May 25, 2020
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This 12-Member Team Is Mumbai's New Watchdog

This 12-Member Team Is Mumbai's New Watchdog
WHAT brings together 12 young people from Mumbai with backgrounds as diverse as stockbroking, law, business and academics? A desire to look beyond the city's glamour and focus instead on its seamier side - mountains of garbage, flooded roads, overflowing manholes, contaminated drinking water.

It's high time, says this committed group that has come together to form Praja, that the MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) is made accountable for the services its supposed to render to Mumbai's denizens, given its whopping budget allocation of Rs 4,632.63 crore for 1997-98. Praja's aim is simple: educate both the common man as well as the service providers. As a first step it has formulated a Citizens Charter for Mumbai which gives detailed information on what should be expected from the municipality in a given time-frame. It's the first time such a charter has been drawn up by the citizens themselves and not the administration. Says Praja member Ajay Hattangdi, 28, relationship manager with Citibank: The objective of this exercise is to set a certain standard in public governance. We also wanted a readable, relevant charter which would connect with the people.

It all started when Mumbai-based Nitai Mehta, a 32-year-old fashion accessories manufacturer, attended a workshop where the citizens charter of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation was distributed. Realising that for any Citizens Charter to be successful it required the participation of people, Mehta with other members of Praja decided to work on a Citizens Charter for Mumbai. The document arms the citizen with information about his rights per se. For instance, if a garbage disposal lorry is not covered properly, the redressal period is 24 hours from the time of lodging a complaint. Ditto for removal of dead animals. A hierarchical system of lodging complaints is maintained to ensure action is taken even if the lowest rung in the municipal structure is unwilling or incapable. If all else fails, citizens are encouraged to call Praja. Says Mehta: The message we want to get to the municipality is that youre being watched. This will put pressure on them to perform.

While the charter is a well thought out document, it needed the approval of the very agency it intended to bring to book: the mcgm. Praja, after completing the final draft of the charter on September 29 last year, submitted it to the then municipal commissioner Girish Gokhale. He in turn passed it on to the various departmental heads and within three weeks, the document was officially accepted by the mcgm.

Now came the task of educating the very people who were expected to perform, who had so far taken their jobs for granted. For this the group organised four workshops for the mcgm employees. Says Sumangali Gada, 24, employed with Arthur Andersen and part of Praja's core team: Surprisingly we got full support from the municipality. They've been cooperative at every stage.

Now the effort is to circulate the charter and make it accessible to the man on the street. Already a condensed version has been incorporated in the Tata Yellow Pages. Efforts are on to tie up with a media chain to publish a special supplement, failing which the document will be distributed free. Says Hattangdi: We'd ideally like it to reach everybody on the same day, free of cost.

With the first phase of the project almost over, Praja has commenced work on Phase Two. The report card system developed and used effectively by the Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore will be adopted to evaluate performance.Says Samantha Saldanha, Praja's only full-time paid employee: We want to bring pressure on the elected representatives. These ratings will be the checks and balances for the charter.

For each stage of this project, committed citizens and organisations like B.G. Deshmukh of Tata Council of Community Initiatives, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Madhu Mehta Foundation have all chipped in with cash donations. Office space, conveyance, time, effort and personal contacts have been invested by Praja members. To participate, e-mail to; write to Samantha Saldanha, Praja, PO Box: 16079 Colaba Post Office, Colaba, Mumbai-400 005; call 022-2188865.

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