Own your neighbourhood

The city’s ALMs have done path-breaking and very necessary work, and the movement has been replicated in Delhi, Bengaluru, and other cities around the world, but in Mumbai, it has lost momentum. As an exemplar of the way that citizens and the civic administration can work together, the movement must revive.

Published - January 01, 2017 12:09 am IST

Sometime around 1996, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) ward office in Ghatkopar started receiving numerous complaints about garbage collection and general street cleanliness from the residents of a Joshi Lane. After visiting the BMC office numerous times and getting a somewhat mixed response, the residents of the lane decided that keeping the road clean was also their responsibility. And so it was that when BMC staff and officials finally came to visit, after not having received a complaint for a while, they found the street in much better shape. Thanks to an initiative taken by residents living there, the street was cleaner, with garbage collection better organised.

The experiment on Joshi Lane began a partnership between citizens and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai that became the first example of Advanced Locality Management (ALM). Along with residents of Joshi lane, S.S. Bhagwat, the ward officer of the area — who was later appointed to be the BMC’s officer on special duty for ALMs — oversaw the project. In essence, it was founded on a principle of give and take: residents took an interest in their own area and did the basics of keeping it clean and orderly and, in return, the BMC worked with representatives of the ALMs to address any larger issues.

The BMC was keen to promote the concept and fairly soon, ALMs were springing up all over Mumbai. In the first ten years, around 700 were formed across the city, but today, 20 years on, the ALM movement is struggling and there are reportedly around 100 ALMs still active.

There have been some notable successes and example of areas where an active ALM has done wonders for the locality but crucially, the concept of the ALM never worked its way into the fabric of everyday governance in Mumbai. It is a Mumbai institution that never quite became institutionalised.

Ownership of problems

When Rajkumar Sharma first read about the Joshi Lane ALM he and his friends were inspired.

Mr. Sharma lives in Diamond Lane in Chembur and he and some school friends who also lived on the road had been talking about making the place better and cleaner for years. “We started in a small way by organizing a felicitation for all the children in the road who passed exams that year. And for this function we had also invited some BMC officials,” Mr Sharma says. The most important thing, he explains, was to get people to believe that they could work together with the corporation officials, but thereafter a small start was made in terms of handling waste management on Diamond Lane. It soon expanded into a general drive to beautify the street and as more people got involved, it gave them a sense of


With the right amount of initiative, in fact, an ALM can achieve stunning results. Take Churchgate’s D Road. The pavements and footpaths of this road, which runs outside the Wankhede stadium, resemble a small urban jungle. Seemingly every available inch of space along the inner and outer margins of the pavements is covered with trees and plants, and they are nourished with compost created by waste generated from households along the road as well as from food waste that comes from the kitchens of the nearby Marine Plaza hotel. An area that could have easily become a chaotic thoroughfare around the stadium instead stands lush and green and peaceful. All this is the result of several years of work put in by one of the city’s first ALMs, which was started by Anil Bhatia. When Mr. Bhatia started work to make his neighbourhood greener, about twenty years ago, all that residents had to contribute was one rupee per flat per day. It was a sustainable and successful system of community participation that started with waste management and then encompassed other aspects, like keeping the road free of hawkers and ensuring a smoother flow of vehicles.

Nobody’s child

Mr. Bhatia has, since then, worked to promote similar initiatives in other parts of the city, but he found that there was simply no line of continuity: “We would work with one official and then that person may be shifted and the next one would know nothing about what we were talking about.”

Mr. Sharma too has helped set up various other ALMs in the Chembur area, and he agrees with Mr. Bhatia, describing ALMs today as being like an ‘illegitimate child’ of the BMC: “Most of the time they don’t want to acknowledge ALMs except when they are looking to showcase initiatives like Swacch Bharat and other community initiatives, in which case they will bring visitors from all over the world and the BMC will say that they are supporting it.” With the Diamond Lane ALM being one of the first, he has officials from various other states in India and countries like Japan and Sri Lanka come look at the work they have done. While this is clearly a matter of pride to him, he rues the fact that the BMC did not do more over the years to support ALMs. Part of the problem, he says, is that the system has always depended on the initiative of individual officers. “One officer might be interested in the concept, but the next one may not have even heard about it. Or they might have their own idea about how community-level governance is to be done.”

In 2004, for instance, the BMC decided to further what it called a ‘decentralised monitoring system’ to create bodies called Local Area Citizen Committees (LACC). Voluntary citizen groups from three to 5 roads would come together every week in a municipal school building and meet with officials from the BMC including junior engineers in charge of

maintenance and repairs and the ward assistant commissioner. In practice though, Mr Sharma said that these meetings simply became forums for people to voice their complaints. “Under the ALM system,” he says, “there was coordination between various residents and a commitment toward collective action. These LACC meetings were just about voicing complaints to whichever junior engineer was attending. He would note it down and then, predictably, nothing would be done.”

