Citizen groups are increasingly using the public hearing route to shake up the government

Public hearings are fast becoming a favourite with citizens' groups for highlighting social problems. And their appeal is growing due to the impact they now derive.

Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information recently organised a public hearing on the utilisation of funds by the Municipal Councillors in Delhi.

The hearing, attended by over 500 people living in different wards of Delhi, discussed the audits taken up in seven wards and threw up interesting insights into the functioning of the councillors and how much of the funds are spent on useless things.

“We have so many pressing development problems – our roads are broken, public toilets are filthy and broken, drains need to be cleaned and desilted. Our councillor never consults us while deciding how to spend her funds. In fact, she never visits us at all,” said Suman, a resident of Lal Gumbad camp slum of Ward No. 191 Shahpur Jat.

In fact, she said, “We have been going to the councillor and requesting her to address these problems and visit our bastis at least once a month. None of this has been done. We want to know why funds have been spent on providing fancy lights in parks, which are of no use to anyone while so many priority development needs remain unaddressed.”

The opportunity accorded by such meets to question their representatives is what makes these public hearings popular.

Convener of SNS Anjali Bharadwaj said these hearings were started some years ago to help people express their views. She said following filing of RTIs in 2008, it was revealed that at Begumpur in Malviya Nagar 60 per cent of the funds had been spent on construction of fountains and waterfalls in parks. “It was only later when the women protested that some tubewells were sunk to address their water needs.”

“The ‘Public hearing' is a tool that helps to expose corruption and use of public money on non priority issues,” she said, adding that it also increases the accountability of the representatives as they fear being exposed among their electorate.

The recent public hearing on March 5 also discussed the outcome of the information audits undertaken by residents of Delhi to check compliance with the orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) on installation of boards in every ward to show the utilisation of the discretionary local area development funds by the councillors.

Under Section 4 of the RTI Act, information on how public funds are spent must be made available proactively by the government in a manner which is easily accessible and in the local language. The orders of the CIC state that boards must give project-wise details in Hindi of how funds allocated to councillor have been spent.

At the hearing, people testified that out of 76 wards in which audits were undertaken, boards were not found in 20 wards, and of the remaining 56 wards, proper compliance with the orders was found in 11 wards while in 45 the boards did not have any information or had information displayed in English.

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