‘Participatory’ has become a loosely used terminology in today’s world. From practitioners to academics, everyone is lobbying for and supporting ‘participation by people’ through various methods. Pune, a city in the State of Maharashtra in India, also took a similar initiative to make its budget making process partially participatory under the tag – ‘Participatory Budgeting (PB)’. Through this blog, I shall be sharing my experiences of PB in Pune as a practitioner.
‘Participatory Budgeting’ largely means
a democratic process in which the city residents decide how to allocate part of the municipal or public budget.
The process first started in 1989, in Porte Algre, Brazil. Throughout the 1990s, it spread to other municipalities in Brazil and to other countries in South America. From the late 1990s, PB in different formats began to take root in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. PB has been tried in a few Indian cities as well, especially in Karnataka and Kerala. In Pune, the municipal corporation initiated participatory budgeting in 2005. Since then the process has been repeated every year. Cities practicing PB across the globe till 2012.
PB for Namesake
The Municipal Corporation of Pune sends a notification about the timeline during which citizens can make suggestions in the Budget through media. This timeline usually lasts for a month (August-September). During this time span, citizens can download the form from the corporation’s website or pick it up from the local ward office and submit their suggestions to the local ward office. On submission, a receipt is given to the citizen. There is a restriction on the kind of suggestions that can be made by the citizens based on the cost to the corporation for completing the work (should be below or equal to 5 lakhs (approx £7,000)) and the nature of the work suggested (only works that are undertaken by the local ward office can be suggested). After the time span, the ward engineers from the ward office accept or reject the work on basis of the technical feasibility of the work and the cost of undertaking the work (all works that cost above 5 lakhs are rejected). After the initial screening of the suggestions, the list of works is scrutinized by the Prabhag Samiti, which comprises of elected representatives and it is the final authority which decides the fate of every suggestion. Thereafter, the list of accepted suggestions is included in the Municipal Commissioner’s Budget (over the years, approximately 25-30% of the suggested works get accepted in the budget). The entire process has many loopholes which does not make participation effective. As a practitioner, there are some essentials for the recipe of participation to taste its best:
- Information dissemination
- People’s interest in the process
- An informed citizenry having knowledge on city level budgets
- Suitable user friendly platform for participation.
- Continuous consultation and deliberation between the communities.
The Check list for Pune
Let us look at the ingredients that exist in the case of PB in Pune.
- Information dissemination: The corporation sends a notification through media. Local NGOs facilitate the process by conducting workshops, emails and through social media
- People’s interest in the process: It is a function of information dissemination, the ease of participation and the output of participation. Currently, though year on year the number of suggestions are increasing, the number of people participating is 0.1 percent of the population
- An informed citizenry: A simplified version of the budget is published every year by an NGO called Janwani. However, the dissemination of the knowledge is limited.
- Suitable user friendly platform: As a result of the efforts of a local NGO – Janwani, the process was launched online for two consecutive years after its inception. However, due to lack of interest and support from the Corporation there was no online platform last year i.e. 2014.
- Consultation and deliberation between the community: There is no interaction between the ward level engineers and the citizens to prioritize on the works and comment on the technical feasibility. This leads to many suggestions getting rejected as citizens do not have the technical skills to determine whether a particular work can be completed within 5 lakhs or not, or whether the work suggested is a ward level work or city level work.
- System that is easy to track and accountable: Once the suggestion is submitted, there is no platform to track the status of the suggestion. Only after the final budget is prepared, the citizens can check whether their suggested work has been included or not. There is no method to track the accepted suggestions and keep a check on the quality of the work undertaken. Hence, there is complete absence of a feedback loop.
What needs to be done?
In my view, Pune’s PB is not even an inch close to the definition of PB accepted worldwide. In its present form, it looks like a mirage; the closer I look, the faster it diminishes. There is an urgent need to address some key issues in the process (e.g. short timeline of the process, no feedback to citizens on their suggestions and lack of citizen representation in the selection process) . If left un-addressed, citizens shall lose interest in the process and Pune which boasts about being the only city with a functional PB in the state will lose a feather from its cap. So, what should be done is as follows:
- The window of participation should be kept open throughout the year.
- There are a number of suggestions that are related to the main headquarter departments which get rejected. These should be forwarded to the respective departments for approval, instead of outright rejection (the neighbourhood level alone is not enough).
- An area meeting should be organized between the engineers and the citizens of the ward to deliberate over the suggestions. This should be done on a regular basis.
- A re-distributive logic should be embedded in the design of the process (e.g. poorest districts/ areas get more money and vice-versa).
- As the Prabhag Samiti is the final authority which decides the fate of every suggestions, its meetings should be attended by NGO representatives.
- The process should be launched online and data base should be maintained centrally. Citizens should be able to check the status of their suggestion through the online platform.
- Budget data should be open to the public and it should be possible for the citizens to track every work done through PB for its completion status, quality, location and other details.
A local NGO has prepared a ‘menu card’ which provides the approximate cost for different types of work to help citizens make suggestions. This is not extensive but provides a guide for making suggestions. A copy can be accessed from the following link.
In addition, readers may be interested in a website created by two of the NGOs from a neighboring municipal corporation, namely the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation for online participation. However, please note that this website is in operation only during the window of participation (next open November 2015).
Pooja Shetty is an Engineer turned urban policy practitioner. She has completed her MSc in Urban Policy and Governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Currently working as the Project Coordinator- Urban Governance at Janwani (www.janwani.org), a Pune based NGO working with the support of Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA). Her work includes simplification of budget data, participatory budgeting, gender budgeting and research work on metropolitan governance.