Formalizing Citizens Role in Urban Governance

In 2012, citizens of Pune will elect a panel of corporators who will become their official elected representatives in the Standing Committee of Pune Municipal Corporation. Currently, quoting directly from a friend's email, there are 144 electoral wards in Pune. So there will be 144 elected representatives!

Citizens will recall that earlier to 2007, the electoral wards and the adminstrative wards were somewhat alignged in number. Hence each electoral ward was larger and each elected corporator represented about 50000 to 60000 citizens. Since 2007, this larger electoral ward was split two or sometimed three ways to create smaller electoral wards called as 'prabhags'. In these 'prabhags', each elected corporator represented about 10000 to 15000 citizens, making the corporator more accessible.

I have found that due to the limited size of the 'prabhag', the elected corporator often stays very close within the locality that he/she represents and hence is more liable to be concerned and knowledgeable about the locality and its issues.

Through some internal sources, it is known that this 'prabhag' system is once again being aggregated to form larger electoral wards, hence lesser wards and lesser number of corporators. The reason, as some people think, is that due to a 50% women reservation that has come in, there is a political upheaval, as wards earlier held by men, may get reserved for 'only women' candidates. This is a particular threat to politically 'strong' corporators who can surely get elected if the field was level, but now stand losing if their wards get reserved for women candidates.

Interesting, isn't it? The hullaballoo of politics is at our doorstep and we, as citizens, remain outside the spectrum of decision making. Has it occurred to someone to ask us citizens as to which system we prefer? Do we, as citizens even have a preference?

I ask these questions because we as citizens are often so away from the politics of urban (or for that matter any level of) governance that we don't even know what is preferred? Frankly, that was my state of mind, when I was asked this question and all I could do was respond with "hmmm. good question!"

And then I started thinking. If I was asked to 'design' a governance system for my neighborhood what will it be? I listed four essential parameters like,
  • It has to be responsive and proactive,
  • It needs to involve expertise,
  • It needs to encourage participation of citizens/residents
  • It has to have checks and balances to counter corruption

With the current system of having a single corporator being a representative for the ward, I thought that having a 'citizen expert panel' to drive, monitor, guide the elected corporator. This is like a team of Advisors, formally established.

This Citizen Expert Panel can consist essentially of people who stay in the 'prabhag', have a certain level of education, are professionally active and are of course, law abiding. These panel members also 'stand' for elections and have to be elected as a Panel. So a group of citizens can form a Panel of people who can work together and ask citizens to vote for them as a unit. These are like Trustees of a Trust. This Panel stays in force for the 5 years with the elected corporator and is directly accountable for the successes and failures of the urban governance in that locality/ward.

While ideating, I realised that, yes, we as citizens need to take a much more proactive role in urban governance. In Pune there is a long history of citizens being in a 'watch dog' role. The governance now needs to formally accept them into the governance system. What could be better than to have all that 'watchdog' and 'watchful' activism energy within the system and be able to use it for improved urban management?


  1. The idea of having citizens of a particular "Prabhag" makes a lot of sense and particularly so if these citizens are more accessible than the corporator himself /herself.

    Good article Anagha Tai.

  2. Hope you are aware of the 'Prabhag Committees'. The idea behind that was just the same, failed truly, as the members were only chosen by the political parties and not by wisdom.
    Educated class does not necessarily have wisdom. For example in the housing societies that we have in numbers, we see not many who are interested in giving their time for betterment. Many a elections within these societies also take place with only the 'panch committee' members. They literally have to force people to become office bearers. It mainly happens because not many are interested in giving time to a social cause of any nature, but criticise the ones in power of whatever nature.
    In my opinion, ambitions that a human being should have to grow/ develop along with the society is dying fast in the Indian urban areas.
    One of your points is surely attractive, 'Design' the system. We may actually do that better, being planners. But we need the executers today and I think that is where we are lacking as a society.
    Hemant Sathye

  3. Hmm. Did not know of the prabhag committees. But like your end comment states that we should really be putting a thought to designing a better urban governance system. Also, since citizen participation is informal so far, there are few takers with very little enthusiasm and commitment and accountability. If this committee too is required to be 'elected' directly or indirectly, perhaps it will fare better than the failed alternative.


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