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Cities, Citizens, Democracy and Municipal Budgets

Participatory budget for Collaborative governance


"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt


An electoral ward is the smallest administrative unit of an urban local body (ULB). The role of a ward in a democratic nation is being the smallest unit for electoral purposes, whose chosen representatives are obligated to make decisions on urban development with a sole objective of urban well-being. However, citizens rarely get a platform to interact and partake in decisions with the local representatives, regarding the development of their own neighbourhoods, beyond the durations of the election seasons. In some states, urban local body elections have not taken place for some years, and cities are administered by bureaucrats and higher levels of government.


Urban well-being today is being measured by various indices like health, happiness, comfort etc; to quantify the 'quality of life' in urban neighbourhoods. These indices can be directly seen as the barometer of the infirmity of the citizens to the efforts of the elected representatives in creating, operating and maintaining facilities in the neighbourhood. All these functions require public money to be allocated and spent annually on public infrastructure and social amenities for the wellbeing of the citizens. However, it is argued by various urban experts that the rationale for and distribution of public budgets is still maintained as a highly guarded secret excluding citizens from the process. It is also seen that more often than not, citizens are dissatisfied on prioritization of public spending on projects, due to the lack of a platform available for citizen participation.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is an alternative process to existing budgetary system initiated in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in the late 1980s. It is currently being implemented in over 2,900 cities in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. It empowers the citizen to suggest and negotiate the distribution of public funds and enables a system of collaborative governance with the help of the collective expertise of the citizens in a neighbourhood. In addition, it also brings the administrative body and politicians, closer to the citizens they represent in terms of transparency and accountability. In India, too the process was initiated in the state of Kerala (1996) and was experimented in Bengaluru (2001), while Pune started to implement PB in the year 2007 and carry it on ever since. Pune Municipal Corporation under the leadership of the then Municipal Commissioner Dr. Nitin Kareer started PB with an annual budget of INR 2 million per 'Prabhag' that has been increased to INR 5 million today.

The world atlas of PB identifies over 11000 identified PB processes.

Image Source: https://pbnetwork.org.uk/pb-world-atlas-list-over-11000-participatory-budgeting-experiences/


Cities vary in size and population and grass-root level initiatives become particularly difficult to conduct when the population is in millions. The city of Pune with a population of over 3 million (census 2011) and 100+ 'Prabhags' or electoral units has been continually using and upgrading to modern mediums with innovative techniques like newspaper advertising and online platforms to ensure the outreach of public participation in PB. The forms allow citizen to make suggestions along with approximate costs for the projects. Collaboration with civil society groups and NGOs has helped create awareness amongst citizens to understand how much a facility/ infrastructure would cost and take informed decisions about which projects may be prioritised. The citizens can make requests by filling the 'Citizen Suggestion Form' available online and at the ward office. The request can include infrastructure enhancement from street lights, footpaths, play areas and gardens, public toilets, bus stands, waste management, etc provided that the cost of each project does not exceed INR 5 lakh.

Street Furniture and Amenities Design Menu card prepared by Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Pune to help citizens understand cost of the projects to be used for PB.

Image Source: Ms. Sanskriti Menon, Practical Cities, Master class 04, Sep 2020


Municipal budgets are created in India annually through a six month long process in the months September to March and though the process of PB may sound simple, the key to its success meticulous deliberations on the selection of the citizen's suggestions and the lack of transparency from the ULBs to may result citizens losing faith in the process. The city of Pune allocates about 1.5% of its annual budget towards PB. The citizen engagement in PB through online platforms is an interesting initiative; however it still misses out on the creation of a public forum. Such forums are needed to enable the citizens to discuss and negotiate the need and priority of the distribution of public funds, explore priorities, have values-based discussions, and also resolve conflicts that may arise due to the heterogeneity of urban neighbourhoods. It is also needed that the citizens are able to track down whether their suggestions are being incorporated in the budget from the time of submission in September till the draft budget book is available in January the next year without adequate justification to the suggestions that were rejected for that year's budget.

Annual municipal budgeting cycle and timeline.

Image Source: Ms. Sanskriti Menon, Practical Cities, Master class 04, Sep 2020


PB requires patience from all; the citizens, politicians and the administrators to create long term benefits of the process. It also requires technological support and advancement in creating detailed open source data bases to spatialize and visualize the data. This will not only enable the citizens of a particular neighbourhood but also institutions and experts from the field of urban design - planning - management and soft and hard technologies to effectively contribute to the betterment of our cities through collective knowledge systems.


While Indian cities have a long way to go with PB, there is a need for inclusive, high-quality public deliberations that have influence in civic decision making. Reviews of PB in Pune showed the need to add the steps of participatory planning and social audit to PB. Cities like London are using public deliberations as a method to decide on how UK should meet its targets for climate change mitigation[1].


The ability to have collective civic decision-making can also be considered a very valuable resource in times of crisis such as the current global pandemic or natural disasters to enable citizens to communicate with each other and quickly respond to those in need and make adaptations in community living more easily with, greater communication, trust and inclusivity.


While the success of PB is dependent on numerous aspects, the critical aspects are the ratio of the number of citizen suggestions that were converted into actual projects and and inclusive, value-based and well informed deliberation processes for planning and budgeting of civic works, so that the outcomes are equitable. The ultimate objective of PB is to enable intelligent and inclusive participation of the public as part of the city building process rather than just a mechanical process, and to form an integral part of the culture of urban living from being passive consumers to democratic citizens of the city.


The Master Class 04 by Ms. Sanskriti Menon (Director, CEE) details the importance of participatory budgeting through a collaborative approach of urban governance. The master class presents various initiatives from cities around the world like Pune, Bengaluru, London, Oregon, Melbourne; etc with a detailed presentation of how PB works in Pune where direct suggestions from citizens' participation are incorporated into the allocation of municipal budgets, public plans and policies for city building and sustainability.


Keywords: City, practical cities, urban studies, urban management, urban planning, participatory budget, Pune Municipal Corporation, Participatory budget governance, municipal finance, master class, India, madeinIndia, makeinindia, development, vocalforlocal, lecture, series, new models of participatory budget

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References:

  1. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/budget-by-the-people-68989

  2. Participatory Budgeting in Pune: A critical review, Sanskriti Menon and Amarnath Karan

  3. [1] https://www.climateassembly.uk/

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About the Speaker


Ms. Sanskriti Menon is Senior Programme Director, Centre for Environment Education She leads the CEE Urban Programmes, CEE Coast and Marine Programmes and the CEE Central Regional Cell. Menon has an MSc in Museum Studies and an MA in Sustainable Development. She is working on research in the area of participatory democracy.

Her areas of work and interest include integration of environmental education (EE) in formal education for urban issues like transportation, especially cycling, waste management, urban ecosystems, and participatory governance.

She has several years of experience with designing and implementing a range of programs for public education, citizens’ engagement, multi-stakeholder deliberation, etc. using a range of communication tools.

To know more about Participatory budgeting in Pune, visit their website http://ourpuneourbudget.in/

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Blog by Enakshee Bhatia


About writer:

Enakshee is a practicing Architect, Urban Designer and Academician from Mumbai who has a passion for exploring inter-disciplinary of urban transformation. She believes that writing is a crucial medium of engaging with society to better the practice of architecture and urbanism.


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