A growing city also has its problems which seem to grow at a similar rate, whether it is health, traffic and transportation, or water supply. How does a city like Cochin address such issues? How do we assure legitimacy and accountability in addressing such issues? Does there exist a system which forms the link to the formal systems of the muncipality.

With an aim to address these questions, Centre for Public Policy Research orgnaised a discussion on ‘Area Sabha and its Relevance in the Context of Urban Reforms in Cochin’ on 19 December 2008 at Ernakulam Public Library. The discussion was attended by the present councillor, Shri C K Gopalan and a former councillor Advocate K D Vincent.

The discussion began with the welcome address by Mr. Jaismon Antony. This was followed by an introduction of the concept of Area Sabha, which has been mentioned in the Model Nagar Raj Bil, by Mr. Abin Thomas. He explained how this concept, if adopted, will help in improving the representative nature of the local urban governing bodies while increasing the accountability towards the public and making the system more efficient. Area Sabha would consist of the voters of upto five poling booths depending on the strength of the polling booth in a locality. It would act as a recalling system. The Area Sabha representative would be elected from these sabhas.In case of under performance or other problems, the Area Sabha has the power to recall the representative through an electoral process.The Area sabha representatives would form the ward committee, thus connecting it to the Muncipality’s decision making and would be common platform to address different issues. It would also aid in the decentralisation of power and decision making.Thus the voters do not have to aproach different associations for different issues.

He posed three questions before opening the floor for discussion;

1.    How  can a voter use his power in the context of Area Sabha?
2.    How can we manage  the financial concerns?
3.    How will the system work?

After the brief introduction, the floor was open for discussion. Prof. K C Abraham moderated the discussion.

Former Mayor and present Councillor, Shri C K Gopalan initiated the discussion with his comments on Mr. Abin’s introduction and through his description of the procedures and processes in the current system. He said it is important that such studies and discussions are conducted and commended CPPR on conducting such a study. But he also stressed that such studies are not enough, there has to be an action from the state govenrment to bring about the legislation. He said the existing system does address such issues to a certain extent through ward commitees. He said that Kudumbasree’s have achieved decentralisation in the best possible way.He said that it is best if local people decide what is to be done in their areas and a only a person working at the grass root level would know the ground reality.

This was followed by the inputs of former councillor, Advocate K D Vincent. He said that such a concept is not new in Kerala, but exists in the form of ward conventions. The People’s Planning campaign was a policy to this effect.He agreed that there is nothing corresponding to the Grama Sabhas in the urban governing system. The issue here is the will required to make such a concept successful during implementation stages. The financial aspect is another important issue, because the state government gives the funds for such local government bodies. The policies have to be approved by the ward committees before being implemented by the corporation.The issue in this is the time factor as often there is a delay in implementation and by the time a decision is taken, the time period of the fund from the State Government lapses. The concept of the Area Sabha is truly welcome because there is an election being conducted rather than a nomination as in the case of present ward committees and the recalling facility, he said.

Other points which came up during the discussion are;
•    Whether there will be conflict between the councillors and the area sabha representative in the aspect of power? How can that be managed?
•    The Financial aspect: Self sustaining  area sabhas, generation of funds locally
•    How to make the implementation more effective
•    The political nature of Kerala is such that it cannot be ignored; how would it affect the functioning of such a body

In the end, Prof K C Abraham summed up the discussion. He said that it is agreed that such a concept is definitely beneficial in urban reforms and it is necessary to make more people aware of this as it aids in decentralisation and accountability. It is also important to do more studies and organise such discussions in order to come out with a more definite plan of action but echoing the opinions of the dignitaries he said that this should be brought to the notice of the state governement, so that a law can be passed as has been done by the Maharashtra State Government. He concluded by thanking all those present for taking an active part in the discussions.

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