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  Home >> > LACG >> LACG vs. ALM - Alex Aiyar's views - N. Dutta Marg Environmental Group


I have been involved with our ALM - THE N. DUTTA MARG ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP since its inception in Y2000. There are 35 societies and approx. 5000 residents on our street. It is commonly acknowledged at all levels (our residents, BMC, other citizen groups and the press) that we have made a perceptible difference. The Orchid ALM Trust in 2004 declared us the best ALM in Zone III. Our street is clean and green, there are no encroachments, and we receive excellent cooperation from the BMC, the police, utility services etc. Through a quarterly newsletter SANKALP we disseminate information on environmental issues to our residents and today an average resident of our street is more empowered than his counterpart elsewhere.

Having said this let me also tell you of the problems we face continuously at ground zero.

1.       General apathy of the residents in general. Despite repeated requests and exhortation and example no one wishes to come forward and join the movement. The same original active group of 5/6 women (mostly senior citizens) still shoulders the responsibility. The attendance at our monthly meetings is pathetic. Enlarging the ALM into an LACG will not change this
ground reality but only compound it. It is easier to manage smaller groups and I think we should persist with and strengthen ALMS. The initial objectives when setting up ALMS was laudable and just because the success rate is low it does not mean you should give it up. The success rate will be even lower with LACGS. By interacting with non-performing ALMS we can help
them perform better.

2.     We interact regularly with BMC officials at the ward offices. By and large they have been responsive to our needs. However the LACC meetings have not yielded the desired results because very few BMC representatives attend. There is no follow up or accountability. If the ward officer had taken this more seriously there would have been vast improvement at the micro level. This is an example where the system is in place but due to lack of interest of the BMC it has failed. Since it depends so heavily for its success on the BMC, the LACG is also likely to meet the same fate as the LACC. Even the JO does not do his work - what makes you think the Nodal Officer will be any better?
3.     For maintenance of our street we have fixed a voluntary contribution of just 50 paise per flat per day or Rs.15/- per month. You will be surprised to know that less than half of our residents pay this measly amount. Even many of the "educated and well-to-do" residents do not contribute. Such is the extent of their indifference. You have suggested that "An LACG can collect a monthly contributory amount for its functioning from every owner / occupier in their area, if the citizens there 
collectively decide that a specific amount should be so collected." This is virtually impossible unless it is made mandatory. I don't think the BMC can do this, can they?
4.     Clubbing together several ALMS into a LACG may be counter productive since the problems addressed by different ALMS are not the same and may lead to bickering among different groups within the LACG.

5.     At some point in time it must be recognized that the BMC has become too large and unwieldy and needs to be bifurcated into four or more independent zones or boroughs. The lopsided development of the city is primarily due to this. This is also why the suburbs were totally devastated during last year's natural disaster.
6.      For example K West ward alone accounts for 13 councilor wards and 185 LACGS or nearly 8% of the total LACGS under your proposed scheme. The K ward comprises of almost 15% of the councilor wards. For effective implementation, I think it is imperative that the BMC is decentralized. Once this is done, the ALMS will be easier to manage and are a better option for the city's ills than the LACGS. Do you think the head honchos and elected councilors of the BMC will let go of their powers?

7.     A major assumption in your proposal is that the average citizen is computer literate. This is far from true. In our street hardly 0.5% of the residents know emailing despite ours being a "literate" locality. For that matter how many BMC officials open and respond to their emails on a daily basis? What will be the language of communication - English, Hindi, Marathi?
It will be difficult to collate information and the kind of MIS you have in mind will suffer.

8.     Just as mostly senior citizens manage our ALM, I imagine most of the others too are. Getting good volunteers for an LACG will be difficult. Politicizing and bureaucratizing the process by having elections, committees et al will only complicate the situation and lead to endless delays. Do you think any volunteer will stick his neck out and accept responsibility for something that happens within his LACG area? It will ultimately result in anti-social elements taking control - just like they have done in the
Corporation and the Assembly. Especially in view of the proposed honorarium the BMC plans to disburse. The moment "money" enters the picture the best of intentions get derailed. There are no monetary handouts involved in the ALMS

Selfless volunteers are their biggest assets. That is why I feel the ALM is a better option with a greater chance of success.

9.     Finally commuting is a major hassle in Mumbai. Unless meetings are held at venues within thirty minutes traveling distance attendance will always be poor and the picture that emerges at these meetings will get distorted. With the chaotic traffic conditions and as a senior citizen I for one find it difficult to attend meetings in the city.

Yours sincerely,

 Ms. Alexandrina Xavier Aiyar

Dear Mrs. Aiyar,

I am very happy to read your email. You have taken a lot of trouble to reply. It would have been so useful if you would have done so when the LACG idea was being considered. Anyway, the LACG is now the law since 1.4.06. Let me try to reply to your points to the best of my understanding. 

Firstly, congrats at the success of your ALM. Please do post me a copy of Sankalp. Our address is in the Contact Us tab in 

1a. You can be an LACG in the same geographical area as your current ALM. 
1b. Which aspects in the LACG Charter do you think are not strengthening ALMs?
1c. What other measures in your opinion should be taken to strengthen ALMs?
1d. Have you interacted with non-performing ALMs? What has been your experience.

