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AAP plans 2,700 mohalla sabhas in city

A peek into how the mohalla sabha — which the party says will be a ‘one-stop shop for residents to air grievances’ — will work

Written by Aditi Vatsa | New Delhi |
December 30, 2013 3:47:36 am

The AAP’s idea of the mohalla sabha will not only require the city to be mapped into nearly 2,700 mohallas,but will also see huge administrative reorganisation of the Delhi government. Members of the AAP said apart from dividing the city into around 2,700 mohallas that will become the centre of decision-making once the ‘Swaraj’ law comes into effect,each sabha will have officials from different departments,who will look at the problems that residents of the sabha bring up.

Aatishi Marlena,who was part of the team that prepared the AAP manifesto,said,“Now,the Delhi government operates out of its many departments,all of which are completely unaccountable to people. In the mohalla sabha concept,each department will have a representative at the mohalla sabha,who will answer queries and will be accountable for action taken. This essentially makes the sabha a one-stop shop for all residents to air grievances and demand improvements. If one person has a problem with the water supply,he will go to the representative of the DJB and so on.”


To make this feasible,government departments themselves will have to decentralise,and officials will have to be given charge of responsibilities in different parts of the city,so they are directly responsible. “Till now,the decisions are top-down,with one general decision-making body in each department. Power will now have to devolve to several levels,so there are several contact points for residents,” a party member said.

Those in the AAP think-tank said that while they were looking at roughly 10 mohallas per ward,which is,on an average,5,000 people per mohalla,the demarcation itself is “from the bottom up”. “This is a process that will take time because we do not believe in rigid boundaries,which exist today. As the city has evolved,‘natural boundaries’ have come up. What this means is that one mohalla can be separated from the other by a canal,or a road,or even a tree. To be called a mohalla,all it requires is a group of people recognising that they are largely one unit who will have the same requirement. Therefore,even to determine the geographical boundaries of a mohalla,it will be up to the janata,” one member said.


Each mohalla sabha will have a secretariat,as well as an elected representative that will head this body. “Every member of the mohalla above the age of 18 will vote for this representative. It is the mohalla that will decide what scheme to undertake,and it will be the job of the secretariat,which is essentially an administrative body,to carry out of these decisions. Each sabha will have a bank account to carry out infrastructure and other development works,with the old MLA development fund scheme done away with,” Sanjay Singh,member of AAP’s political affairs committee,said.

Audit mechanisms for each sabha to check the use of finances is also being considered.

Marlena said the fundamental argument for a mohalla sabha was “open-door decision-making versus closed-door lobbying”. “Decisions will now be taken at the level of the people themselves. For instance,beneficiaries of government schemes will now be decided by a mohalla sabha. This process involves the stakeholders concerned. So,even if a parent cannot determine exactly what curriculum is taught in a public school,they can supervise its operations. A large amount of corruption happens at the time of licensing,which happens behind closed doors. If the public decides who gets the license in open view,there is very little chance of corruption,” she said. To further the cause of transparency,each decision of the mohalla sabha will be put up online.


Members of the party said the mohalla sabha will only formally come into being after the ‘Swaraj’ Bill is passed,and administrative reorganisation takes place. “The former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh S C Behar is looking at the mohalla sabha and its intricacies. We are very clear that once this comes into effect,it will change the face of politics in the entire country. However,it will take time and cannot happen in two months,” an AAP leader said.

But while the idea may only have gained traction in the run-up to the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections,it was conceived more than five years ago,in the run-up to both the parliamentary elections in 2008 and the Delhi municipal elections in 2012.

The idea of the mohalla sabha was first detailed at length by the Lokraj Andolan and the ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ headed by Arvind Kejriwal,at a time when he was a social activist,looking at politics from the outside. Members of the AAP confirmed that the genesis of their version of decentralisation came about after extensive research by volunteers of the Lokraj Andolan in 2008.


Kapil Bajaj,who worked with Kejriwal on the mohalla sabha concept when he was with Public Cause Research Foundation,said,“Arvind had started working on the concept of mohalla sabha — which was his and our take on the term ‘area sabha’ that we found in the Model Nagara Raj Bill,which the central government circulated among the state governments in the year 2008 (under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) — as a way to allow for urban citizens to directly participate in decisions pertaining to local governance. So mohalla sabha was,in our view,a much improved and strengthened version of ‘area sabha’.”

‘It’s simply a local citizens’ body that sits regularly to discuss the issues facing them and has the authority to call municipal officers and the ward councillor to be present before them to answer questions and take their (i.e. citizens’) wishes into account. The concept of mohalla sabha is thus an example of both participatory democracy and direct democracy. One can view it as the urban counterpart of gram sabha,which has Constitutional status under 73rd Amendement (and statutory status under states’ Panchayati Raj laws),” he said.

A 2009 document titled,“Detailed guidelines on how to conduct mohalla sabha”,seems to be the blueprint for the AAP’s vision in 2013. It states,“A municipal ward is divided into 10 parts. Each part is called a mohalla. Roughly,there are 40,000 voters in a ward. So,there would be about 4,000 voters,around 1,500 families,in a mohalla. Each voter of a mohalla is a member of the mohalla sabha and it meets every two months. Every household of the mohalla is sent a written notice of the meeting in advance informing them about the date,time and venue of the meeting. The notice is in the form of a personal letter written to each voter.”


Detailing exactly the modalities of a mohalla sabha once it is convened,the Lokraj Andolan also stated,“To prevent several participants from speaking simultaneously,blank paper slips are distributed in the beginning of the meeting. A person has to write his/her name and subject on which he/she wishes to speak. On the basis of these slips,people are invited one by one on the stage to speak. Citizens narrate their problems. They collectively discuss and debate their problems,suggest solutions,and decide what public work they want. Wherever needed,the officials respond. If it concerns inefficiency of officials,they are required to commit a time-frame within which they would do the work. Wherever needed,the councillor sanctions funds on the spot. The citizens also decide who among them is most deserving of government aid or social security benefits. All decisions are taken either consensually or through voting.”

Arguments in favour of the jan sabhas are also made,relating to both politicians and officials of the Delhi government. “These mohalla sabhas keep the politician constantly on his toes. Earlier,they could only be questioned once in five years. Now they will be questioned every month. Further,there is no platform where the Indian bureaucracy can be directly questioned. They work in a completely unaccountable fashion. These mohalla sabhas are offering those platforms where they can be publicly questioned,” the document reads.


Even as the AAP seems intent on pushing through the mohalla sabha as fast as it can,current councillors remain sceptical. Yogendra Chandolia,BJP councillor from Dev Nagar said,“This is not feasible. We had tried such an experiment in 2011. Residents welfare committees had been formed at the ward level and had been given Rs 25 lakh for one year. However,the project never took off because different people wanted different things. There will also be differences between the councillor and the MLA. If this comes up again,we will oppose it as much as possible.”

Farhad Suri,a Congress councillor,said,“This is all fanciful thinking. The same problems they have with the polity at the national and state level can take place at the ward level as well. What prevents people from forming groups within the mohalla and pushing through vested interests. Just because it will be in the open does not mean that closed-door lobbying cannot happen prior to the sabha.”

Rekha Gupta,another BJP councillor from Pitampura,reiterated that this was not a novel idea. “We are already doing this through RWAs. Isme nayee baat kya hai?” she said.

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