When people have a say
Reviewed by M M Goel

Building a Citizens' Partnership in Democratic Governance
by George Koreth & Kiron Wadhera.
Pages 327. Rs 595

Good governance is indispensable for a democratic set-up of government. Although there is no single model of effective governance common to all regions, transparency and accountability are the two pillars of any pro-people government. These focus on providing time-bound services to citizens, make them integral part of decision making and bring them closer to government.

The authors elaborate on the example of Mexico Municipal Corporation and Minnesota's Public Health Department. They say that citizens' associations in partnership with government facilitate in combining the strategy of action and change. It also builds government's confidence in implementing need-based projects. The Partnership or Bhagidari mechanism is completely participative. It helps multi-stakeholders in discovering common ground, common interest and common problems after having consultations and holding orientation meetings with top leadership.

The study examines implementation of Bhagidari in the city-state of Delhi (having fractured authority) to improve services on a mission mode. Sheila Dikshit, former chief minister of Delhi, despite facing initial opposition from colleagues and bureaucracy, went ahead resolutely as Bhagidari connected people without impinging upon the rights of elected representatives. She motivated citizens in making Delhi a world-class city.

The model envisaged neither autocratic official behaviour nor aggressive citizens. Earlier, it was difficult to know who was responsible for what and who should be approached for a particular task. More so, no government can ignore or alienate citizens, especially when planning in India is minutely observed.

In Bhagidari, the process began with 20 RWAs and rapidly expanded to 3000 RWAs, 100 MTAs, NGOs, etc. Multi-stakeholders in small groups identified five-seven issues for initiating change. They had brain-storming sessions among representatives from all strata of the society including functionaries. The focus was on dialogue and solutions rather than on complaints, grievances or criticism. The interactive process was spread over a three-day workshop.

The model on the whole acts as a vehicle for catalysing change in mindset, attitudes and behaviour. It has led to increase in information sharing and effective communication with government. It has also led to improving quality of services like CNG, transport, power, water, infrastructure, etc.

This model is no longer hailed as a government program as citizens offer their time voluntarily in implementing projects. It has built a lot of credibility for itself and trust is being reflected through monthly Bhagidari magazine and FM radio. Besides, Delhi ID card issued to workshop participants gives participants a sense of pride. Government's performance and efforts of professionally-qualified citizens and officers thus builds a valuable partnership in finding solutions to problems and institutionalising the role of associations in governance.

Overall, this citizen-friendly model needs to be replicated at several other levels of governance. It requires genuine citizen empowerment and their will to interact to give shape to plans. The interactive online Modi's portals too envisage citizens and government to discuss and work towards accomplishing their aspirations.