Citizens Make a City

The recent nod by the municipality of Delhi for the Resident Ward Committee scheme is one small step for RWA empowerment, one giant leap for civic governance!* It will opens the flood gates to public participation and consultation, enhance transparency and accountability in the MCD and empower local self government by enshrining the Resident Welfare Association as an integral part of civic governance.

The agreement last week by the Mayor of Delhi to initiate the Resident Ward Committee [RWC] scheme in all wards of Delhi must mark a new chapter in municipal reform that is mandated in the constitution reflected through the twin amendments, 73rd and 74th to circumscribe the preminent principle of people at the centre of development and not on its periphery.

While the initiative has been reported robustly across media, it may be possible that the full import of this development is still a bit hazy to many of us owing to the out-of-the-box outlines of the idea which in normal terms is undcerstood as District Ward Committees in urban areas. Our minor, albeit critical modification of the mandated statute under the 74th Amendment does away with the procedural gobbledegook of nominations [which are amenable to insidious manipulation by elected representatives which practially defangs the motive] and introduces a simple and effective mechanism to ensure that transparent engagement is the key.

Our persistent lobbying for the RWC since 2007 has been based on the simple precept that if we just allow for open discussions between stake holders on a formal platform in a regular fashion, everything else will flow – transparency, accountability and its final fruit – good governance. The astounding lack of faith in the tenets of fundamental democracy are never more visible among a raucous people such as us when it coms to debate and discussions between the essential extremities. This has been the foundational weakness of our otherwise lauded, romanticized, anarchic democracy.

The RWC fixes the problem that fixes a lot of other problems. The sidelining of public opinion for one, when it comes to large scale developmental works which more often than not are led by the principle of graft than any serious utilitarian functions. For another, it exposes the Machiavellian manipulation of populations by vested interests, be they political or commercial. But more than anything else, it frees up debate, opens up dissent and freezes drift in a calculus of interactive dynamics between the people who are the target of all democracy.

My impression is that we have seen little criticism of the RWC so far – although God knows it took all my patience and persistence to run this through three Mayoral changes, the entire municipal leadership, the party apparatus, the opposition and even local jibes to get this far – is because Corporators are mostly not yet any clear about how this development will unravel for most of them. That goes for political party hierarchy within most parties too.

Another reason it has not yet become a bone of contention is perhaps the deft handling we have provided it so far and the fact remains that we have consciously chosen it to do less rather than more, to allow a nuanced entry for the concept than aim for tectonic changes; to allow for a seeping in of the spirit of the idea than overlap a structural adjustment on the existing edifice.

The RWC mechanism – actually, mechanism is what it is more of – is really an attempt to restart the motor of the democratic engine at the lowest levels in the urban scenario. In villages, the Panchayat is expected to do this, but its politicization has almost made it a mirror image of the current state of politics in the country and I lay no hope by it expect that it is now a celebratory indicator of the democratic model we have pretended to present to ourselves.

That is why the emphasis on a ward level consultative committee: no elections, no voting, no parties: just civil society residents, nominations at the broadest levels and a meeting per month which is recorded in the Mayor’s office. No more is needed, nothing else required while we sit back and see democracy in action, its contradictory forces ironing out the creases in our administrative model.


*With apologies to Neil Armstrong.

Picture: Sanjay Kaul at the Town Hall press conference on the launch of the RWC scheme. Also seen, Leader of the House, Subhash Arya and Atul Goyal of URJA

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