The concept and vision of “Citizen’s Partnership in Governance” took root in 1999 in the mind of the newly-elected Chief Minister of Delhi – Mrs. Sheila Dikshit. It was suitably titled as Bhagidari.
She was genuinely concerned about two things relating to democracy in India: (a) the fact that between voting in elections once in several years, citizens really had not much empowerment to play an active, positive role in day-to-day working democracy (as different from “representative democracy”); (b) the fact that an uneasy or even adversarial relationship & attitude “normally” existed between citizens and the government officials / civic administration due to years/decades of poor “civic service delivery” with citizens feeling weak and helpless/dependent.
The Chief Minister (CM) was clear that our “working democracy” needed to be improved on a day-to-day basis, and citizens needed to be empowered and provided a partnership role in governance. She valued the feedback and suggestions of citizens and was looking for a set of globally-proven methods and participative processes, whereby citizens and officials could work together, solve problems together, and implement projects through collaboration, to improve the quality of life in all the residential areas of Delhi.
The Delhi Government ultimately selected the methods, designs, and processes of “multi-stakeholder” large-group dynamics offered by the Asian Centre for Organisation Research & Development, New Delhi.
Mrs Dikshit first opted for 3 “Pilot” workshops to test the “large-group dynamics” model on the ground, and after evaluation of the impact and feedback, opted to utilize this approach to build the partnership between citizens (through their Resident Welfare Associations) and urban Civic Service Bodies and Govt. Departments which interact closely and provide services to citizens.
With “large-group-dynamics – multistakeholder” workshops as the foundation and skeleton, under the banner of “Bhagidari” Mrs Dikshit step by- step added different sectors and departments based on citizen’s feedback (including some departments not reporting to the Chief Minister) :
• Municipal Corporation of Delhi
• Delhi Police
• New Delhi Municipal Council
• Department of Education & all Govt. Schools
• Department of Social Welfare & Women’s Development Schemes
• Department of Power & PPP DISCOMS
• Department of Water
• Department of Health
• Department of Taxes
• Department of Industries In addition, special emphasis was given through these participative, problem-solving workshops on issues that citizens of Delhi had identified were of prime concern to them:
• Citizen Safety & Security • Senior Citizens Welfare
• Women & Girl Child Welfare • Street-lighting
• Neighbourhood Parks and Gardens
• Solid Waste Management
• Urban Cleanliness & Sanitation
• Power Supply & Power Quality
• Water Supply & Water Quality
• Condition of Roads • Quality of Public Transport
• Storm-water drains • Public Health – vector borne ailments through mosquitoes and flies
• Power Conservation & Energy Saving
• Environment Quality – Air, Water, Soil, Noise
• Rural area development
• Water Conservation – Rain Water Harvesting
• Right to Information
In the year 2004 when the initial “Bhagidari” workshops on civic issues had started to show results for the citizens, Mrs Dikshit ensured that a series of “Bhagidari” workshops were organized on priority issues as well as emerging issues, such as solid waste management, women’s empowerment, right to information, regularization of unauthorized colonies and services for poorer and migrant population.
From the year 2001 Mrs Dikshit set up the “Bhagidari Cell” under her direct supervision and guidance, which gave positive messages to the citizens that the Bhagidari Cell was the pivot for promoting people’s participation as well as government’s accountability. In parallel, she set up the “Bhagidari Mela” (Festival) for showcasing achievements, networking recognizing and valuing the partnerships.
In brief “Bhagidari” has evolved in stages, with some stages overlapping as lessons being learnt were being incorporated to strengthen the partnership in this “process” initiative:
Stage 1: 3 “pilot” Bhagidari workshops for “large-group” multi-stakeholders. Stage 2: 88 Bhagidari workshops on civic issues, and specific priority themes, eg solid waste management, education; and action plans.
Stage 3: Institutionalisation through “Bhagidari” Cell as the pivot; introduction of “My Delhi I Care” fund & follow-up on action plans.
Stage 4: Showcasing results through a Bhagidari Festival: to recognize, value and award-successful partnerships. Future…
Potential for step-up of “Bhagidari” process; build competence and Quality of Life index, benchmark and twinning concepts if the administrative reforms desired by the Government of NCT of Delhi are agreed to by the Central Government.
The major challenge that Mrs Sheila Dikshit has been able to successfully handle is the change in the ‘Mind-set’ of both the citizen and the officers, from adversarial stands to a collaborative approach.
Initial, two years were tough and full of scepticism both among the citizens and the officials. However, setting up of colony-wise action plans after each three-day workshop, in which citizens and the officers sat together, on jointly pre-identified issues; gave a concrete point to follow up.
• The citizens began to take interest since the plans were monitored on a monthly basis. The officers also started to get involved especially since their responsiveness to Bhagidari initiative was put as a part of their annual appraisal.
The initiative which had started initially at a centralised level was de-centralised to revenue district from the second year onwards. This made the project more manageable, and also more focused on the local area-specific concerns, which did vary from district to district.
• An evaluation of the colony-based projects and activities by the Resident Welfare Association, in collaboration with civic organisations, helped build the credibility of the initiative and interest of a larger number of residential colonies.
• The initiative which had started initially at a centralised level, was de-centralised to revenue district from the second year onwards. This made the project more manageable, and also more focused on the local area-specific concerns, which did vary from district to district.
• A closer inter-action between the District Collectors and the Resident Welfare Associations that created opportunities for feedback and action on several issues other than those taken up during the workshops.
• As the demand for such inter-action increased, based upon the implementation of 33% of the action part at the end of the first year, and the interest of citizens started to grow in the project, the Chief Minister set up a Bhagidari Cell already under her command to deal with citizens partnership and participation in improving upon the quality of life in Delhi, in all possible aspects – as mentioned above.
• Mrs Sheila Dikshit’s presence at each Bhagidari workshop gave a quality assurance to the process, validated her genuine interest in making a difference through RWA partnership – she not only listened to emerging issues but also ensured monitoring and follow-up. Her time and effort aided the confidence-building measure on each occasion, and also gave a vision and hope for better services, infrastructure and environment for the citizens of Delhi.
• One clear indicator is that from almost a nil project or activity undertaken by the citizens and the officials together (pre Stage 1, when citizens completely blamed the Govt.), by 2008, there were more than 5000 colony-based projects reported by the RWAs in different aspects of life. An evaluation of the success of the projects to Bhagidari processes and linked achievements are shown in tables.
The author is Additional Secretary (Bhagidari) in the Government of Delhi