Municipal Councillors: Making the Canada-India Link
Posting Date: 20 Jan 04
Author(s): Patricia Pinto, Councillor, Corporation of the City of Panaji, Goa, India.
“Ten Years of Panchayati raj: Problems and Prospects”.
April 23-24, 2003.
Women’s Political Empowerment Day 2003 Presentation by:
Patricia Pinto, Councillor, Corporation of the City of Panaji, Goa, India.
I would like to speak today about my recent visit to Canada, what I gained from that experience, and how I plan to use and put in action this knowledge in Goa.
I was privileged to be invited by South Asia Partnership Canada under the Canada – India linkage programme to speak at the “Knowledge Sharing Workshop on Gender Equality and Local Governance”, organized by the International Canadian Municipal Development of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The workshop was structured on three main issues: i. Access to power: Increasing Women’s access to power at the local level; ii. Sharing power: Expanding opportunities to represent the interests of women in Municipal Decision-making processes and, iii. Using power: Designing and delivering municipal services that better respond to the specific needs of women.
I would like to speak, with these three objectives as a background on the realities here in India with my experience as a Municipal Councillor in Panjim, Goa.
Indian women are now fortunate to have the reservation law in place as far as local governance is concerned. This has helped Indian women get a rightful place in being able to be a part of governance in their city. But the question here is, are women properly empowered to occupy this position? Reservation and empowerment are two sides of the same coin. I would say, there may be a few women who have built-in capabilities, an educational background, or knowledge and the will to handle the task efficiently. But, more than 50% of the elected women representatives I have spoken to did not see their role beyond “doing people’s jobs” which translates into tackling petty civic problems and helping people obtain municipal licenses, etc. Trying to perform a responsible duty as that of a Municipal Councillor needs advance training and knowledge, otherwise after getting elected practically half the term goes by only trying to understand the job and all that goes with it.
With this in mind, I roped in a dedicated and efficient Women’s Group in Goa called the “Bailancho Saad” who have been taking up very effectively the causes of women in Goa. However, local governance was not very much a part their agenda as they never did get the opportunity to work with any elected representative on this issue. On the 10th of March, 2003, the Bailancho Saad organised a meeting of all the elected Women Municipal Councillors in Goa entitled “Empowering Women in Urban Local Bodies”. Though all did not attend, again not realizing the importance of such a meeting, the few that turned up were all very enthusiastic. Discussions were held on how the capacities of women could be built up, equipping women with the knowledge of the Municipal Act and the various schemes that are available for women, understanding the Municipal Budget so that provisions could be made therein for various developmental projects suited to women’s needs and so on.
An important demand, which was raised at this meeting, was the need to constitute Community Development Societies in Panjim and in places where they have not been constituted. These Societies play an important role as a women’s collective and the benefits to be availed of under various Schemes of the Government of India have to be routed through these Community Development Societies. Like I mentioned earlier, already two years of the term of the Councillor in Goa have gone by, and ignorance and lack of information about formation of Community Development Societies has been an opportunity lost for hundreds of poor deserving women and others for availing of the benefits of the Schemes of the Government of India.
I feel very strongly that there should be a training school or training programmes for women aspiring to enter the political arena and regular informative programmes should be held for the elected representatives, women as well as men, so that they perform well and justify their position as elected representatives of the people. After all people who have faith in their representation and are hoping for a better quality of life elect them to power.
With this in mind all the women councillors present decided to form a forum of women councillors, wherein issues would be discussed pertaining to schemes for women, capacity building, budget formulation and budget proposals, plans for developing the city to cater to women’s needs etc. Women need to be represented on the Planning and Development Committees because women experience city life differently than men as they have different roles and responsibilities. Excluding women from these roles would mean “ill-informed decision making”. I am hopeful that this will come about soon.
I must mention here that working with the SAP Canada is an experience in itself. SAP Canada and its representative Veena Gokhale most efficiently organized a tour for me during my visit to Canada in September 2002, to get acquainted with the working of various municipalities and women’s groups in various fields. In short I would like to touch on what really impressed me.
The first was a “Safe City “ tour of the City of Montréal. When I was informed that we would be doing a tour to check out this aspect, I could not understand what making a city “safe for women” meant. Ann Michaud of Ville de Montreal took us on the tour. She was the person assigned with the job of making Montréal a safer city for women. She explained about the public hearings held for preparing the master plan. Women felt the need for a safe city, the need for better housing, better day care facilities, accessibility, and urban planning to cater towards conciliating work with family responsibilities. The City (what we call here the Municipality) responded and created a “Femme de Ville Programme in 1990”. Safety became a priority. A survey was conducted where it was found that 60% women and 15% men were scared of walking alone in their neighbourhood at night. Safety audits were organized in the city.
The “women safety audit” guide brought out an action plan, which included – Improving safety for women in city installations. The results I witnessed were at subways. These subways that were originally of stone were replaced by glass wherein everything that happens on the inside can be seen by those through the glass, making the area safe for women. Besides cameras had been installed at railway stations so that any woman waiting for a train could confidently stand at this spot knowing fully well that she is being covered by the camera and no-nonsense could take place there.
Safety conscious designs were adapted in public spaces and buildings and a special guidebook on safety conscious designs and planning was brought out, one for parking lots and the other for residential units. The plus point of this programme brought about women’s inclusion in Urban Planning Committees.
Another feature of the “safe city for women” was incorporating a service allowing women to get off buses between stops at night. Taxi drivers and shops that were accredited by the City displayed stickers on their cars and shops, so women could rush to them in case they needed help at the time.
Taking a cue from this programme and back in Goa an idea came to my mind. I belong to a civil society movement called The People’s Movement for Civic Action (PMCA) a Non-Government Organisation, working towards improving the quality of life of the people in the City of Panjim. We have been receiving various complaints that our city is not at all safe for pedestrians. Either the footpaths are too high, or the gutters too wide. Motorcycle repair shops or hawkers and so on encroached upon the footpaths. The footpaths are not at all user-friendly for pedestrians, whether it be a woman or man, a child or adult, the old, infirm or handicapped. We have thus embarked on a programme “Is the City safe for Pedestrians?” This project should be completed in six months, which will cover a series of meetings, a city audit, a “video” documentary and a publication, which will be presented to the Panjim Corporation for further action. I am confident that the programme will be a success and our City will eventually become a “safer city for pedestrians”.
Another interesting programme of the City of Vancouver that caught my attention is the CITY – COMMUNITY VISIONS Programme that brings City Plan directions to the community level. Each community meets and organizes programmes and workshops to bring to the notice of the CITY (i.e. the Municipality) the needs of the neighbourhood in what is called the “Community vision”. The Vision developed by residents and City staff, sets directions for the community’s future. The City Plan Committees then work with city staff to implement the vision. The CityPlan Committee also reports on community activities and invites neighbours to get involved in projects of interests to them.
Proper disposal of garbage is one subject matter that is very high on my agenda and of the NGO I belong to. Garbage disposal is a problem not only in Goa but also throughout the Country. Improper garbage disposal affects everybody’s health and here you cannot differentiate between women and men. It’s each and every one of us that is affected. However, a woman being the center of a home is the one most affected as when her child or husband or parent lies sick in bed, it puts her totally out of gear as most women handle this responsibility of caring and looking after the sick at home.
While in Panjim, we have made considerable progress as far as garbage collection and disposal is concerned, like introducing the house to house garbage collection system and the Corporation’s “Bin-free City in 2003” campaign involving segregation and vermicomposting of biodegradable waste at the community level itself, I cannot say the same for the rest of Goa. The situation is bad though efforts are being made to solve the problem. I will not go into the details at this stage. However, I was again fortunate to learn about garbage disposal methods in Vancouver and had an opportunity to visit the landfill site called the “Trail Waste Facility” at Ottawa. This visit gave me an idea of what a proper “sanitary landfill” is. Though the Government of India’s Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, speak of setting up of “landfills” with directions on the same, I am not sure whether any State in India has set up a proper and scientific sanitary landfill.
There’s a lot more I observed and learnt during my visit to Canada, whether its proper road signage, aesthetic bus-shelters, beautiful gardens, pedestrian friendly footpaths, and more importantly the functioning of the City Municipalities, dissemination of information by the Municipalities by way of leaflets, posters etc. which I am sure will help as far as my work in Goa is concerned. I have been taking up matters steadily. For instance the Panjim Municipality has already put up a bus-shelter on the design I brought along with me, a patch of garden from a picture I brought along etc. I believe in the saying “slow and steady wins the race”.
I would like to conclude with the relevant topic of today’s function “Ten years of Panchayati Raj:Problems and Prospects”, with reference to the 74th constitutional amendment. As we all know the 73rd and 74th amendments seek to devolve more powers to the local bodies. These amendments are not being followed in letter and spirit at least in the State of Goa. The recent City of Panaji Corporation Act, 2003, which has come into being w.e.f. 1.4.2003 is an example. The earlier Panjim Municipal Council’s limits have been altered without the consent of the Council as required under Section 6 of the Goa Municipalities Act, and a part of the Council reverted to Panchayat. The balance area, which is now smaller in size, has been upgraded to that of a Corporation vesting full powers in the “Commissioner” who is directly responsible to the State Government. The role of the Councillors, who are people’s representatives, has been reduced to that of “puppets”. What’s even more disturbing is that while Town and Country Planning is one of the functions of the local body as per the XII schedule of the Constitution, this particular function has been excluded from the Act and is being handled by another department of the State Government. In fact the formation of the Corporation of the City of Panaji is totally unconstitutional as it goes against the norms laid down in the Constitution for formation of a Corporation. For example, a Corporation is to be formed for a “larger” Municipal area. In this case, the area has become smaller, area as well as population wise. Going by the 1991 census, the population of Panjim was 58,179. By reverting a part of this area to Panchayat, the population would stand at approximately 35,000. I would simply term this whole rigmarole as “Political” and not “Constitutional”. This political interference of the Government to change the status of the Panjim Municipal Council, which incidentally is the oldest Council in Asia, into that of a Corporation goes against the norms laid down in the Constitution of India and the 74th amendment, which will definitely create a bad precedent in the country and does not augur well for “democracy”.
I would like to conclude on this dissenting note.
I thank Dr. Bidhyut Mohanty for giving me an opportunity to speak at this event and a special thanks to Veena Gokhale of the SAP for exposing me to the events taking place out of Goa.