Grassroots solutions to ease accessibility in Bangalore’s underbelly

Ashali Bhandari, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 6 January 2016

CIVIC, a voluntary citizen’s initiative and non-profit organization, has been advocating an equitable and participatory urban agenda to ensure sustainable growth in Bangalore since the early 1990s. The 74th Constitutional Amendment requires Indian states to devolve power to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), empowering them as institutions to facilitate urban governance. CIVIC further promotes decentralization as a democratic process to ensure adequate representation for the urban poor.

However, a plethora of factors, from eligibility proof to online applications and bribery, have made access to government schemes promoting these rights difficult for poor residents in Bangalore. Schemes providing subsidies, medical benefits, and scholarships for the girl child, all require a "Below the Poverty Line (BPL)" identity proof, a card that many are not aware of and eventually can’t afford to obtain. "One study shows that the average bribe paid to acquire a BPL card is between Rs. 3000 – Rs. 5000 (approx. $44 - $75), a cost many can’t afford," Madhu Sudhan, Chief Coordinator at CIVIC, laments. The proliferation of e-governance has made it difficult for those without smartphones or laptops to access application forms. Unfortunately, bribes are often asked of the urban poor when they look for help to access these forms.

This year, CIVIC is hoping to set up a Single Window Agency to help streamline applications, which would help those needing them avail of the benefits of poverty alleviation schemes. In order to avoid confusion, CIVIC will provide information from various government departments about all available programs, provide training and technology to increase accessibility, and work with the government to reduce delays that may occur without the payment of bribes. Additionally, CIVIC will facilitate meetings between government officials and community members in order to make the process more participatory and incorporate a better feedback mechanism.

CIVIC’s prototype will be launched in the Nagavada Ward, an area known as the "underbelly of Bangalore." The ward has a large minority population and one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city. If CIVIC’s prototype is successful in Bangalore, they will work with private and public corporations to finance these agencies citywide.

Nearly 14 percent of India’s urban population is below the poverty line. The stark inequality and inaccessibility to basic services for vast swaths of the urban poor in India must be addressed at Habitat III. CIVIC’s Single Window Agency is an exemplary project as it not only addresses the needs and rights of the marginalized, but also considers accessibility as a key factor for improving their lives. As global leaders draw out plans for a sustainable future of cities, they must keep in mind that top down policies may be inaccessible for their beneficiaries. Hopefully projects like CIVIC’s Single Window Agency will inspire leaders to collaborate with community-based organizations that understand issues of implementation while planning for sustainable growth. Close.

Photo credit: Sujith Varma

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