Aditya Govindaraj writes about a unique non-government organisation that tracks governance & transparency issues for the common man
While the popular media keep ordinary citizens informed about headline-making events, scandals and governance issues, we, the people, know so little about the state of governance of our own locality or municipal ward. For instance, how many Mumbaikars know that their municipal councillors are concerned only about renaming the roads instead of improving their quality and providing better civic amenities? Consider this data: one out of every five questions asked by Mumbai’s municipal councillors between March and December 2012 was about renaming roads. On the other hand, the total number of complaints lodged by taxpayers increased by a whopping 50%, between 2011 and 2012; a majority of these pertained to roads and drainage. In other words, little had been done to improve the sorry state Mumbai’s infrastructure.
Mumbaikars would never have known these surprising statistics were it not for Praja, a Mumbai-based NGO set up in 1998 by eight like-minded individuals whose goal was to establish and improve accountability and transparency in governance at the grassroots. Praja’s online portal contains almost every piece of local information that you may want to know—from the telephone number of your local ward councillor to the crime or health statistics of your ward. Mumbaikars can leverage this information in many ways.
For instance, the MLA’s (member of the legislative assembly) report card, which grades and ranks performance of MLAs, can be downloaded from Praja’s website. This information can be used to make MLAs more accountable, because it is invariably newsworthy for the media and easy to share on social media as well. Nitai Mehta, the managing trustee of Praja Foundation, says, “The MLA who was ranked last came to meet the team and went back satisfied with the matrix and made a statement that he would improve his ranking in the next report card. On the whole, the report cards have been a success as we have started getting many phone calls from elected representatives, citizens and civil society groups.”
Similarly, Mumbaikars can leverage the ‘City Scan’ feature on the website to search for information on health, crime, education and civic issues. Praja’s volunteers use the Right to Information Act extensively to gather important and relevant statistics relating to municipal governance. The information is then compiled and uploaded on the website.
The ‘Citizen Charter’, one of the early projects undertaken in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), was created to document best practices and standards to measure delivery of services to the public. Workshops are held to train staff of MCGM to ensure high level of service to the public. The ‘Mumbai Citizen’s Handbook’, a useful reckoner in three distinct volumes, provides useful information on how the Mumbai municipality functions. Services such as water, sewerage and sanitation, education, health, police and environment were assessed to understand the problems in the delivery of each of these areas.
“Praja helps the state administration at various levels, right from the municipal commissioner, chief secretary, police commissioner to the ward officers, police inspectors, which monitors the state of the city and also enables dialogues with the key stakeholders to create solutions for better governance,” says Nitai Mehta on the importance of Praja for Mumbai. Praja is run by a team of 19 with support from a board of trustees and advisors with knowledge in governance, social sciences, business, market research and media. They can accept up to 10 regular volunteers. Apart from volunteering, you could help by donating to the Praja Foundation; donations are tax-exempt under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act.
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