration. It would not only facilitate people-centric policies but also help in effective implementation by enhancing public scrutiny and accountability of the agencies responsible for execution.

The experience of the past two-and-ahalf decades of the workings of these institutions of local self government has shown mixed results. It has facilitated the decentralisation of funds, functions and functionaries thereby providing resources to these bodies to function effectively within their sphere.The bridge between the State and the public has been reduced due to such representative institutions. However, critics have also pointed out that these institutions have become battlegrounds of political rivalry of the most venal variety which has stifled the democratic ideals behind its birth.

Moreover, rather than facilitating the access of public to the institutions of governance, it is believed that, it has created another layer of slothful bureaucracy which is inefficient, corrupt and insensitive towards the day-to-day concerns of the teeming millions that form a part of the urban landscape.

On one hand we see intense politicisation in these bodies whereas, interestingly on the other hand there is an increasing indifference in the urban community about governance issues directly linked to their well-being. It is felt that the urban city dwellers in their cocooned existence have become increasingly divorced from their civic obligations and responsibilities.To a lay observer it is plainly evident that the ideals of community involvement and civic engagement that lay at the heart of the concept of decentralised governance have unfortunately been confined to doctrinaire and theoretical discussions in seminars and classrooms.

The city of Hyderabad with an estimated population of seven million has its own complexities and challenges which make the task of administering it an extremely difficult enterprise. Administration of municipal body includes within its fold a wide array of activities like maintenance of roads and civic infrastructure, sanitation, town planning, community development, upkeep of parks etc.

Although, the work of executing, coordinating and monitoring the activities within each sphere rests with a specialised wing, it was being increasingly felt that despite all the efforts, desired outcomes were not being realised. The apathy and neglect of executing agencies had resulted in poorly conceptualised projects which not only were a drain on the resources of the State but also failed to satisfy public needs. Sanitation and other public services of the city were also suffering due to lack of transparency, alleged corruption and non accountability of the staff. Different supervisory mechanisms which the government had created for ensuring accountability of the official machinery were also wanting in the necessary zeal and competence required to act as watchdogs of public interest.

The brainstorming and intellectual churning over these issues revealed certain critical points which had been overlooked in the administrative exercise. There was negligible civic engagement in most of the governmental initiatives which left the programmes totally dependent on the mercy of the official machinery. In the absence of any public ownership, most of these programmes ended up being far less effective than they would have otherwise been had the community been encouraged to be a part of the exercise.

Taking lessons from the past experiences, GHMC under the leadership of Mr B Janardhan Reddy consciously tried to engage and collaborate with the community treating them as stakeholders in the development of Hyderabad rather than treating them as beneficiaries of governmental generosity.

The following paragraphs briefly describe the initiatives undertaken as part of civic engagement exercise.

Garbage points heaped around the corners of lanes serving as breeding grounds of pigs, dogs and other larval organisms are familiar sights in most of the urban areas. In Hyderabad it was observed that each area was having its own “garbage vulnerable point”, or GVP which is another name for a place which was being used as a dump site by the surrounding households. People of the area had psychologically reconciled to using such places as dumping grounds of their household waste and repeated efforts to clean these points had borne no fruits. Till then, most efforts to redress the problem were taken up by focusing on the supply side of the issue i.e by tackling the problem of lack of workers, equipments etc. However there had never been a conscious endeavour to view this problem from social and psychological standpoint. Learning from the past experiences, it was decided to take the help of the community in identifying these garbage vulnerable points and spreading awareness regarding their deleterious impact.

“Residential Welfare Associations were roped in to keep the sites free from litter after the sanitary workers had cleaned them. The social accountability enforced by involving the local community made this movement sustainable”.

Residential Welfare Associations were roped in to keep the sites free from litter after the sanitary workers had cleaned them. The social accountability enforced by involving the local community made this movement sustainable. The knowledge of local conditions and specific issues while dealing with heaped waste allowed for creative methods to be used which included the use of Rangolis and wall paintings to prevent the sites from being reused as garbage points.

Swachh Volunteer was an attempt to identify a committed citizen who took the responsibility of sustaining the eliminated garbage vulnerable point. Since this initiative involved a good samaritan from the community, he was able to mobilise and rally the public behind him, thereby ensuring successful project implementation.

Good Practices day was a platform created to recognise the committed soldiers who had taken up the cudgels to fight the evil of dirt and filth in our cities. On many occasions, the Resident Welfare Associations themselves came forward to recognise such contributors. Appreciation from the stakeholders not only made the process of recognition more participative but also added an element of legitimacy to the procedure.

