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May 11, 2009 / zanzi

Day Five

Day Five, Friday the 8th of May, began with a visit to the Standing Committee of the Tarnaka Residents’ Welfare Associations (SCOTRWA). This committee covers 18 colonies with a total of 175 apartment complexes. It has several programmes – a consumer council, an interface with police, cultural and educational components, a technical council dealing with government works, a training programme committee and Tarnaka Times, a monthly information bulletin. This had a high level of space allocated to revenue-generating advertisements and ego-catering lists of post-holders within the committee, probably as an incentive to increase participation.

Tarnaka provides a rather celebrated example of local self-governance around Hyderabad, and while the reasons for the locality being a fairly model area might be attributed to several factors, the success in terms of results is quite evident and not contested. The impression many carry is that this is due to good municipal practices. While citizen participation does promote action, it is usually the case that much of what is presented is hyperbole that contains a grain of effective truth. Moreover, with SCOTRWA members being comprised of apartment residents, the nature of its democratic functioning with respect to representation across classes is questionable. Be that as it may, it is still a best practice and, mindful of these concerns, we examined different aspects of their work as presented to us partially based on site visits.

SCOTRWA has been implementing the concept of ward sabhas. It works based on the logic of collective bargaining in order to ensure social accountability. Its origin lies in all 18 colonies’ RWAs coming together in order to increase their bargaining power. Moreover, with its success there are other neighbourhoods attempting to emulate their example, and a united federation of these has also been formed for functioning at a higher level. We were concerned with their work on the ground in the Tarnaka area. In terms of equity concerns, they mentioned child enrolment in education, both public schools as well as aanganwadis, the discouragement of labour below 14 years of age, slum settlement provision for domestic help near the colonies and the formation of a watchmen group to safeguard their interests.

After a preliminary overview given by several senior citizens, we attempted an interactive session with the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP). The fellow proved to be as asinine as they come, responding to questions with an inaudible whisper by the side of a noisy traffic junction, and this to a group of more than thirty. In fact, on inching in as close as nicety would permit, what one heard of his responses proved them to be both irrelevant and uninformed. Downward accountability clearly has not seeped through to this typically callous and power-abusing class of officials even in Tarnaka.

We visited the police station, where (surprise, surprise!) none of the senior inspectors were to be found, let alone evidence of the man in charge. There was a claim circulating about their having gone out for a raid. The less said about this the better. These officials, we were informed, are invited to attend SCOTRWA meetings every couple of months. While there are probably positives coming out of this relationship, the interaction clearly has not helped address concerns of inclusiveness or lack of awareness. The ACP seemed to have no intention of assuming responsibility for providing feedback to the relevant department about something as basic as the correct provision of a zebra crossing, a crucial aspect of pedestrian access and rights.

The only example the SCOTRWA representative was able to provide us with of the advantages accruing from their serving as the interface between the police and each highly localized section within the neighbourhood was that of alertness measures for small crime prevention. For instance, subsequent to a chain-snatching incident, the RWA in that area would be the well-identified actor for the police to engage in issuing public alerts quickly in a localized manner.

An interesting bit of conversation in the bus en route to the next stop is worth recording. It was concerned with how the informal, human-behaviour influenced method of land inheritance or allocation, is hard to fit into the uniformly-structured current form of organization. The dynamics of a shift as a technical problematic need to be considered and dealt with.

We next made our way to a hospital cum old age home by the name of Medical Educational and Nature Services. This was later discovered to possibly have been a shamming exercise, since some of the inmates present had been brought in for the express purpose of our visit rather than being there on a more durable basis. However, even for the eight who are perhaps the permanent residents, it seems that the services are provided thanks to their financing. This was not transparently explained, and the connection between this and our research topics is not immediately obvious. However, there is an important connection between how well a society cares for its old and the changing world scenario, be it in terms of globalization, climate or urbanization.

The next visit was to a shelter for destitute women. It was good to see how they are being trained in sewing and also as beauticians, in order to equip them with vocational skills for future income-generating employment, while at the same time providing the safety of part-time safe shelter. Many of the women coming here escape domestic violence or some form of deranged attack or misfortune. Of the 25, one had a baby that had escaped death at the hands of its father, and a mere child who goes to school from the shelter itself. This was an input on the gender perspective, connecting well with some interactions during the earlier slum visit.

The final stop for the day was a rather rudimentary rainwater harvesting system. This shone light on how basic laws are serving to ensure compliance with resource-utilization measures that are obvious to anyone with common sense, more than anything else. We heard a fair amount about the many actions and awareness promotion activities that SCOTRWA has been involved in, but these were not brought to the fore very well from these visits. Admittedly, it is difficult to derive an in-depth understanding, as also to build trust in order to probe more involved issues, within the span of half a day, but consequently we were unable to appraise to what extent the engagement of SCOTRWA has impacted various issues. It may be the case that Tarnaka, being a privileged locality to begin with, has had it good from the start. But there were clear indications that there were problematic areas that needed to be addressed, and that the collective bargaining approach has certainly been an enabler of empowered citizenry and greater participation.

The day ended with a preparatory session for the next day’s trips, with a split group, to GTZ’s eco-industrial parks and ICRISAT’s integrated water management institute.

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