Area Sabha

Cities like Mumbai, which contribute immensely to the country, are denied access to grass root participatory democracy.  While the 73rd Amendment gives Gram Sabha to villagers, Mumbaites are deprived of the prescription of the 74th Amendment that deals with grass root democracy in urban areas.

Freddie was concerned about the state of his lane. He formed an Area Locality Management unit and attended regular ALM meetings with the ward office. He was distressed by the attitude of the BMC. Most senior officers abstained from the meetings citing excuses of internal discussions and summons from the top. Promises made were flippant and casual.  When one senior officer asked him why he was wasting his time in these activities, he felt a deep sense of betrayal. Questioning himself, he wondered what legitimacy he had in this setup.

VOTEMUMBAI gives Freddie and other citizens a platform to participate legitimately in the governance system. It proposes to ensure that participatory democracy percolates down to the people, so that we, the sovereigns of the country, can finally demand what is rightfully ours, instead of begging, bribing and beseeching for our rights.
Mumbai consists of 227 corporator wards. If you look at the voter’s list, you will find that there are, on an average, 35 polling booths in each of these. We suggest that the population of one polling booth should form one Area Sabha, consisting of about 1500-2000 people. The Area Sabha will have act as a watchdog, monitoring the activities (see functions of Area Sabha (link to function of area sabha)) of the BMC. This population will elect a candidate amongst themselves, who will represent the Area in a Ward Committee.

If the Area Sabha candidate does not perform he can be recalled thus ensuring regular and good services in every locality of Mumbai.

Area Sabha candidates constitute the Ward Committees, making them automatically accountable to the Area Sabha. With this setup the urban voter becomes more informed and empowered. Not only active citizens like Freddie, but other Toms, Dicks and Harries will also be induced to participate as the results start becoming apparent.

Area Sabha can also be used a tool to extract information and reduce errors in the voters’ lists, the BPL (Below Poverty Line) lists etc. The Area Sabha is an urban parallel of the Gram Sabha. Analysis of studies conducted on the efficacy of Gram Sabhas reveal that they are effective in improving information levels, provide opportunity for marginalised sections and have positive outcomes for the poor while working with rich in the Area Sabhas. Area Sabhas also makes citizens accountable as now the citizens are more involved and informed.

Freddie participated whole-heartedly in theVOTEMUMBAI campaign. He, along with others in his locality, were pleased with the success and acceptance of the new city structure. Freddie now had legitimacy in the system. He decided to stand for the Area Sabha elections from his polling booth. Amish, his neighbour was also keen on making a difference in his lane and therefore decided to contest from the same polling booth. Mrs. Nandini Thakkar who lived two buildings away was socially active and decided to stand for the elections. All three began to put in effort to improve their lane.

Freddie, who everyone knew to be an honest and well-meaning citizen, was elected as the Area Sabha candidate. He now represented his area in the ward committee. The following were the changes made in the area:

1 The maintenance of the garden in the region was now monitored by the Area Sabha. The ward committee was asked to give funds to maintain it.
2 A plan to increase street lights and beautification of the lane was submitted to the ward committee to be added in the city plan.
3 A large board was put up with details regarding the work timings of the sweeper that worked in the Area. Members of that locality could now complain to the ward office without much trouble if the sweeper was absent or if the garbage was not taken away on time. Freddie wanting to be re-elected the next time made sure things his lane remained beautiful and Amish and Nandini who were eyeing the same post also became active citizens.
4 There were many flaws in the voters list. In an Area Sabha meeting Freddie decided to read out the Voter’s list. It was found that three families present had already moved away, and some names were missing. The mistakes were immediately rectified.
Amish, Nandini, Freddie and others in the area now became informed, vigilant citizens.

VOTEMUMBAI proposes to make such enormous changes in every pocket of the city. An Area Sabha can bring real visible changes in Mumbai.

Some of the Benefits of Area Sabha
Permanent, institutionalised structure for participation
Ward Committee strengthened, with accountability to Area Sabha
Urban “Voter” elevated to “Citizen” in fullest sense
Participatory/Deliberative democracy: global trends
Convergence opportunities: Voter List, BPL list cleaned up
Heterogenous composition has positive social implications
Area Sabha a platform of citizen accountability, not just govt
Extrapolation of Grama Sabha findings
Positive outcomes for the poor
Opportunity for marginalised sections

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