Urban Governance, RTI and eGovernance::RTI section 4 ‘Compliance’ for city municipalities
Posted by rtiact2005 on July 7, 2006
The inputs and discussions on this group are quite interesting; here are some thoughts w.r.t urban governance, RTI and eGovernance.
1) Cities in India account for about 60% to the country’s GDP.
2) About 30% of the country population lives in cities and estimates are that 50% of India will be urban by 2020
3) City revenues stand at about 0.6% of country’s GDP – woefully inadequate to provide infrastructure and deliver services.
So in a sense the engines of productivity and growth are being starved of infrastructure and services. (The point here is not to say urban is more important than rural, I’m sure that rural India faces even more daunting problems) The above facts show that the urban situation is dire and untenable – if governance and hence service delivery does not improve. More than 60% of Bombay is slum this number will continue to rise in most of our large cities. So if we do not focus on improving infrastructure, service delivery and the problems of poverty in urban India the consequences are dire.
The single largest source of revenue in Indian cities (as is elsewhere) is Property Tax, and our work has shown that through improved systems the revenue can indeed improve significantly (in some cities as much as 600% in 1 year), and in fact tax rates can even be reduced, if there is better coverage in payments, but this does not mean that because there is a higher revenue for the city it automatically translates into better services, improved infrastructure etc.
How can we ensure that the cities will spend the money wisely(even if we assume they are able to generate higher revenues) and build durable infrastructure, what is the guarantee that appropriate projects will be taken up in the best interest of local communities be it roads or water supply. The answer is Accountability through Transparency. We need data and information to flow freely to all city stakeholders, so that they can make informed decisions about how scarce resources are to be spent judiciously for the best interest of the people.
This is where Right to Information comes in. This landmark legislation has provided the shot-in-the-arm that is necessary to put out information in the hands of city stakeholders – leading to more participatory democracy. In fact not only can a citizen make an RTI application for specific information that the city municipality (or concerned dept) has to respond, but there is also the section 4 suo-moto disclosure – which stipulates that the city has to proactively put-out information regarding various aspects of the organization and its development works etc. (it is yet another story that the section 4 details have not been worked out for various levels of governments and departments – this I feel is the single most important next step to strengthen RTI).
This brings us to eGovernance. ICT technologies exist today that are able to share information at a fine level of granularity to each and every stakeholder be it an organization, NGO or individual. Internet technologies with powerful databases and middle-tier systems are able to take transparency to near 100% with near real time data and turnaround. Hence eGovernance – the use of ICT for improved Governance – is a powerful tool to improve internal efficiency as well as implement RTI for improved transparency and hence much needed accountability.
Every product that is built at the eGovernments Foundation, tries to embed the proactive disclosure within the product. For example the Public Grievance Module at Municipal Corporation of Delhi (http://complaints.mcdonline.gov.in/pgr/Reports/BoundaryLevel_DeptWise_ComplaintsReport.jsp ) puts out real-time generated reports of complaints and redressal for all stakeholders to see, by dept, by zone/ward etc, These can be viewed by all everyone not just the city administrators. Our other products like the municipal accounting product, the property tax management module etc, all have visual reports (Pie-charts and GIS maps) that enable proactive disclosure of real-time data from the backend servers – these are not hand processed, sanitized or massaged. Hence citizens will be able to see pie-charts of city income, expenditure, income by wards, expenditure by projects etc.
We at the eGovernments Foundation foundation are trying to formulate the question. How can we create a suite of products that are “RTI compliant” out-of-the-box. What are the RTI section 4 details that are important to proactively disclose in the urban governance sector – can we standardize this list, so there is a notion of RTI section 4 ‘Compliance’ for city municipalities. Can we create a Templatized web implementation that will help cities be ‘RTI’ complaint.
If there are volunteers who are passionate about the above issues, I would encourage you to post your opinions and inputs, your ideas and experiences will help create better solutions – remember we are all experts when it comes to governance – since we are the end customer – the citizen. Perhaps we can also come together to discuss this topic in more detail face-to-face.