Very often we have heard people lament and complain about the lack of information regarding the workers in their areas. This not only leads to reduced accountability of the staff but also creates disconnect between the citizens and the workers.

‘Parichayam’ is an innovative attempt to create familiarisation between the community and the sanitation workers in the area. The names and contact details of the sanitation workers are written on all the major street nodes. In case of any problem, the public can reach out to the concerned worker directly. Parichayam book is maintained in which the worker is supposed to take signatures and remarks of the public. It not only ensures accountability and but also empowers the community by placing the sanitary workers under their close supervision and watch. Moreover, it also creates a strong bond between the service provider and the stakeholder which can then be harnessed to ensure better provisioning of services in the area. Exceptional performers are rewarded not only by the Corporation but also by the immediate community in which they serve. The less understood side of this initiative is its humane attempt to recognise the concept of dignity of labour.

Inefficient and underutilisation of existing assets was another issue that came to the fore during deliberations with the local residential welfare associations. It was observed that there were schools and other institutions which were having parks and fields but they were not accessible to the public of the locality. Such institutions feared that opening their playgrounds to public at large would lead to the misuse of their premises and may result in nefarious activities being carried out in their compounds.

A dialogue was taken up between the local community and the managers of such schools and colleges wherein each side tried to understand the apprehensions and concerns of the other. The GHMC acted as a platform to weed out differences and help the stakeholders arrive at a mutually agreeable proposition. The initiatives bore fruit and many schools allowed their playgrounds to be used in the morning hours for the elderly, retired and woman enthusiasts.

Similarly, it was seen that there were a number of fuel filling stations and hotels which had toilets but the general public was precluded from availing their services. The Commissioner GHMC resolved to innovatively tackle the problem of public urination by persuading the owners of these fuel stations and hotels to allow their assets to be used by public. Initially the management of these institutions feared increase in their operation and maintenance costs and hence were reluctant to actively collaborate in this initiative. But gradual persuasion and gentle coaxing made them realise the immense social benefits of this initiative of the GHMC. It has not only helped in reducing the menace of open urination but also provided succour to thousands of women, who earlier in absence of public toilets, were put to great discomfort when they would travel to markets for their chores.

In the local press, a lot of negative coverage was being reported about the stray dog menace. Not only had their numbers reached alarming proportions but they had also started attacking small children and innocent passersby. The presence of such stray dogs was not only a threat from security point of view but also a health and sanitation hazard. Although the animal wing of GHMC tried its best to arrest the issue by carrying out animal birth control and anti-rabies vaccination programme(ABC/ARV), the rehabilitation of such animals was a concern lying unaddressed.

In order to ensure successful rehabilitation post ABC/ARV, the GHMC decided to initiate an adoption programme for puppies and mature dogs. The programme was christened “maaintinestham” or “My Home’s Best Friend”. Special care is taken to ensure that dogs are preferably allotted to homes of the same locality where they had been living prior to the adoption. Thus, by involving interested citizens not only has the well-being of these animals been catered to but the community has also benefitted by getting a faithful friend.

After the positive impact of the community based initiatives, the GHMC administration has made concerted efforts to come up with novel ideas to facilitate citizen engagement in various sectors. Feedback forms have been introduced mandatorily in GHMC parks and major sports grounds. Social audit of various routine activities like daily sanitation work, cleaning of Nullahs etc are being employed for more sustainable results.

Additionally, as part of the civic engagement drive, the GHMC has reunited divorced and separated couples. Adding the spirit of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan to this social reform, the move was very imaginatively titled as “Unite the Family, Divide the Waste”. The attractive slogan not only cleverly utilises the platform of the Swacchta Abhiyan (cleanliness drive) but also endeavours to achieve a much larger social objective. It has very effectively assisted in disseminating the important message of separation of dry – wet waste and has also brought into spotlight the fragility of our modern day interpersonal relations. Family has been the fulcrum of our civilisation continuance and this initiative is a humble reminder to the society to re-anchor itself to its moorings.

To be able to meet the aspirations of a restive citizenry it is important to engage the creativity of the community and public spirited individuals in the process of formulation of policies and cross checking the implementation.

In Hyderabad, the experience has evoked overwhelming response from the public and they have adopted the flagship initiatives of the GHMC with great zeal and enthusiasm. Such an emotive response has also allowed the administration to go ahead with its social outreach agenda confidently.

The GHMC is committed to the belief that only when we are able to engage constructively with our fellow brethren on issues touching their lives and make a qualitative difference therein, we shall be able to establish what the father of Wall paintings by GHMC promoting cleanliness our nation called real “swarajya”.

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