Last fortnight, when the eviction of a large shantytown located in one of Bangalore’s prime properties led to a humanitarian crisis rendering thousands homeless, activists and citizens flocked to Ejipura.
Many sympathised with their plight; helped with food, blankets and temporary relief. Yet, at the end of the day, did one of the residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) in the area come out representing these thousands, who too are residents of the area, asks Isaac Selva, activist and editor of “Slum Jaguthu”.
Sadly, as the city administration busies itself with the nuts and bolts of participative urban governance in the form of Ward Committees, little thought is being given to creating a truly representative system that includes the voices and interests of people like Ejipura’s “illegal” residents.
RWAs, which have managed to get citizens involved in their neighbourhoods in a meaningful way, have a dubious track record when it comes to inclusion. Their interventions have been limited to serving the interests of the group they represent, and have often involved attempts to sanitise their surroundings by demanding eviction of slum settlements, says Mr. Selva. For instance, he points out that in another posh locality in north Bangalore, RWAs have been campaigning hard to get all slum settlements — decades old settlements precede this layout — shifted, merely because they are an “eyesore” or a “law and order threat”.
In its current form, the Ward Committees don’t make any provisions to include any representation from residents from lower income groups. These 10-member committees, the current rules stipulate, are inclusive at the surface: reserving two seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and three seats for women. Two seats are earmarked for members representing RWAs registered in the jurisdiction of the ward. (The RWA should represent a majority of residents or groups and should be at least three years old).
This, activists argue, leaves out a large number of those living in the city, working in informal sectors and contributing substantially to the economy.
‘Elect the members’
What is proposed is not at all representative nor democratic, says K. Prakash, district secretary of the CPI(M)’s Bangalore South committee.
He proposes that even ward committees be made a part of the democratic system by allowing their members to be elected.
“Say a ward comprises 25,000 to 40,000 voters; we can have a committee member to represent 2,000 or 3,000 voters of an area. So RWAs may represent an area, but another area that is a poor neighbourhood can have its voice represented too. That would be truly democratic then, instead of having the councillor or anyone else randomly nominate people,” he said.
Decisions on urban governance systems like these should not be made in haste, Mr. Prakash emphasises.
While he welcomes the fact that the proposal includes reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women, he says that the other seats should not be for nominees or appointees but must reflect the democracy of the larger system they are part of.
This, he points out, has been done to a large extent in the gram panchayat and gram sabha systems.