Wednesday, 10 August 2016

AAP's utopian concept of Swaraj

AAP's utopian concept of Swaraj

In its election manifesto (EM), the AAP promised that “One of the first things the AAP will do after forming the government is to legislate the Swaraj Act that will devolve power directly to the people and contain provisions for the formation of Mohalla Sabhas. This will go a long way in curbing corruption at the local level.” But the foremost thing that has surfaced is in-fighting at the top for control over the party machinery and its agenda. It is really ironical that those who are behaving like authoritarians at the top are promising devolution of power to the people. It is high time the AAP’s concept of devolution of power is analysed threadbare.

Let us first look at the scheme of things as envisaged in the EM. Each of Delhi’s 227 municipal wards will be divided into 10-15 Mohallas (neighbourhood units). Each Mohalla, with 500 to 1000 families, will be managed by a Mohalla Sabha (MS), an open assembly, comprising all the adults in the locality. People will be encouraged to participate in large numbers in the mandatory monthly meetings of MS to take decisions on issues concerning the locality and monitor the functioning of public institutions in the areas while the state government will make decisions on issues at the state level. There is a long list of functions to be assigned to the MSs:

·              Cleanliness and maintenance of mohalla parks, streets and streetlights.  

·              Power to cancel licence of a ration shop indulging in irregularities and to grant   license to a new distributor.

·              Issue of important documents such as birth, death, caste and income certificates of people in the Mohalla.

·              Preparation of list of beneficiaries of government schemes such as widow pensions, old age pensions and so on.

·              Issue of no--objection for opening an alcohol shop or outlet, with the women in the neighbourhood having the final say.

·              Management of local solid waste

·              Monitoring of local government schools and primary hospitals and dispensaries.  

·              Playing important role in the regularisation of unauthorised colonies, preparation and monitoring of development plans for these colonies

·              Preparation of plans for rehabilitation of slum-dwellers in clean living environment and monitoring of implementation of the plans.

·              Maintenance of community toilets and monitoring of cleanliness and sanitation.
·              Issue of licences to a street vendor’s and hawkers.
·              Designation of spaces in markets for hawkers.
·              Coordination of peace committees to ensure communal harmony.
·              Upkeep and maintenance of public libraries.

In addition, there will be Citizens Water Councils at Mohalla level for water management. All societies, buildings and apartments, public as well as private, government schools, commercial and office buildings and hotels will have rainwater harvesting system.

The EM mentions that every year each MS will be given untied fund for the activities in its area with autonomy to utilise the funds as it sees fit. Payment for government work would be made only when the MS is satisfied with the work done. The MS Secretariat with a smaller staff will implement the decisions made by the MS.

The EM further mentions that, in the long run the MS will participate in the law-making process on the earmarked subjects. A copy of every bill under the consideration of the State assembly would be sent to each MS and their opinions should be sought. The MSs too may propose to the State assembly to make law on one of these subjects.

The idea of  MS solving so many local problems appears quite attractive on paper. Imagine more than 3400 MSs – assuming 12.5 MSs in each municipal ward – each attended by 500 to 1000 persons, meeting every month to take stock of their local problems and steps to solve those problems.  If it works, Delhi will be very much on way to becoming what the AAP says, at the end of EM, is its wish: “a World Class City”. But the million dollar question is, 'Can it work in the real world situation?' Is it feasible?

There are so many constants in the real world situation that the entire idea seems to be utopian. Nowhere in the world such a system exists. Even in Appenzell Innerrhoden (citizens’ number less than 16000) and Glarus (citizens’ number less than 30000), two rural cantons of Switzerland, where direct democracy exists, all adult citizens gather only once a year for the general assembly while the administrative work is carried out by an Executive Council of seven members including President. Such assemblies had existed in all the cantons since the Middle Ages. After formation of Switzerland as a federal state in September 1848, such assemblies were considered anachronisms and gradually abolished in all but two cantons. In those rural cantons life is much simpler. In a city like Delhi where common people have to work hard on all days to make both ends meet, it is too much to expect them to attend monthly gatherings in large number and devote their time and energy to solve almost all the day-to-day problems of their locality. Even if they do so initially, gradually their enthusiasm would ebb; attendance in monthly meetings would become thinner and the number of those devoting their time and energy to solve local problems for which they would not be paid anything would dwindle.

In fact, the responsibilities assigned to the MSs can be performed only by individuals or small groups, not by large bodies like MS. Does the AAP expect local social workers to come forward? Maybe, when the AAP government makes law, it provides for executive bodies to perform those functions and be accountable to the MSs. Considering the long list of multifarious tasks, at least 25 to 30 dedicated social workers would be needed in each Mohalla. True, every Mohalla would not have hospital or school or library. Even then the number of activities would be quite large. For about 3400 Mohallas, more than one lakh social workers would be needed. Thousands of social workers would be needed just to monitor maintenance of 2 lakh public toilets. Is this not a highly impractical way of dealing with civic problems?

   Whether social workers take the initiative or law provides for the election of executive bodies from amongst the members of the MSs, money and patronage involved would give a golden opportunity to those with political ambition to build political base for advancement of career in politics. These MSs would become new centres of power for ambitious AAP workers. In all probability, power would be concentrated in the hands of local strongmen.  Since money would be coming from an AAP government, the AAP members would consider it their domain. AAP would also try to strengthen its position at the cost of other political parties. The local units of AAP may behave the way the local units of the CPM behaved during the Communist rule in West Bengal. In West Bengal, even without formal legal powers, the local units of the CPM had become very powerful, dictating orders to government officials. Here under the AAP government, local party units would be armed with legal powers and would be getting money from the government.

There is danger that devolution of power would result in inter-party as well as intra-party rivalries. Factionalism that has inflicted the party at the top would travel down the local level.

Every Mohalla does not have space where 1000 or more people may assemble.

     The functioning of Delhi municipal corporations would also be adversely affected There is every possibility of conflict jurisdiction between MSs and municipal corporations. The State government cannot abolish municipal corporations. After the 74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution, it is mandatory to have local bodies like panchayats for villages and corporations for big cities.

    The likely scenario is not going to be healthy for the society.
Devendra Narain

March 15, 2016

According to a news item in a national  daily "The AAP is all set to finally keep a promise made during its assembly campaign - a functional "mohalla sabha" in every area in the capital."