Originally Published 2013-03-12 00:00:00 Published on Mar 12, 2013
The Delhi Government's Bhagidari programme with all its pitfalls and challenges comes as a refreshing idea in the context of urban governance. Given its potential to transform state-ctizen interface, there is need to give it statutory backing. Also, there is enough space for forther improvement of the programme.
New urban governance exemplars: A glance at Delhi's Bhagidari model
Be it metro rail, roads, flyovers or airport, no other megacity in India is in league with Delhi. While these visible symbols of transformations have become frequent talking points of the Delhi’s true progress, little attention is paid to the governance innovations of this capital city (city-state). Among the few governance exemplars that the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) can vouch for is the ’Bhagidari’ initiative.

A pet initiative of Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, ’Bhagidari’ aims to bridge the trust gaps between the government and its citizens. Bhagidari, which literally means ’collaborative partnership’, is in its 13th year. With a special Bhagidari cell set up in the office of the chief minister, this highly promising scheme has been institutionalised in some sense.

The Bhagidari model has been variously interpreted by scholars and analysts working on issues of urbanisation and citizenship. For instance, Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal, an urban researcher having done extensive study in the area of local democracy and urban governance in India, prefers to label these participating citizen groups as ’neighbourhood associations’. These neighbourhood associations represent a truly local type of activism. They exist and act on the scale of the neighbourhood -a building, a street, a colony. Neighbourhood associations (thereon only associations), unlike NGOs, speak and act on their own behalf. These associations have been prevalent in Delhi since the 1970s. Indeed, the rise of these associations validate the point that they have emerged as an important actor of urban governance.

The Bhagidari model

In the field of urban planning, it has become widely accepted throughout the world that local stakeholders should be involved in some capacity with decision-making. Delhi has been experiencing high net (migration and natural increase) positive increase in population. The population density has swelled substantially in the last two decades. This has led to, for example, the demand for water exceeding by around 120-170 MGD (million gallons per day) since the year 2000i . Water leakages and electricity thefts have become a big menace in Delhi. The Bhagidari programme is an attempt to resolve such problems faced by the city’s residents with the participation of the people in the local governance.

As a concept, Bhagidari evolved through wide consultations with various citizen groups -the Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs), the Market Traders Associations (MTAs) and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with those government departments that are in the forefront of citizen interface -the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Delhi Police, Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Vidyut Board and the Department of Environment & Forestii . These departments subsequently became participating departments in the Bhagidari programme. To ensure adequate inputs from all corners of the city, the programme was decentralised at the revenue district level with the Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) as the district coordinator.

Under the Bhagidari programme, there are over 2700 participating citizen groups. Among other things, an institutional architecture called Large Group Interactive Events was devised to enable citizen groups and government officials to sit together, discuss their viewpoints on common problems and build up consensus for solutions. Bhagidari workshops (4-6 each year) are organised according to administrative zones and is held over a duration of three days. The purpose of this is to give the participants enough time to think over the discussion at ease and come again the next day with possible suggestions.

An interesting aspect of the Bhagidari scheme is the incentivisation for participants or stakeholders, including the government officials. In the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of officers who do an effective role in implementing the Bhagidari scheme, a special mention was mooted. For the RWAs and MTAs, recognition through awards and commendations have been incorporated.

Major initiatives

As the name suggests, the Bhagidari programme is aimed at generating solutions for simple and common problems through citizen participation, that would usually go unnoticed by officials. Some major initiatives under the Bhagidari are on the pressing issues of water conservation and harvesting, anti-plastic and anti-littering campaigns, senior citizen care etc. Through the "My Delhi I Care Fund", created with the Deputy Commissioners (Revenue) of the 11 districts to enable citizens to participate in the upkeep and protection of their own habitat through partnership with the GNCTD, it has been able to implement 176 projects. Out of this, 120 projects were implemented successfullyiii . The water harvesting project has particularly been successful with the government providing financial assistance to the RWAs that have undertaken them.

For instance, to improve conservation, 500 water wardens and 1500 assistant water wardens have been nominated amongst the citizen groups. They were given specialised training to check and rectify water leakages in supplyi. For senior citizens, on recommendations of the citizen groups, special clinics have been opened in the hospitals of the Delhi government. Separate queues in the OPD, concessional passess in DTC buses, establishing old age homes are some of the measures put in place.

