Ward as the 'Unit of change'
All cities are divided into wards. They are the lowest level of governance serving close to 0.5% of a city’s population. With the introduction of Ward Committees across states like Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, etc. we are witnessing a potential for citizen participation in planning and governance at the lowest level.
The future is decentralized and inclusive city making. Therefore establishing the ward as a ‘unit of change’ to chase scalable impact.
What are ward committees?
The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) or Nagarapalika Act was passed in 1992 by the Parliament. The official gazette notification was issued on 1st June 1993 to give “Power to the People” and bring in decentralisation, transparency, accountability and people’s participation in urban local bodies (ULBs).
One of the key provisions has been the formation of ward committees that formally include citizens as co-decision makers in the ward level governance alongside the elected Corporator. Further, this has meant decentralization and devolution of power and responsibilities from the centralized municipal body to the wards, entrusting them with localizing planning, budgeting and monitoring of urban services/schemes. This sets up a framework that can by design bring more inclusive-ness and on-ground citizen centric perspectives into the city making process.
Ward Committees are not new, they have been constituted in cities across states like Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra; and even globally in countries like South Africa.
Bengaluru as a starting point
In Bengaluru, the current ward committees are in their fourth avatar. The first existed from 1999 - 2001, second from 2003 - 2006, the third from 2014 - 2015 and now is the fourth that have been functional since 2017.
This time the committee has been given a 17 point mandate in accordance with the KMC Act, which continues to be added onto by the likes of the Municipality and Karnataka High Court. The mandate reflects decentralisation of planning in the form of the ‘Ward Development Scheme’ and better supervision for public utilities and services at a ward level.
We recently set out to explore the current workings of these Committees through a 22 ward study and found that almost all of them had no capacity, training or support to execute the above mandate.
How do we intend to support them?
As urbanists, we believe that for Ward Committees to be truly transformative they need a support system that is able to provide them with both technical and operational support.
We plug into this ecosystem of the Ward in the following 2 ways -
Through the deployment of an urban planner ‘Fellow’ as a resource to the ward, who will:
Anchor the creation and collation of data and information
Curate citizen facing participatory processes to foster co-creation
Support on-ground implementation of projects
Through the innovation lab, who as a network organisation will support
contextualising issues to the ward
building shared knowledge within the ecosystem
actively experiment and pilot solutions that can scale across wards
The idea here is to create modules that are replicable across wards, and embed a process of experiencing co-creation and change making that will eventually transform citizens into conscious environmentalist.