Nevertheless, in 2006, the concept was expanded to a Local Area Citizens Group where residents had to vote for members to be part of a committee that would represent them at these weekly meetings with BMC officials, which led to a lot of petty politicking. In those two years, Mr. Sharma says, with so many overlapping bodies, the ALM movement was nearly destroyed. “A lot of us opposed these local area citizens groups because people started losing interest in coming to ALM meetings while these meetings were also going on side by side,” he says. “After 2006, we fought to revive the ALM movement, but it was never quite the same again. Some of the enthusiasm had been lost.”

Self-defined aims

Still, what Mr. Sharma could do was to make sure that his ALM, and those in the Chembur area, functioned the best they could. He created an ALM federation for the around 50 such bodies in the M-East and M-West wards and today, he says, they have gone over and beyond their original brief, for instance, coordinating with traffic officials, or working directly with companies like Reliance to fix street lighting.

“There is an ALM manual and a set of bye-laws for ALMs that some of us helped frame,” Mr. Sharma says. “There is, then, a loose structure that can be drawn upon, but these are documents that are now not referred to. Nowhere in the manual does it say that ALMs are only meant to do waste management, but that is how some corporation officials look at it these days.”

ALMs are under the MCGM’s Solid Waste Management Department, and the movement’s origins were in the management of waste. Once an ALM is started, in fact, the scope of its functions can be defined as per the initiative of the citizens involved. The BMC’s ALM manual says that these organisations are made up of residents committed to improve the “Quality of Life” in the locality in close co-operation with the MCGM.

Aside from solid waste management, these are the maintenance of storm water drains, sewage lines, water supply, pest control, illegal encroachments, hawkers, posters, and work related to utility services and roads of the ALM locality.

Bharati Kakkad, who started the Union Park ALM in Khar in 2002, says that her main motivation was to clear up a huge garbage dump that was next to her building. “It was very embarrassing, because whenever I had to give someone directions to the house, I would use the garbage dump as a landmark.” Once the ALM started, and the garbage dump was cleared, Ms. Kakkad says they went onto other activities like road maintenance and planting flowerbeds. Recently, after a fire broke out a local eatery, they have also been in conversations with the fire department to implement better safety norms. There are no boundaries here, just a constantly evolving system of initiatives by concerned citizens.

When she started, Ms. Kakkad had the advantage of working in the Bandra Khar area where there were already several ALMs functioning. That gave her the opportunity to speak to others and, now, to collaborate with them. Starting the ALM, she says, also gave her a different perspective on what it is like to work with corporation officials. “I still remember when we were supposed to have out first meeting after we formed the ALM, we had set the meeting for 10 a.m. Everyone thought there is no way a corporation official is going to be on time, but this officer called to inform me that he would be five minutes late. I couldn’t believe it!” Ms. Kakkad says that one of the factors that may stop people from starting an ALM is the fact that they think it’s impossible to communicate with BMC officials, though this is not always the case.

While her experience has been largely positive, and she has persisted through the few obstacles she has encountered, Ms. Kakkad says she has heard of instances where corporation officials have made things difficult. “There is now this impression that an ALM should only do waste management, but nowhere in the ALM manual does it say that. So people have told me that if they try to talk about anything else, the official doesn’t listen, or says that if you don’t do waste management, your ALM will be deregistered.”

Ms Kakkad points out that if the BMC promoted ALMs more it would be to their benefit. “They cannot cover every inch of the city so the ALMs could actually be their eyes and ears in every locality, telling them about different issues. If they looked at it like that then the system could change,” she says.

ALMs may not have spread as fast or as widely as people hoped, but starting an ALM remains a relatively easy exercise and it guarantees you an audience, once a month, with your local BMC ward officials. It has the potential to bring a community together and to communicate common concerns to government. As a movement that grew organically in Mumbai, Mr Sharma says it is up to people to continue taking the initiative and for the BMC in turn to promote and encourage ALMs more. “The ALM system has been replicated in various other countries and in other Indian cities like Delhi where they now have the Bhagidari system. Yet, I saw a news article sometime back saying that the BMC is sending a team of officials to Delhi to study the Bhagidari system. We need to take more pride in this system that we have created.”

How to form an ALM

Organise a meeting of residents from your neighbourhood for better management of services in the locality.

Approach your local BMC Ward Office for information and support regarding the ALM concept and the process for forming one. Seek advice from the concerned ALM officer about the concept of the ALM through a public meeting.

Select members of your ALM committee, one from every building in the neighbourhood the ALM represents.

Select the name of your ALM Committee, and register it in your BMC ward office. (You can also later register the ALM as a Private Trust, Charitable Trust, Society or an Association, but this is not mandatory.)

Apply to your Ward Office in the given format and get one copy as acknowledged and stamped.

Take photocopies of the stamped copy and send to the concerned ALM Officer.

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