Positive changes have been observed such as switching on/off streetlights by RWAs, traffic regulation in colonies, water bill collection and payment by RWAs etc. Active cooperation through the programme had led to quantifiable enhancement in governance. Many markets no longer use plastic bags. For example, the Gaffar Market & Trader Assocation (Delhi’s Karolbagh area) has undertaken replacement of generators in the shops towards making the environment cleani.

The performance and effectiveness of the Bhagidari programme has been extensively reviewed in the recent times. According to a survey by the Journal of Civil Society, an astonishing 96% of residents found Bhagidari a useful concept and an impressive 74% went on to say that this initiative has improved the quality of life. Other results show that water supply has improved in North, West and Central Delhi, whereas South and East Delhi did not fare too well . The survey showed that the "quality of life" has improved most in Central Delhi, and least in East Delhi. This is significant as it shows that slum clusters which house the urban poor (mostly in East Delhi) have been neglected. This is because unauthorised colonies were initially not included in the Bhagidari programme.

Challenges and impact

Notwithstanding a number of positive outcomes and plenty of promises, this novel scheme is ridden with problems and challenges of all kind. In a recent study by the Centre of Civil Society (based on selective interviews of RWAs), it was found that only 33% of the ideas discussed at Bhagidari workshops have been implemented by the government agencies. The Bhagidari scheme falls short in the accountability of lower officials in the programme’s implementation. Initial resistence from field-level officers was encountered, as they were not willing to step out of their bureaucratic shell and embrace the direct interaction with citizen groupsi. According to the findings of the report, the participation of lower officials has also been poor. As they are the ones who ultimately do the job, their involvement is imperative.

A pressing point about this initiative is that it is overwhelmingly "middle-class" in nature. A study showed that this may constitute the means through which the upper/middle stata (through RWAs) of the society attempt to regain their influence over local affairs, threatened by the inclusive dimension of the democratisation of the local governmenti. This nature of associations give them access to resources -money, contacts, information -which gives them undue advantage over associations from the lower stata of society.

Further, a major constraint to the city-wide expansion of the scheme is that the Bhagidari system only works for those who have organised themselves into registered associations such as RWAs and MTAs. Although first devised for associations of formal colonies, the Bhagidari programme extends now to informal settlementsv . This legitimising of slum clusters, resettlement colonies and the unauthorised regularised areas will enable better participatory governance. However , any significant improvement in such areas is yet to be documented.

One of the structural deficiencies that the Bhagidari scheme faces is that it has no legal basis. Though Bhagidari has enhanced local conditions, it remains to be seen whether a new government headed by another party would continue to implement the programme.


The Bhagidari programme with all its pitfalls and challenges comes as a refreshing idea in the context of urban governance that has little involvement of citizens in routine but vital civic matters. Through the principle of decentralisation and citizen participation, the programme seems to be bridging the gap between ’social’ and ’political’ participation. As seen from the above analysis, these associations are turning out dependable and strong partners in many new initiatives undertaken by the civic authorities. No wonder, there has been an extraordinary rise in the number of associations in the recent years. Needless to say, given its potential to transform state-ctizen interface and address many critical service delivery woes, it is imperative to address several structural and procedural shortcomings of this initiative. The intent should be to gradually work out changes in policies and legislation to provide the Bhagidari programme with statutory backing. This would also enhance accountability and give the needed push to lower officials to deliver on promises. There remains enough space to better this innovative concept of local governance.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)

i .    Extracted from the "Delhi Statistical Handbook" of 2000, 2004, 2008 & 2012. Directorate of Economics & Statistics, GNCTD.

ii .    Bhagidari Cell, GNCTD. www.delhigovt.nic.in (accessed January 15, 2013)

iii .    Working Report 2010, GNCTD. New Delhi: Directorate of Information & Publicity

iv .    Vidyarthee, Kaushal K. "Bhagidari: The Delhi Experiment in Governance". Centre for Civil Society.

v .    Chakrabarti, P. "Inclusion or Exclusion? Emerging Effects of Middle-Class Citizen Participation in Delhi’s Urban Poor". IDS Bulletin, 2008

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