Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Would you pay Mr. Adolf D'Souza Rs1 per day?

A group of residents of a common locality used to meet often with a mutual interest of maintenance, cleanliness and general well-being of the area where they all stayed together. You know, the usual things, roads, drains, etc. So, they formed a common group for the welfare of the area they all stayed in.

You’ve seen this so many times in Mumbai. Residents of say, one road in say, 10 buildings form a group. The group would then meet with the BMC (Bombay Municipality Corp.) and take up matters. Drains are clogged, garbage’s not been picked up, etc.

In some cases – like waste management – the BMC helped them out. In others – like drainage work, road repair, etc. – they resisted. After all, if the residents are going to do all the work, then what good are the elected Municipal councilors?. But our group persisted and managed to get their work done using the law (think RTI).

Seeing this, other people from near-by roads and neighbourhoods also formed their own groups, with the help of the first group. They began solving their problems, using the law, working with the BMC.

The BMC figured that if you can’t beat them, join them. So the BMC's engineers (looking after roads, drainage, etc) began meeting up with these groups and together, they worked their way around problems of the area.

Till one fine day, these groups figured they’d be better off if someone among them is elected into the BMC. Why fight the system if you can change it from within? Especially when a person who you trust, who is part of your group and who has delivered is also now willing to represent your area in the BMC?

And so, the message goes across all the groups in all the roads in all the neighbourhoods. "Vote for Mr. X as your representative in the Municipality". A systematic campaign at the grassroot level begins, backed by internet-driven efforts, e-mails, wikis, and what-have-yous..

Mr. X wins. The campaign has worked. A victory for democracy and a case-study for the effectiveness of public involvement in civic matters.

So far so good? Just one small problem now.

Mr. X is not supported by any political party. Ah, politics. No getting around it, is there? Look at the rest of the BMC – don’t all of their people belong to a political party? Almost all of them do. But why does it matter if Mr. X. doesn’t belong to any political party?

Here’s why – the BMC pays Mr. X Rs4,000 per month for his salary and his office’s running expenses (i.e. staff, stationery, etc.). If Mr. X belonged to a political party, all this would be booted by the party itself.

And to quote Mr. Adolf D’Souza – Mr. X in our little story:

Currently, I am a ward committee chairman, so BMC has provided me with a car and staff. But my tenure as committee head ends next year, and I will not be able to manage expenses because I will have to bear all costs on my own. Why doesn’t the corporation increase the amount given to corporators? This will also help reduce corruption.
Why indeed does it not? But come on, the BMC is not going to raise councilor salaries in a jiffy, right? Besides if all the political parties take care of their councilors, then why should the BMC raise salaries across-the-board for one candidate?

So, any ideas on what should be done?

Try this: Ask the people who elected you – about 4,000 in all – to pay about Rs1/working day towards his salary. Which works out to..lets see…Rs1*25 working days*4,000 people = Rs100,000. Rs1lakh a month. That sounds better. Enough for an area as large as Ward 63 – or that part of Juhu that got together and elected Mr. D’Souza as their Municipal Councilor.

My question to you – if you were a resident of Juhu, if you had elected Mr. D’Souza to office and if you believe in his execution capabilities, would you pay this man Rs25 per month?

I would.

Not everyone will. Read these reactions (from today’s DNA).
Mitesh Shah, Juhu – “Adolf D’Souza should have approached the BMC first rather than approaching voters from his ward. What if all corporators followed his example and asked citizens for financial help? What are we paying taxes for? This is the corporator’s new method to earn extra money. I am definitely not paying. I'd much rather give it to the hungry and poor and rest assured that my money is helping someone. Let D’Souza and the BMC resolve the matter among themselves.”

Candy Cornello - How did other independent corporators before Adolf D'Souza manage their office? If the BMC really underpays its people, how come none of the corporators have raised their voice yet? I don’t mind paying the corporator Re1 a day, as it is hardly going to burn a hole in my pocket. But it's unwise on the corporator’s part to ask funds from people instead of the BMC.

Mauren D ’Souza - Mr D'Souza is abusing democracy by asking Juhu voters for help. Why did he take up the job if he was not capable of delivering? The BMC must be having certain standard of payments that were followed by corporators till date. How come no other corporator complained? Re1 is a paltry sum. But what is the guarantee that he won't take bribes apart from this money he will 'collect' from us? If I have my math right, D'Souza is asking for a bit too much than actually needed. If the BMC can't pay them for their services, they should seek employment elsewhere.
These people are asking valid questions. Somehow I can't see it in such black and white.

Sure, I have no idea how other independent Municipal councilors/corporators have managed all these years. Just like I have no idea how effective these other councilors/corporators were and what their track record was. But I do know that Mr. D'Souza has a decent track record.

Sure, I can file an application under RTI with the BMC to find out how the taxes they collect from me are spent. But will that reveal anything path-breaking? Besides, I already know that councilor/corporator salaries are Rs4,000/month (plus Rs150-600 per meeting). So I'm not sure how effective an RTI application would be to work around this situation.

Now, what if Mr. D’Souza were to resign because of lack of funding? And in place of him, is elected someone from a political party; someone I don’t know and someone likely not endorsed by local citizens groups. In other words, same old, same old. What then? He could deliver and then again he couldn't.

Why should lack of funding stop a good man from doing his job? Will he really set a precedent for others? I think the public would know enough to spend their money on someone who delivers, as against a rank outsider. Besides, I doubt whether a councilor from a political party would ask us money for his salary.

Purely from the maintenance and development of the area where I stay and purely from my support for this individual, if I got an email asking for Rs25/month to help pay for his expenses, I think I would pay up.

What would you do?