What is Mohalla Sabha?
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) can take credit for implementing the concept of Mohalla Sabha, wherein the power for local area development goes to the people. The people in each area get together and discuss amongst themselves on what problems exist in the area, and through mutual discussion and voting, they prioritize the problems and then the work is allocated to a contractor.
The local councilor, who is present at the meetings, along with other representatives of the government agencies, then facilitates the sanction of funds allocated for the area. Once the work is completed, the residents decide if the work is done to their satisfaction and then proceed to signing the work completion certificate and the contractor gets paid. This in other words would be true people’s democracy or Swaraj.
In principle this sounds great, perhaps desirable, but is it practical?
Let stake a look at what is happening in the Gram Panchayat in rural areas. The concept of Panchayat is to empower people to self-govern and take decisions of social issues and development in their area. The village elects five members to represent them and through collective discussions, decisions are taken and implemented. While this is similar in principle to what the Mohalla Sabha professes, the ground reality is that the panchayats have been only partially successful.
The practical issues of human greed, local politics, caste politics and inter personal rivalry have all impacted the functioning of panchayats across the country. In several cases, the members are proxies for individuals or groups who corner the benefits through mutual understanding, thereby undermining the very purpose of true democratic self-governance.
While the politics of individual panchayats do not get media attention, the best example of this misuse at a higher level, can be seen in Bihar, where Lalu Prasad relinquished his Chief Minister’s seat only to place his wife on the seat and he ruled the state through proxy.
The biggest threat to the concept of Mohalla Sabha in urban and semi urban places, is the absence of laws that will ensure checks and balances. There are several issues that need to be addressed.
What happens if there is a dispute between the contractor and the Mohalla Sabha? Who is going to be responsible for the legal action thereafter?
For example, if a building is sanctioned and built and if the building were to collapse and result in loss of human life, who will be held responsible? Will it be only the contractor? What about the members of the Mohalla Sabha who chose and gave the contract to the specific contractor? How do you ensure that the contractor does not influence the members of the Mohalla Sabha?
What if one faction of the Mohalla Sabha accuses another faction of misuse or any other issue, how will the work proceed? What if the matter goes to court and all work stops, as a result? In case of any misuse of power which is a result of individual greed, political vendetta or any other reason, who will be legally accountable? What is the legal framework for authorization of any action in the area?
There are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed from a legal standpoint.
The concept of Mohalla Sabha, especially in urban and semi-urban areas is still in its infancy and there will be initial teething problems but there can be no denying the fact that with people participation in decision making, true self-governance can become a reality. The people will lose their reason to blame the government for non-development in their areas. If implemented properly, it could actually see optimal utilization of funds.
In Delhi, its well-known that contractors work in a cartel, with contracts divided amongst themselves and in turn they take ‘care’ of the councilors and other officials involved in the decision making process. Bribes are distributed in a fairly structured manner to all those in the decision making chain and needless to say, these are all factored in the final price quoted. This is the reason why successive governments end up spending large amounts of tax payer’s money, for shoddy work. With Mohalla Sabhas working efficiently, the excessive payouts to vested interests can be reduced significantly, if not removed.
A good example of people participation can be seen in the recent Mohalla Sabha meeting organized by the Aam Aadmi Party in Sangam Vihar Assembly Constituency. The area has a population of over five lakh and since the colony is unauthorized, there is a problem in getting official sanction for local development. As a result, there is no government hospital or secondary school in the area. Moreover, due to unplanned growth there is lack of space to undertake any new project.
When the lack of these were discussed at the meeting, it was the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) that came forward to donate a 100 sq. yard land to build a government dispensary there. The land value itself would be over Rs 50 lakh. So here we have a positive example of people participation wherein the problem was brought forward, discussed and the solution came from within. It remains to be seen how successfully the project gets executed, but this is certainly a good beginning and can serve as a case study for other areas to adopt.
In another meeting organized by AAP in Vasundhara Enclave in New Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal spoke of the benefits of the system and the fact that it will be the people who would decide on how the allocated funds were to be used. The local two time councilor, Vinod Kumar Binni, reiterated that the Rs 50 lakh amount sanctioned under him, would be spent as per the people’s priority and decision. A case of people’s participation was demonstrated when the beneficiaries of the Pension Scheme was left to the local people to decide on who deserves it most.
Irrespective of political affiliation, the concept of Mohalla Sabha is something the people want and it is for the ruling government, to ensure that the concept grows further.
Each locality has a different physical layout and demographic mix, therefore each solution has to be one which is relevant and feasible in that area. This is where the concept of Mohalla Sabha scores over central planning, where policies are made and implemented on the principle of one-size-fits-all and where the people have no direct voice on issues that concern them most.
Several political parties have tried to shoot down the concept purely for political reasons. Like any other concept this too will need redefining and restructuring over time, which can only happen as we move ahead through the learning curve.
The concept of Mohalla Sabha could well become a model for a people’s participation movement and implemented across the country but this must not be rushed. Let Delhi serve as the ground for the Mohalla Sabha concept to seed, grow and deploy and if successful, then this should be introduced to other cities and towns, with approval and participation of respective State governments.
Only then will we be able to claim true Swaraj.