2a. It is good to know that Ward Officers have responded well to your needs. Why do you feel that will change?
2b. We are aware that some LACC meetings have not worked out well. There are three primary changes -- one, is the concept of a Nodal Officer. It will be the Nodal Officer's responsibility to co-ordinate with various BMC officers at the Ward Level. Only the Nodal Officer will attend the Councillor Ward meetings, so he/she can't pass the buck.

Secondly, all complaints (not only the ones of ALMs/LACGs) will be fed into the online computerised system. All unresolved complaints will be taken up at Councillor Ward meetings, then Ward level meetings, etc. till resolved. Now, either you believe that will happen, or it will not. If you do believe it will happen, you should not have cause to complain, isn't it. We certainly intend to try to make that happen. 
Thirdly, agendas, minutes i.e. decisions, action taken reports will be written jointly by Nodal Officer and the LACG. These will be shared publicly to the extent deemed appropriate. I don't know if you realise what a huge step this is.

3. noted.

4. noted. Working together is a suggestion. It is not mandatory. We are looking for individuals who have the capability and  attitude in getting groups to work together. We are hoping that such individuals will form the Lead LACG in their Ward. Such individuals may be able to achieve what you have correctly said is difficult. On the flip side, if citizen groups do not know how to resolve issues amongst themselves, it is ok. The BMC is taking decisions anyway, and will continue to do so. Most of us do not have the maturity to realise the irony of this. We prefer others to resolve our problems. So be it. 

5. noted. What you are suggesting is beyond the scope of the NGO Council. You should take it up with other forums who have the ability to do so. I do want to point out that there are other people who have other thoughts in the matter, e.g. corporatisation of some functions e.g. solid waste management just as BEST. In my personal opinion, your suggestion is too simplistic.

6a. noted. What is your concept of decentralisation? Please explain that.
6b. You have not clarified yet what, in your understanding is the difference between ALMs and LACGs. Please do so. Have you mapped your ALM with the proposed LACG area? Is there a geographical problem that you can't handle? 
6c. Why are you talking conceptually? Let's get down to specific problems of specific ALMs or other groups who want to function within the LACG concept.

7a. We are aware that many citizens are not computer literate. It would be nice if you can suggest how to make arrangements in the LACG Charter to be able to involve such LACGs which do not have a single computer literate person.
7b. BMC is going to spend Rs. 100 crores over IT in the next 1-2 years. TCS has been appointed to oversee the computerisation and they have been working on it since quite some time. BMC will not remain the computer unfriendly organisation it is now. Either you are willing to believe this and thus plan simultaneously with what they are planning. Or you can suspend belief till you see it actually happening. I prefer the former.
7c. Hindi is not a language that BMC uses, I think. So it will be English along with Marathi. Whether Marathi is possible or not, I don't know. 
7d. I think the Praja system itself either has quite some MIS or they can tailor their system to generate the MIS. The reasons the MIS is not being used to its potential is something I think you should discuss with Praja or BMC, if you really want to understand the situation. But it should be sufficient to note that India's prowess in IT and ITES is because all such stuff can be put into an MIS. Do update yourself also on what the government is planning for 10,000 villages.

8a. For me, it is a wait and watch issue. My personal belief is that the ease of dealing via LACGs will bring in more citizens who currently don't have the time to do so.
8b. I don't think the process is being politicised. On the contrary. A group of citizens have to simply show that they have support of buildings in their area and apply to become an LACG. (n fact, the Vote Mumbai / Lok Satta movement is seeking to politicise citizen involvement with BMC.) 
8c. I don't think the process is being bureaucratised either. In any case, that is certainly not the intention. 
8d. Enabling clauses are put into Rules because Rules are not changed easily. The honorarium clause is one such clause.
8e. Many ALMs have expressed financial impediments in running their ALMs. Maybe you'll don't face it. But I can state with certainty that we got that feedback from enough ALMs.
8f. When you state that "the ALM is a better option with a greater chance of success", I would like to state three points. 
i) Hardly 10% of the ALMs are working with any degree of success. It would be fair and proper on your part to accept this reality. 
ii) I think you are reading the LACG Charter with a jaundiced eye. It does not dilute anything for ALMs. It does not make life
difficult for ALMs. If you can point out specific clauses which you feel should be removed, modified (pl give the stated modifications exactly in writing), or deleted, please do that, and we will take it up in the Apex LACG meetings. 
iii) What you seem to view as 'success' is probably some limited civic complaints. We want to include situations of disaster.
8g. I do understand and appreciate that your ALM is composed of 5 ladies. You are happy with what you are doing and achieving. I sense that you feel a threat that someone else will take over your lane. Why they should do so when they are not getting involved so far is puzzling to me. In any case, I am sure that it is in no one's interest and I can assure you that it is no one's desire to lose your valuable contribution to your area and thus to the city.

9a. Commuting is indeed a problem. Timings of meetings are also a problem. Hence meetings have been fixed at a zonal level also which I hope you can attend. 
9b. If you refer to meetings that we have been initiating at the BMC Head Office, I would suggest and request that you give your thoughts and viewpoints and suggestions via email. All that you have pointed out in this email, you would not have been given the time in a meeting to express yourself. I also hope that my sharing my thoughts has been helpful. That too would not have been possible in a group meeting due to paucity of time. Since this email is being circulated to the group, it will reach out to a wider audience than discussions in the meeting. Finally, please always feel free to call and talk.

I personally hope that you shall come forward to be a Lead LACG in your Ward.

Best Regards,
Contact 22940109 (For enquiries between 2 to 3 pm)

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner