New Delhi, India

Popular Participation in the Management of Public Affairs: Creating Mechanisms for Citizen Supervision of Social Service Delivery

A Case from the South: New Delhi, pills India

Municipalities offer citizens and enterprises an entire range of services that have a direct impact on the ability of individuals and families to face the obstacles of poverty, pills to remedy certain deficiencies and to ameliorate their economic circumstances. Similarly, municipal services may influence the capacity of enterprises of all sizes to prosper and improve the revenues of individuals. In order for this to occur, services must be delivered in an efficient and equitable manner, without favouritism for the wealthy and influential. Benefits offered by the municipal administration must correspond to the most pressing needs of the population, especially those of the most marginalised.

The capacity of municipalities to roll back poverty depends largely on their willingness to listen to their citizens, to involve them in finding solutions to the problems that affect them, to always act transparently, to eliminate corruption and favouritism, and to try always to act in a manner that is efficient, rapid, and in keeping with the spirit of public service.

For sixteen months, the city of Delhi, India has had a fruitful experience in this regard, the lessons of which can be of benefit to countries around the world.

Connect municipal services to the fight against poverty

A municipality is best poised to mitigate the effects of poverty, to assist the poor in their desire to improve their lives by providing them with access to:

  • running water
  • electricity
  • improved of sanitation and living environemnt
  • microcredit
  • education
  • vocational training
  • and other social services

In the process the municipality should take into account the specific needs of the people who derive their revenue from activities conducted in the informal sector.

That is why, in January 1997, the city of New Delhi took a series of measures to assure that municipal functions were well adapted to the needs of all citizens, did not neglect the poor, were transparent and impartial, and that problems encountered were made known as soon as possible.

Confronted with the difficulties of a city under-equipped to address its rapid development and the growing needs of its population, New Delhi city authorities conceived of tools to include its people, most notably the least fortunate, in the administration of public affairs. This not only changed the nature of relationships between civil servants and the people they govern, but also made easier the creation of solutions to problems encountered by the most marginalized.

Participatory management of public affairs

Under the mandate of the Vice-Governor, representing the State, the municipal authorities put into place three principal mechanisms for interacting with the population:

  • A mediation service between the administration and the people
  • A program of “citizen-guards”
  • Groups of expert consultants

A mediation service between the administration and those who are governed

A response service, attached to the Office of the Vice-Governor and open 24 hours a day, was charged with:

  • Gathering citizens’ complaints
  • Informing corresponding municipal service delivery offices of the complaints received
  • Verifying the follow-up of the complaints and that all necessary measures are taken to remedy the situation satisfactorily, from the viewpoint of the complaint filer.

Community agents were henceforth also subject to the possession of a badge, so that occasional arbitrary decisions on their part did not continue under a cover of anonymity.

The creation of oversight authorities within principal administrations was encouraged. Similarly, coordinators were named to ensure the best and fastest possible transmission of information to the Office of the Vice-Governor.

The program “citizen-guard”

This program encouraged citizens, including representatives from all sectors of the poor population, to volunteer not only for the surveillance of public services but also for partnerships with municipal employees for the resolution of well-known problems. In case of a setback on the local level, they could send a report to the Vice-Governor to request the intervention of a higher authority. While they numbered 50 in March of 1997, the number of “citizen-guards” surpassed 400 by the end of that year.

The citizen-guards are bound by the Charter of Duties, which specifies what they can do to further the public interest, to encourage good citizenship among their compatriots and to assure their cooperation in the resolution of local problems. Their mandate was broadly conceived — covering not only those sectors over which municipal authorities traditionally have authority, but also those pertaining to the national government and public enterprises. Assigned to draft monthly reports, “citizen-guards” were able to share their experiences through a monthly publication covering their activities (reparation of roads or streetlights, organisation of rubbish collection or night police patrols, etc.). Quarterly meetings took place in the presence of the Vice-Governor, the highest state civil servants and local service providers, to take stock of their performance and the difficulties encountered in the accomplishment of their mission.

Finally, the actions of “citizen-guards” went beyond the mere provision of services and the fight against corruption, and included new domains such as the promotion of education and vocational training, and even research.

Despite its promising beginning, this program ceased to benefit from official support of the Vice-Governor after the position changed hands following elections in the Spring of 1998. The “citizen-guards” consequently became a non-governmental organisation (NGO) charged with the promotion of “good governance”.

Expert consultants

These individuals constituted eight groups gathered from the civil society- university affiliates, researchers, NGO representatives, civil servants – in the fields of law and security, transportation and traffic, the environment, health, historical and archaeological town preservation, tourism, the economic and environmental future prospects for Delhi and sport and leisure.

Civil servants and local political representatives were invited to consult with these expert groups, so that they may elaborate political strategies that are more realistic and more pertinent to citizens’ needs and expectations. Opportunities for the exchange of information were established with the administration. This permitted solutions to be found to the numerous questions raised by the experts.

This experience demonstrates that experts are not only willing to give generously of their time, but also have a real motivation to contribute efficiently to the resolution of problems within their societies. Convinced of the usefulness of such a forum for the exchange of ideas with public authorities, they have articulated support for the institutionalisation of citizen involvement in public affairs.

The results

Of the 64,403 complaints received by the response center between January 1997 and March 1998, 70% were resolved, thanks to attentive follow-up.

Moreover, and owing also to the actions of the “citizen-guardians”, greater responsibility was invested in local authorities, which has translated into progressive improvement in the manner in which concerned administrations carry out their obligations.

These devices have also provided the most marginalized people with access to benefits that previously did not exist. One example can be fund in the experience of street vendors, who usually work without housing and facilities, and who constantly risk being immediately dislodged by authorities. In certain streets, the municipal authority constructed a shelter made out of cement and sometimes outfitted with electricity, easily purchased for modest sum, to be used on a daily basis and on a “first come, first serve” basis. This “market of people” met with great success. Similarly, the construction of public housing prevented a swelling of slum inhabitants, and actually diminished their numbers, which were estimated to be at 2.5 million people. This project could be partially financed by revenues from the commercial use of land freed by the elimination of shanties. On other sites, public parks were set up near shantytowns. Shanties were sometimes connected to a city electricity grid, which allowed them to be partially serviced by electricity (see the São Paolo “slum electrification” project.)

An approach that serves urban problems

The example of New Delhi demonstrates that transparent management, responsive to the needs of all sectors of the urban population, systematically improves public services, the malfunctions of which first affect the least fortunate.

However, the beneficiaries of such an approach extend beyond the fight against poverty. This approach generates greater efficiency in almost all domains under municipal jurisdiction. For example, many traffic problems were resolved through the introduction of “citizen-guardians” in this area, involving the governed as “traffic citizen-guards”.

In addition to improving the quality of life for citizens, the experience demonstrates that this approach allows for the improvement of relations between the municipality and its population.

We thank M. Tejendra Khanna for the information about his city’s anti-poverty experience.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Tejendra Khanna
Former Lt. Governor of Delhi
D-1/47, Vasant Vihar
New Delhi- 110057, India
phone: +91 11 615 23 24, fax: +91 11 615 27 28