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  Home >> > LACG >> Difference between ALMs and LACGs - Note 1 - by Vinay Somani, Trustee Karmayog / Convenor, NGO Council


  Difference between ALMs and LACGs - Note 1 - by Vinay Somani, Trustee Karmayog / Convenor, NGO Council
The LACG concept is fundamentally different from ALMs. It does take into account learnings from the experiences pertaining to ALMs and the fortnightly LACC meetings. It may, at first glance, appear that LACGs are similar to ALMs, and, indeed, it is probably best for ALMs to consider it as the fulfillment of their various demands such as institutionalisation and formalisation, etc. But, for non-ALMs, it is probably best to look at the LACG concept as something completely different.
During the Mumbai floods in July 2005, I used to go to the BMC Disaster Control Room daily and I got to understand a little about the way information flows between, the shortcomings and strengths of, and the roles played by, BMC, Mantralaya, media, NGOs, and citizens. Till then, I had never stepped into a BMC office or ever interacted with BMC.
At Karmayog, we also set up a web-section for the flood situation on the very next day after the floods, i.e. on 27th July. We also prepared lists of BMC and Civil Society resources e.g. health posts, ambulance providers, blood banks, ward-related disaster management information. We got, uploaded and circulated information of help offered and required, government GRs, situation reports, work done by NGOs and others, news, views, photographs, articles, etc.
We already had software in place for those who wanted materials, services, volunteers, or money, and for those who wanted to offer these i.e. if the standard forms were filled, these forms would be displayed on the site, and then be circulated via emaila and an eGroup. The Karmayog website had been functioning since a year prior to the floods and, during this period, we had contact details including emails of more than 1500 NGOs in Mumbai. These were / are sorted by cause and geographical location on the website. Profiles of several hundreds had also been obtained and put up on the website. I had personally met hundreds of NGOs and got some understanding of the NGO sector.
I attended several meetings where during the flood situation BMC / Government / politicians interacted with NGOs and citizens. Invariably each meeting was a scene of NGOs and citizens pointing out the urgent needs and the problems on the ground, with the authorities trying to smooth ruffled feathers, promising to take action pertaining to the specific cases mentioned in the meeting, but no overall plan, strategy, or direction either emerging or being conveyed by either side to the other.
I attended a meeting of NGOs called by the Municipal Commissioner on August 4. I saw the meeting quickly degenerating like all other meetings with nothing substantial emerging from it even though all the senior officials from BMC and Mantralaya were there. I strongly suggested that a small NGO Co-ordination Committee be set up. Fortunately, the idea was accepted by Mr. Joseph, MC, and a 7-member CC was set up then itself from amongst the NGOs there. The members were Nirmala Niketan, Apnalaya + TISS, CRY + Yuvak Pratisthan, Sneha, Unicef, Times Foundation, and Karmayog, with Karmayog being the information co-ordinator.  From BMC's side, Mr. Ratho, Additional Municipal Commissioner, and members of the McKinsey team were the  contact people, along with Mr. Vaidya and others of the Disaster Management Cell. Each of the NGOs was in charge of co-ordinating with the NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in specific wards. Over the next several days, we could see the benefit of such co-ordination. Accurate information was flowing up and down. Panic and confusion was lesser. Etc.
All the interactions during this period made me realise several things. There was no effective system in place for government authorities to convey information to NGOs / CBOs and vice versa. NGOs / CBOs could reach out to people even beyond the government machinery or media could-especially to the most vulnerable and poor. It was NGOs / CBOs (and not the media or the government or even politicians) who truly knew the suffering and problems on the ground level and who could ensure that government relief and rehabilitation could be done effectively and in a just way. etc. etc.
So I realised that a NGO Council for the city is an absolute necessity. Accordingly, I contacted large and established NGOs covering a wide spectrum of causes and issues, and formed an NGO Council of nearly 70 NGOs on August 22, 2004.
I then began writing to senior officials in BMC, Mantralaya, other government departments, and politicians informing them about the formation of such a group and expressing the desire to explore how to work together. Mr. Ratho responded immediately and positively, & suggested to take up Solid Waste Management as the first area.
So we began with this area. From our side, we could identify and involve nearly 100 groups and individuals with experience and expertise on solid waste and these became the NGO Council team with each person or organisation contributing their specific knowledge. We also involved all-India experts like Mrs. Almitra Patel, Bangalore, Supreme Court Solid Waste Committee Member. We also interacted with a large number of ALMs.
BMC and we could see the great benefit emerging from such interactions. This was the first time that BMC could interact collectively with NGOs and citizens connected with this subject. Most would wonder why such meetings were being initiated by Karmayog / NGO Council rather than BMC. The reality was and is that BMC is not geared to do that. They do not have so much information of who is active in what. They may collectively know or could find out all the people, but that information is neither available easily nor can it be put together easily at some central place. Protocol and procedures are other barriers.
Over several meetings, both BMC and NGOs could see an overall policy document for Solid Waste Management taking shape with a very broad and solid consensus despite individuals within NGOs having some strong differing opinion on specific issues e.g. dumping grounds, compulsory composting, etc. The overall policy was, in fact, finally agreed upon and minuted by BMC on_____________.
So Mr. Ratho and I began discussing how to establish similar working methods for other civic issues, and began exploring the idea of a formal MOU between BMC and the NGO Council. We discussed the various clauses over a couple of months between BMC and within the NGO Council and finally an MOU was signed on 12 December 2005 with the Municipal Commissioner's approval. (The full text of the MOU is in .)
We had been working on the Littering etc. Rules (a.k.a. BMC Solid Waste Rules 2006). These were notified on 1 March 2006. As we made the Rules, it became clear (to me) that Mumbai can never become clean unless citizen groups get involved. Even if BMC's SWM budget were to be doubled to Rs. 2000 crores or its conservancy staff doubled, Mumbai can just not be kept clean by BMC alone. Citizens behave too irresponsibly for that to happen. And, this would be the problem in many other civic issues!
The solution lay in citizen groups taking interest in their area and being authorised to do so and empowered to act effectively. ALMs seemed the natural choice. But, ALMs cover very small areas -- some buildings, a housing complex, or a lane. To cover the entire city would mean two lakh ALMs or so, and it would be administratively impossible to deal with such numbers. Moreover, in Karmayog, we had tried to contact all ALMs in December and again in January, and it became starkly clear that there were not even 50 active ALMs in the entire city.
So we realised that a larger-sized citizen unit was needed.
Such coverage and such units could also be the solution for an effective Disaster Management Plan.
Thus was born the idea of the Local Area Group Concept which finally resulted in the "Charter for the MCGM - Local Area Citizen Group Partnership 2006" with effect from 1 April 2006.
Thanks for the patient reading but I felt that it is important to give some background information regarding LACGs because when we are phoning ALMs or interacting with them, there seem to be different notions.
Vinay Somani 

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