Observer Research Foundation (ORF) invited Hon'ble Chief Minister of Delhi, Smt. Sheila Dikshit on April 10, 2008 to deliver a talk on the 'Bhagidari Programme of Delhi Government' at the New Delhi campus. The event was attended by more than 80 participants
Observer Research Foundation (ORF) invited Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi, Smt. Sheila Dikshit on April 10, 2008 to deliver a talk on the ’Bhagidari Programme of Delhi Government’ at the New Delhi campus. The event was attended by more than 80 participants. They represented various associations and organisations based in Delhi, including Resident Welfare Associations, New Delhi Municipal Council, All India Institute of Local Self Government, Delhi University, Human Settlement Management Institute, Indian Institute of Public Administration, World Bank, Reliance Industries Ltd., ORF, etc. Representatives from the media and the press were also present to cover this event.
The excerpts from the Chief Minister’s speech are given below.
The Bhagidari Scheme was introduced to resolve the problems confronting Delhi metropolis. The idea behind this scheme was to get the people’s involvement in the democratic process. When the scheme was launched, about 11 citizen groups were identified. Today, there are more than 2,000 groups. Delhi government departments conduct workshops with the representatives of the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). The RWAs themselves are sometimes problematic because there may be two parallel RWAs running at the same time. It is difficult to identify which one is recognised. Thus, suitable criteria were put forward, such as three years of accounts books, proper elections having been held, etc. Unless these conditions are met, RWAs cannot be considered under the Bhagidari scheme. The government began the scheme very timidly and with great fear because it was not clear whether there would be any significant achievement. Slowly, the scheme was built up and now the government has the satisfaction of saying that: (a) people are involved in governance; and (b) they understand what governance is. People, however, need to understand that if something happens, it cannot be changed immediately. There are certain laws, rules, regulations, systems which work in the government. Therefore, the answer to their problem may not be immediate. There are, however, many problems which the government tries to settle quickly. The District Commissioners, MCD officials, etc., are involved in the administration of local districts. Monthly meetings are held with the RWAs, which the Chief Minister has now started addressing personally for the past 1-2 years using video conferencing facility with the districts. Citizens complain about water shortage, broken pipelines, poor condition of roads, bill-related complaints, etc. There are local officers sitting at one end of the video conferencing and high officials sitting at the other end, who interact with each other and discuss whether the problem can be resolved or not and how much time would it take. Also, there is a review of what has happened in the meeting. In addition, every four months or so, a series of workshops are conducted to get a feedback from the people as to what has been their experience.
In continuation of this constant interaction with the people, a public grievances cell has been also established. There are numerous individual problems, such as a retired government officer who did not get his pension, or a person getting excess bills, etc. In this regard, a very tough stand was taken on the bureaucracy because the bureaucrats did not like the intrusion of a citizen in their office. Training programmes were conducted for the officers, especially those officers and those offices which deal with the public, such as land records, registration, etc. e-Governance has also been introduced in all government offices which helps in accessing information on rules and regulations and also provides information on the status of applications, whether it is related to a marriage certificate, a birth certificate, not getting medicines in the hospitals which they are supposed to get, etc. A list of medicines entitled to patients has also been provided in government hospitals and dispensaries for their convenience. It was not easy for the government to bring the bureaucrats and citizens together because the bureaucracy is not willing to share and the people do not understand. It was mentioned that bureaucrats are appointed to serve, whether it is related to land records, birth certificates, building of roads, streetlights, water connections, and meters. To a great extent, an understanding between the two has developed and the government has been successful in making some changes both in the way things are thought and the way the people think of a government. The general practice so far has been that citizens cast vote, constitute a government and forget about it. After five years they will make their own judgement; whether they want to change the government or not without any valid reason. Hence, the initiative of bringing people together was undertaken, which the government called Bhagidari.
The scheme received appreciation from various national and international agencies. The Department of Administrative Reforms, Government of India documented the practices followed in the scheme, which was sent to all states of India to assess whether similar practices could be followed in other States. The government received an award from the Commonwealth community as well as the United Nations for best practices in governance. This made the government officers and bureaucrats feel more confident and cheerful about doing what they were doing.
A reference was made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Delhi was the first state in the country to introduce the practice of RTI. It was later that the Government of India enacted the RTI Act. RTI became a potent weapon for people to demand the information that they were seeking because the normal practice in government offices was that the person who has come to seek information or guidance or get his right was considered as an intruder, without realising that the person has spent money, travelled, spent half his day only to be told to come again with an appointment. In this respect, the RTI has made a beginning in making officers responsible because they are answerable to their seniors as to why this happened and the citizens also get to know their rights to know about information. In this context it was suggested that ORF can help the government in assessing the reasons responsible for the wide gap between decision-making and implementation. An example was given to describe the problems in the governance process – “we make an announcement that alright from tomorrow this dhalao should be set right, this road leading up to this area should be set right, money is allocated for it. That happens once. Then starts the horrendous system of inviting tenders, then going through those tenders, then seeing that those tenders are not right, and then somebody says that they were doctored so that only so and so could apply, payments are late…etc.” Implementation in the system of government has become much too archaic and slow in the context of high levels of development that people are all looking for.
Changes are observed in Delhi government schools. Not many people want to send their children to the government schools since these are considered as second rate. Preference is more for private schools irrespective of the quality of education offered. In the past five years, the government has been able to raise the pass percentage of their schools from a mere 32 per cent to 82 per cent in the 12th class and about 78 per cent in the 10th class. To achieve these figures, emphasis was given on training programmes for teachers. Vidhyarthi Kalyan Samitis were also constituted in the schools comprising 5-6 eminent citizens living in the neighbourhood. They could be a retired doctor, a senior citizen or an old teacher, who were provided financial support to the tune of at least Rs. two lakhs to ensure that School buildings are maintained properly. The Vidhyarthi Kalyan Samiti members also felt good because the children were from their neighbourhood and thus they had a stake in it.
The idea behind such initiatives is that everybody is a stakeholder. Citizens have the rights and it is the duty of the government to perform. If the government goes wayward, then people have to raise a voice. People enquire about many things - Why is their bill so much? Why is their meter running so fast? etc. The government has set up a whole system to have them checked, and satisfy them. Today, every time the government increases any kind of a utility cost, citizen groups are always consulted, who are explained that power purchase has become expensive. Similarly, the citizens are informed that some electricity bills are incorrect because they pertain to the period before privatization of the system, and being notional, these would be written off. It was stated that this is the kind of cooperation and understanding for each other and interchange of ideas and demands and responsibilities which this Bhagidari movement has brought about.
To ensure that children should go to school and that infant (girl) foeticide is a crime, the Delhi government has recently started a ‘Laadli’ programme in consultation with women’s groups and NGOs. As per this programme, if a girl child is born in a household, birth certificate is issued; the day she is admitted in a school, Rs.10,000 is deposited in her name by the government. By the time she passes 12th class, she gets a cheque of one lakh rupees. The motive behind this initiative is to make the parents realise that a girl child is to be considered as an asset instead of a burden. This scheme is for parents with income of Rs.1 lakh per year.
In the opinion of Chief Minister, the Bhagidari scheme offers to provide solutions to the following problems:
The Chief Minister finally stressed the need to establish a city-state kind of governance for a rapidly growing city like Delhi, which has a population of about one crore sixty lakhs.
Ambassador M. Rasgotra, President, Centre for International Affairs at ORF, New Delhi chaired the event and delivered the welcome remarks. Dr. Rumi Aijaz gave the Vote of Thanks. Ms. Neha Arora, Junior Fellow, assisted in the coordination of the event. This report has been compiled by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
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