Mr Chandrappa has a Gram Panchayat representative representing him and the other 499 people from the village, in the Gram Panchayat meant for the 5 villages in and around their area. Every decision taken by the Gram Panchayat needs to be discussed in the Gram Sabha, which is a constitutionally-provided platform meant for every voter in the Gram Panchayat area. The Gram Sabha has clear rules on when to meet, how to conduct its activities, how to approve resolutions etc. Mr Chandrappa used to attend all the Gram Sabha meetings, and participate in all the noisy but productive discussions about important local issues.

If Mr Chandrappa wants to make his voice heard, he could also participate in what is called a Ward Sabha, meant only for a smaller group of voters in a ward of the Gram Panchayat, like a village. Here again, there are clearly spelt-out rules on how such a platform should function. In fact, in the recent elections, the entire voter list for the village was read out at the Ward Sabha meeting, and all the necessary corrections were made. The Chief Election Commissioner sent out a circular from Delhi to make this happen. There is also a “Koutumbika Sameekshe”, or household survey of every household being done by Gram Panchayats, working with the Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas.

He only wishes that many others would participate in such meetings. But unfortunately, many other villagers are illiterate, or too poor (often both) to really take advantage of such opportunities. They need extra help to come into these meetings.

There are many other challenges, especially with the tensions between the MLA and the Gram Panchayat representatives. But Mr Chandrappa is very confident that things are moving in the right direction, especially with the Sabhas being held, and more and more people getting to know about their rights and responsibilities.

Recently, Mr Chandrappa had to move to Bangalore because he was getting old, and his son - who works in a software company – wanted him to be with the grandchildren.

His son’s house was a beautiful one, with many amenities that were missing in the village. But immediately outside the house, the roads were in bad condition, the garbage was piling up with plastic, there were traffic jams at the crowded shopping area just around the corner.

"Look at the tragedy of our country, in villages we have all the opportunity but no capacity to take part. In the cities, we have all the capacity to participate but no opportunity.”
Mr Chandrappa is a very active person, so after the children went off to school and the son and daughter-in-law drove off to their multinational jobs, he started getting involved in trying to solve these local issues. During his walks around the neighbourhood, he met other retired persons. Over the course of their discussions, he learned of the local Resident Welfare Association, and started attending their meetings. He found that many of the issues that bothered him about the area were being discussed and debated, and that there were many qualified and concerned people.

But he noticed two things: first, that they would only talk about their own area of 100 houses. There was never any discussion about the low-income area just across the street, or the larger area around the immediate neighbourhood, or an attempt to include the shopkeepers.

The second thing he noticed was that the people’s methods were always to “solve” the problem themselves: take care of the drains, collect the garbage door-to-door, maintain the street lights. Whenever there was an issue that needed some government involvement, the discussions would be around who had the contacts inside government (“You know the PA to the Principal Secretary”, or “She knows the Urban Development Minister’s wife” or “He is a retired IAS officer, he has clout”).

One evening, he asked his son and daughter-in-law about how government functioned in the city.

“Who is your Gram Panchayat representative?” he asked.

“Appa”, the son laughed, “this is a city, there is no gram panchayat here.”

“Still”, the old man persisted, “there must be a city panchayat, right?”

“I’m not sure, yes there is some city government here. But who cares, anyway, the whole system is broken.”

His daughter-in-law added, “This morning, it took me one hour to get to work! I tell you, they really need to do something about that traffic light at Food World.”

“I have been thinking that we should move into the new development that Ideal Developers is building, you know the one with the club house and the 24/7 water supply and in-house power generator. The roads inside are like America, and you don’t have go out on weekends at least!”

Mr Chandrappa continued with his questions, “But son, why don’t we go to the local Panchayat representative and discuss these issues? After all, with so much development, the local government must have a lot of money to be able to take care of all the requirements, isn’t it?”

“Who is the local representative? We have no clue where he is or how to contact him. And if you think that there is corruption in villages, it is double, triple here. You know, no asker, no teller.”

He realised that his children were not going to be of any help, despite their fancy jobs and double masters degrees (he wondered if their ignorance of government was because of this!). The next day, at the Welfare Association meeting, he asked the others about Ward Sabhas and Gram Sabhas.

“There must be something like a Gram Sabha and a Ward Sabha here. When do all of you meet in the entire ward or area to discuss common issues?”

“There is no such thing. It is each man for himself; you know the RWA on the other side has got permission to get their park fully developed, because of contacts with the local MLA. We should also take a group to get funds released from the MLA grants.”

As he dug deeper, he learned from a retired IAS officer that there was actually a concept of wards – Bangalore had 100 of them, each with an elected corporator - and that there was also a concept of a Ward Committee. These Ward Committees were supposed to be equal to the Gram Sabha, and perform the same functions. He learned that there were 30 Ward Committees in Bangalore, one for every three Wards, and that each Ward Committee had eight nominees from the Government.

“My God, this committee idea will not be enough”, he thought, “For one-and-a-half lakh people, we have a committee of eight people to decide? How will this work? Where is the opportunity for average people to take part?” He realised that despite so much energy and education, there was no opportunity for the city dwellers to take part in issues of local government, unlike how it was in his village.

He wondered, “How come there are no laws for this? How come we have such wonderful Panchayat Raj laws but nothing for the cities? No wonder people are behaving so selfishly here, there is no opportunity for them to discuss common issues. There is no platform for decision-making.”

Mr Chandrappa was not one to remain quiet. He started talking about these points in the local Welfare Association meetings. At first, people were sceptical, and dismissed him as an old villager. But soon, they realised the power of his ideas.

He wrote a long letter to the Chief Minister, pointing out these problems in city life, and suggesting how new laws needed to be brought in, like the Panchayat Raj laws. “Call them the Nagara Raj laws”, he suggested, “allow the people the same say in the cities as you are providing in the villages. Look at the tragedy of our country, in villages we have all the opportunity but no capacity to take part. In the cities, we have all the capacity to participate but no opportunity.”

Mr Chandrappa is not sure how long it will take to bring about these changes, but he is sure of one thing: this is the issue that will occupy his time in the city. Because, according to Mr Chandrappa, until then, the urban resident will remain a second-class citizen.