THROUGHOUT the year it seems that the citizens and the city were at war with each other. You only had to think of a project proposed by a city agency, and instantly you could recollect how citizens fought against the project. Equally, whenever citizens mooted something the the city should take up – bike lanes, bus priority, better footpaths – it seemed like the entire establishment was pitted against them.
To me, this is the greatest warning before us. All over the world the evidence is now compelling, that cities that actively involve their citizens in decisions are doing much better than cities where the administration or the political leadership insists on its usual top-down way of doing things. Cities are also realising the the usual departmental silos in which they work are useless. Problems need to be solved, and often that requires many departments working together, and also with those who are not in government themselves.
ithout these steps, all the rest will be fruitless. The great cities in the world are remembering that ‘citizenship’ is at the heart of their plans for the future. But in Bangalore, as elsewhere in India, this realisation is yet to dawn.
Partly, this is because of the political economy, which would be disrupted hugely if the city were made more accountable to citizens. There is a lot of money to be made on kickbacks and under-performance of contracts, and watchful citizens would q uickly dent that.
But partly it is also because we do not have systems of learning that help us constantly improve the way we imagine and manage the city.
So, here is my wish list for the coming year, in the hope that it can be very different from the one just now ending.
1 Ward Committees
I would like to see the city constitute the ward committees that were promised in January 2010.
Ward committees allow citizens have a say on neighbourhood matters. These committees are still not constituted.
2 Local Budget
I would like to see at least 1/5th of the budget of BBMP be decided by the wards themselves.
Citizen in their wards must be able to have a say over plans and expenditure for their neighbourhoods. This will also ensure greater local participation.
3 Coordinated Problem Solving
I would like to see at least one city problem tackled by departments coming together to achieve an outcome.
For example, well designed bus stops along all the Big10 roads will go a long away in speeding transit along the arterial roads of the city like Hosur Road, Bellary Road, Old Madras Road, Bannerghatta Road, Sarjapur Road etc . Too often, such problems are left unsolved by BBMP, BMTC, BESCOM, etc. because each organisation blames the other.⊕