Citizen Participation in planning has a long history. It has always been a contested concept. Its applicability in many cases does not reflect the actual purpose of citizen engagement. Very few times public inputs are actually incorporated during any participation process. Participation is redistribution of power and to imply this many laws and acts have been made across the globe in order to incorporate citizen participation.
The most recent project in India which has been in talks since it was launched, is the “Smart Cities Mission”. It was launched in 2015, which gives special weight-age in scoring criteria to citizen engagement. Basic understanding of Citizen engagement is a two way dialogue process to make people participate and give suggestions in plan making.
The mission says that the process of planning for smart cities shall start with intense Citizen Engagement at multiple levels using ICT tools for consultation. Based on the output from citizen consultation , identification of issues, aspirations and priorities will be done. This research is an initiative to understand how far has the citizens been involved with plan making process and if actual participation has taken place in smart cities mission.
Taking a case study of Pune which is one city that has worked on its citizen engagement process incredibly. Citizen engagement has been an essential part of Pune. There have been many programs and projects to increase interaction with the people They have been involved in framing development plans as well as putting forward municipal budget as to how it should be used and distributed according to the needs of the people prior to Smart city mission. Also it was second in number among the first 98 smart cities with maximum participants through all modes of citizen engagement process as highlighted in the smart cities mission. Online newsletter, facebook page, Pune smart city ideas competition. Several initiatives have been taken over the past few years for enabling participation from different segments of the society: Participatory budgeting since 2007, urban community development schemes, town vending committee since 2008, city development plan under JnNURM etc.
The Pune Smart City objectives states that citizens are the main stakeholders & beneficiaries of smart cities mission. They have developed a process to identify the stakeholders, In the first level, inputs from the elected representatives have been taken and various workshops and meetings were conducted with the power holders and decision making bodies. In second level, major issues of the city have been identified by conducting meetings with subject experts, NGO’s, PMC officials and technology partners. Finally in the last level citizens were invited to give their suggestions and inputs upon already discussed ideas , suggestions and issues. The analysis was that there is no obligation for responding to all the inputs & ideas received from the citizens. Also the issues in questionnaire were pre-defined and the answers were easy to manipulate into these categories. Power distribution can be assessed when all stakeholders are identified based on the stakes they hold and the interest they have. Citizens have been engaged mostly to the level of issue identification. People are rather involved in polling to support pre decided issues and solutions. It has not been a two way interaction process.
“Citizen Engagement” in Smart Cities is more of an attempt towards informing about the project rather than actual “Citizen Participation”. A degree of tokenism is given to the citizens where they can voice their opinion but there are no rules set to oblige the authorities to take the suggestions into consideration.
School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi