Citizens’ groups say to ensure greater grass-roots participation in governance, the State government and Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) must act to constitute Area Sabhas as well. An Area Sabha is defined as the body of electors in the area covered by one or more polling booths in a particular ward, as suggested in the Community Participation Law Bill.
Though the constitution of Area Sabhas and Ward Committees are notified in the amendment to Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act 1976, the BBMP has taken steps, following specific directions from the High Court of Karnataka, to constitute only Ward Committees (WCs).
According to the gazette notification, the Area Sabha can forward proposals for schemes and development programmes to the WC, select eligible persons from the area for beneficiary-oriented schemes, cross-check the eligibility of those getting welfare assistance from government, support tax mapping and encourage citizens to pay their taxes and user charges, identify deficiencies in water supply, sanitation arrangements, street lighting, assist activities in public health centres, besides cooperating with the WC.
Kathyayini Chamaraj from CIVIC (Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City) equated Area Sabhas to Gram Sabhas in rural areas, serving as a forum for every citizen to participate in governance.
“While WCs are essential, Area Sabhas provide for participation of citizens at the grassroots. The BBMP must take action to constitute these as well to ensure true public participation,” she said.
She said that the powers given to members of the Area Sabha are minimal. “They have only been given powers to ‘suggest’, ‘recommend’ and ‘assist’ and have no independent decision-making powers for their areas. These powers are less than those given to Gram Sabhas. Area Sabhas need to be given powers to get all information pertaining to their areas, take decisions regarding the use of ward’s properties and resources, plan, prioritise and budget for their wards, hold officials accountable, monitor all works, get their grievances redressed at area level and conduct social audits of works. Without these powers, citizen participation will be meaningless,” she said and added that Law Minister S. Suresh Kumar had been apprised of this.
‘Get on with it’
Opposition Leader M.K. Gunashekar said: “The spirit of democracy is to allow participation at the lowest level. Since the government has issued a gazette notification regarding formation of Ward Committees and Area Sabhas, the BBMP need not wait for any direction.”
However, Vinay Baindur, researcher on urban governance and decentralisation, said that Area Sabhas should be constituted following the principle of popular assembly; if not, it will not be of any consequence. The Area Sabha is not a constitutional requirement, he added.
The greater issue, he said, was the government’s lack of clarity and concept regarding decentralisation of power and people’s participation. “Voters, non-voters, floating population and migrants have been reduced to spectators. As per principles of equality, [everyone] aged above 18 should be members of Area Sabhas. However, the notification notes only registered voters,” he said.