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How citizens can interface with Municipal Corporation: Tips from a seasoned activist

I am on a emailing list of an activitist by the name of Mr. Krishnaraj Rao, below I have copy pasted a email received from him today, I think its a good information to know. His email starts below…

My colleague G R Vora is a civic activist of long standing. He has been interacting with the Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation since the 1990s. He notes that although meetings with officials are an important method for a common man to get his civic grievances redressed and to demand proper governance, they are underused. If civic activists attend more meetings with various civic authorities, things will rapidly improve.


Here are some tips from G R  Vora:


1.    Attend the monthly Citizens Grievance Redressal (CGR) meeting at the ward office. In Mumbai, it is supposed to be held once every month at every ward office — mostly on a Saturday 9 to 11 am. In such meetings, in addition to the Assistant Municipal Commissioner (also called Ward Officer), all the heads of Departments (such as Building & Factories, Storm Water Drains, Encroachment Removal, License, Water Supply, Solid Waste Dept, Health etc, ) or their second-in-command are in attendance. This is an effective forum to put forward your grievances and demand commitments from the concerned officers. What you are entitled to at these meetings:


a)   Proper and patient hearing, as long as you do not get personal and rude, but stick to the facts of the grievance, supporting your contentions with documentary proofs such as letters written to proper authorities etc, agenda & minutes of meetings held, photographs of the problem.


b)   Discussion of written submissions of your grievances with the responsible officials, followed by proper directions for redressal of grievances. So it’s always a good idea to carry a letter for written submission, instead of going empty-handed.


c)    Acknowledged & stamped copy of written submissions. Always take at least three copies, plus original. One is copy for submission, one is your office copy on which you will receive stamped acknowdgement, and a couple of copies extra which will come in handy during the meeting.


d)   The Complaints Officer (CO) is supposed to note down the minutes of the meeting for future reference.


e)   At the next meeting, the officers are supposed to put forward an Action Taken Report (ATR) on the complaints and commitments given at the last CGR meeting. If they do not, you can insist on this, to avoid slippages from action commitments made at previous meetings.


2.   Do the documentation, walk the extra mile: After getting valuable commitments at the meeting, many citizens don’t put it down on paper. This is a mistake, because it allows officials to evade those commitments. Please don’t depend on the CO’s minutes. Within one or two days after the meeting, take care to send a letter addressed to the Ward officer listing all the grievances which were put forward at this CGR meeting, and also the commitments that were made. This is the way to put on record the grievances expressed at the CGR meeting, and to prepare the ground for further follow-up.


3.    Follow up with RTI Application: If you feel that the officers will not act on your complaint, then you can pressure them by filing an RTI application on the complaints already given (see http://tinyurl.com/RTI-on-Complaint ). The RTI will seek details of the action taken, reasons recorded for not acting on the complaint, officers responsible for taking action etc. etc.


4.    If  Ward officials negligently or deliberately fail to redress grievances, then you can approach the higher up, namely Deputy Municipal Commissioner (DMC) of that zone. The DMC is supposed to meet citizens once a month (e.g. for MCGM F/North ward, the DMC Zone 2 meets the citizens on third Monday of the month 3 – 5 pm). You must take along a letter seeking  redressal of grievances, the copies of complaints already lodged at Ward Office etc, RTI applications filed, information received etc. At this meeting, you must urge him to take action not only on your grievances, but also against the officers who have not taken action on your grievances.


5.    If action is not satisfactory, then escalate the complaint to the next level. Seek an appointment with the Additional Municipal Commissioner under whom the ward falls i.e. Addl. Mun. Commissioner (City) or Addl. Mun. Commissioner (Western Suburbs) or Addl. Mun. Commissioner (Eastern Suburbs). Get their phone numbers from the website. Go to the meeting with your complete file of papers to show that you have done a lot of groundwork before approaching him; this will earn you respect in his eyes, and put pressure on him to act promptly. It will also tell him that you are not easy to deter, and that if he does not satisfy you, you are willing and able to go to his higher-ups too!


6.    Finally, there is the Municipal Commissioner’s Lokshahi Din, where he is available on for hearing members of the public seeking redressal of grievances. (In the case of MCGM, it’s the First Monday of the month between 9 – 11 am)


7.    Regular letterbaazi is a must. At or after every meeting, dispatch a letter to the official stating the grievances expressed and commitments made by officers. These are the minutes of your interaction with the concerned officials. This will become necessary in case you need to go to court with a Writ Petition or Public Interest Litigation, or if you wish to press charges against officials for deliberate inaction. Neatly file the stamped acknowledgment copy.


8.    G R Vora’s Words of Caution:


(a)  Citizens should avoid calling these meetings at the Ward Office as ALM (Advanced Locality Management) meetings. If they do, they may be sidetracked by officials who start asking questions like, “ALM of which Societies? Which neighbourhood? Are you doing garbage segregation, vermi-composting, adoption of footpaths for beautification etc? Why not?” Officials may use such tactics to put the citizen on the backfoot, and make him/her feel inferior.


(b)  CGR meetings are regularly happening wherever citizens are active, in wards such as H-West ward, F/North Ward, M East / West wards, and A ward. These should be happening in all the wards. Demand it, and try to gather at least 8-10 citizens who devote energy to attending these meetings.


(c)   Ward officer may call the residents only on two days of the week (e.g. in F/North ward it is on Mondays and Fridays between 3 – 5 pm) to air their grievance. At this meeting only the Ward Officer is available, but not a single Head of Department (HoD) is present to answer questions and give commitment on grievance redressal. This is a Bad Practice. Bring pressure on Ward Officer to meet citizens when all HoDs are available.


(d)  Municipal Commissioner, Addl. MC, DMC and Ward Officer sometimes allows citizens to enter their office only one-by-one, and not in a group. This puts the citizens at a disadvantage, as they are not able to support one another with relevant arguments, relevant information etc. The official gains a psychological advantage by virtue of his high office, and uses it to suppress and cow down the citizen. This is a bad practice, which must be opposed. We must keep in mind that CGR meetings are forums where citizens can apply collective pressure for good governance.


9.   What to do if Officials persistently fail to resolve grievances?


Three Weapons available in Maharashtra & Mumbai —


A)   provisions of Maharashtra Delay Prevention Act: http://tinyurl.com/Using-Delay-Prevention-Act


B)   For slow response to Representations, this circular http://tinyurl.com/90-day-limit


C)   For inaction on unauthorized constructions, this circular: http://tinyurl.com/punitive-circular


Also read about Other Action Tools available to active citizens working for better governance and accountability: http://tinyurl.com/activist-action-toolkit


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