How to Increase the Polling Percentage in Urban Areas

Dr. Rao VBJ Chelikani 

Set up more Ward Committees, get local residents involved

(The following text is sent to the Central Manifesto Committee of the Indian National Congress Party, New Delhi on their request). 

Urban citizens are officially 45% of the country's population, if not more, and they are increasing day by day. All of them settle in apartment-buildings, colony welfare associations and gated communities. Most of the residents are all professionally very productive and are the main source of our GDP growth. They pay all kinds of direct and indirect taxes. In the form of GST, the urban areas are contributing every month 1 lakh and fifty thousand crores to both Central and state governments. It is mainly from the urban areas that the Income-tax department is collecting every year 6 lakh crores. The government's income in 2024 would be still increasing, month by month. Among the urban residents, less than 20% live in Bastis and half of them have their vote in the nearby villages. But, on the whole, 50% of the urban voters do not go to vote at all. Why? It is because the political parties do not offer in their manifestoes any solutions to their problems. And they are suffering from administrative delays, inefficiency in the performance of the municipal staff, poor infrastructure management, wastage of resources, environmental pollutions and corruption. What to do?

The urban working professionals do not want free things, as they have good incomes and are willing to pay for all the amenities they need. Since they are all well qualified, competent and active they can and want to participate in governance in general. They want, in particular opportunities firstly, to manage their own micro-urban communities, and, secondly, to participate in their local area development. They can associate themselves for efficient and economical management of their roads, lighting, water supply, drainage, dry and wet waste, etc. 

Involvement in ward committees is one way to increase participation of urban population in matters of local governance. 

1. Following the spirit of the 74
th Amendment of our Constitution, which was got adopted by Mr. Rajeev Gandhi, local self-government at the level of the municipality is to be strengthened by the state government by transferring the 18 functions mentioned, with necessary functionaries and funds. Most of the state governments have not done it completely.

2. Article 243 S in the Constitution expressly suggested the creation of “Wards Committees” in each municipality. They are to be composed of representatives of Resident Welfare Associations and other registered civil society organisations of local youth, senior citizens and women. The Ward Committee's mission is to make proposals and to participate in local area planning, budget proposals for some maintenance works, field coordination of the works of various departments setting up local Standard Operating Procedures for Disaster Management, etc. Further, as the need of the hour demands, the members can make appropriate commitments on behalf of their communities to reduce and eliminate locally prevalent environmental pollutions. As stakeholders, they would be acting immediately in all those activities with locally appropriate knowledge, expertise and innovation. Such Committees would naturally be presided over by the Councillor or the Corporator whenever they are in office.
 Each Ward Committee should hold periodical, Area Sabhas of the residents of different areas in the Ward in cooperation with the RWAs, which statutorily hold periodical general assembly meetings of their residents.

3. Such a Ward Committee would have a ward office headed by a Ward Administrative Officer, equivalent to the rank of an Assistant Municipal Commissioner for local coordination of field officers belonging to the health, hygiene, roads, lighting, disease control, etc. and to resolve directly and immediately local complaints received. 

4. The Municipal Commissioner should facilitate direct relations and transactions between the projects of the RWAs, particularly in areas of Climate Change and the companies in the area which would like to express their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). 

5. Inspired by the Bhagidari System that was very successfully practised in New Delhi by Mrs. Sheila Dixit, many construction, development and repair works can be entrusted collaboratively to the RWAs; in which case, there will be more quality, fewer delays and lower cost. At least, there should be RWA endorsement of the finished works of the contractors, or social audit by them. 

6. The "Performance Grant" that is being received by the Urban Local bodies based on the criteria proposed by the XIV Finance Commission should include the participation of the local RWA as one of the criteria. 
      I. Suggestion: Most of the above democratic decentralisation measures have been attempted by the state legislatures and the governments have issued G.Os. accordingly. However, the composition and functioning of the Ward Committees have not been very effective in all the municipalities spread over the country, and they are not even formed in some cities. Therefore, now, there is a need to review the legislation and take appropriate measures to their effective and democratic functioning.

7. A Model Act for RWAs: The legal status and form that is being given to the three kinds of RWAs, i.e. Apartment-Building Associations or Colony Welfare Associations or Gated Communities in each of the states is different under different Acts for registration. Our uniqueness of being a self-governing micro-urban community managing common properties and open spaces in the area for common usage with their own contributions, our good neighbourly practices, our attention to the safety and security of the local community, our stake in local area infrastructure development and voluntary management without any remuneration by the regularly-elected residents are to be recognised as a special legal entity of “ Community Housing Society” by an Act by the state governments. 

     II. Suggestion: Since there has been no clear recognition of the distinct legal status of the Resident Welfare Associations for registration, and no Ombudsman or tribunal for expediting disposal of any issues that arise, despite their growth in number, there is an urgent need to suitably amend the present Acts/G.O.s by the state governments related to Construction, Ownership and Management of housing colonies, gated communities and apartment building and their rules and regulations. 

 Pic courtesy: Hans India 

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