Indians from smaller towns and villages yearning for a more urbane living may now see their wish coming true due to upcoming NGOs such as this ten-year-old organization in Bengaluru, namely Janaagraha Centre For Citizenship and Democracy, that has pledged to transform the “quality of life in India’s cities and towns”.
Initiation of Janaagraha
Janaagraha was founded by a Bengaluru-based couple, Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan, in 2001 as a platform for citizen participation, but successfully evolved into one of India’s leading institutions for both urban policy and governance, and urban citizen engagement.
Having lived and worked in some of the most inspiring cities in the world, Ramesh, former Global Executive in Citibank and Swati, an Architect and Designer, were stirred to foster citizen participation in Indian cities during their stint in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This aspiration led them into getting immediately involved on return with the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, a unique governance experiment carried out by SM Krishna, then Chief Minister of Karnataka. Per their plan, the first civic engagement was in the form of a Fund Based Accounting System (FBAS) that they launched in the Bangalore City Corporation, a system that is still live.
This systematic approach has leveraged and catalyzed Janaagraha’s work with the community as well as the government for a sustainable change in ‘quality of life’.
In accordance with Mr. Ramesh Ramanathan’s words, Cofounder, Janaagraha, “Multiple stakeholders need to come together to make our cities livable”, the firm is expected to cross a diverse range of 100 employees including urban planners and designers, engineers, management graduates, social science researchers, public policy professionals and a military veteran, all driven by their passion to transform India.
Janaagraha’s modus operandi is based on the ideology of fixing the system to reach the ultimate goal in order to achieve sustainable solutions instead of short-term corrective ones. Affordable housing and transport including the entire range of transport infrastructure, solid waste management, water supply (both quality and quantity), sewage and sanitation, storm water drains etc, are areas of focus for Indian cities.
As per ASICS scores, there is no synergistic systems framework underlying urban infrastructure development as the focus is still on individual projects and announcing budgets for the same. Reform measures such as those in JNNURM or those prescribed by the 13th Finance Commission need to be strengthened and carried forward. In the absence of proper systems and processes, higher budgets and spends on urban infrastructure would also mean higher leakages and inefficiencies.
Political willpower to adopt a systematic approach to urban infrastructure development would determine the scenario that would emerge in a few years.
Jeb Brugmann, Founding Secretary-General, ICLEI, commends Janaagraha on being “effective and speedy” in its analysis of issues with “urban growth”, mobilizing local community and “supporting local action.” He remarks upon the Janaagraha model being an amalgamation of the roles of a “think-tank, a capacity-building organisation and a grassroots movement, which in most cities are split into separate organisations that struggle to coordinate efforts.” He further lists Janaagraha’s enthusiasm towards “urban planning” and growth, and municipal management as one of its biggest reasons to success. He contrasts this with the actual scenario in the urban development field, which is “burdened by dominant logics, lingering ideologies, competing strategies and professional biases.” He ends his commendation of Janaagraha’s achievement by acknowledging its “fresh, pragmatic solutions through a truly inter-disciplinary and multi-sectorial approach” of giving the power of fresh, objective, practical thinking to the citizens themselves.