Budget by the people

Pune Municipal Corporation has been successfully implementing participatory budgeting since 2005

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Friday 07 February 2020

The entire process of Union budget in India, which starts in September and culminates with the annual budget presentation on February 1, is shrouded in complete secrecy. This is ironic as the government can spend money only after authourisation from Parliament, or, in other words, by the consent of the people. Yet the finance ministry, in the run-up to the budget, holds consultations with the industry and not with the people or civil societies.

Participatory budgeting, an alternative to traditional budgeting styles, allows people to deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources. Originated in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in 1989, participatory budgeting is currently being implemented in over 2,900 cities in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Kerala is the first Indian state to experiment with participatory budgeting in 1996. It was included in the Kerala People’s Campaign under the Ninth Plan (1997-2002). The campaign, which ran till 2001, ensured that people decided on expenditure up to 40 per cent of the state revenues. Since then, the model has been adopted in all state planning. In 2001, Bengaluru became the first Indian city to experiment with participatory budgeting when non-profit Janaagraha launched a campaign to sensitise resident welfare associations to influence municipal budget.

Pune, however, became the first Indian city to successfully implement participatory budgeting in 2005. Every August, the city’s municipal corporation publishes an advertisement and invites suggestions from its people for civic works to be included in the forthcoming municipal budgets. People have a month to submit their proposals by filling up the ‘Citizen Suggestion Form’ available online and at the ward office. Next, the proposals are sent to the prabhag samiti, made up of elected representatives of the locality.

The samiti approves the suggestions and sends the updated list to the accounts department of the corporation for scrutiny. The accounts department looks at the financial feasibility and sends a final list which is then included in the city budget. The regulations mandate that the individual projects cannot cost more than Rs 5 lakh and that each of the 76 prabhags (division) in the city can allocate a maximum of Rs 50 lakh.

People can demand works on pavements, street lights, bus stands, public toilets, water, parks, signage, roads, traffic lights, public parking, garbage management, drainage, bus stands and others. Civil society played a crucial role in popularising the initiative. In 2010, non-profits Janwani and the Centre for Environment Education distributed story-format booklets to sensitise people and carried out over 100 workshops.

The result has been encouraging. In 2007-08, the budgetary allocation was Rs 17.62 crore, which reached Rs 37.5 crore in 2014-15. Even the total number of suggestions increased from 600 in 2012-13 to 4,645 in 2014-15. The 846 works approved in 2014-15 were for roads (34 per cent), electricity (20 per cent), buildings (15 per cent), drainage (14 per cent), slum redevelopment (13 per cent) and water (4 per cent).

This was first published in Down To Earth's print edition (dated 1-15 February, 2020) 

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