Praja is a non-partisan organization. It was started in Mumbai in 1997 by a group of eight individuals whose vision was to re-establish accountability and transparency in governance. These individuals were also concerned about a general lack of interest among the Citizens' in the local government. People had become apathetic towards public service agencies. They thought that these agencies were "corrupt", "inefficient" and "not amenable to change". At the same time, there was barely any interaction between the Citizens' and the local government. In sum, the spirit of democracy was waning and people were resigned to the prevailing situation in the city.
Our initial efforts were concentrated on improving the capacity of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to deliver better services and to be responsive to the people. Our objective was to activate Citizens' interest in the affairs of the local government. The conceptualization and implementation of the idea of the Citizens Charter in 1999 was the beginning of our work with the municipality and later Online Complaint Management System. Over time, Praja became a pressure group that persistently influenced the city government into establishing a pro-citizen work ethic.
Our efforts have benefited all segments of the society including slum dwellers, the densely populous North Mumbai, the elite of South Mumbai, and grassroots and umbrella organizations working for good governance and increasing people's participation. Our experiences have taught us three things:
Creating instruments for change: Citizens need information about their constituencies, including details of the the issues concerning the areas they live in. The easy availability of this information facilitates communication and interaction between citizens, the elected representatives and the local government. This information also becomes an end for establishing accountability and transparency among those involved in the task of governing. It enlarges people’s horizons of choice and gives them the opportunity to participate in the affairs of their locality, in the smallest to the largest possible measure. Availability of information can therefore go a long way towards simplifying people’s lives and evoking participation from them.
Transparency in governance systems: Elected representatives must be included in our work on governance. A holistic approach for ushering good governance must encourage the elected representatives to have buy in of our ideas from the elected representatives.
Accountability through people’s participation: There should be tools and mechanisms which enable citizens to keep a close watch on the work done by their elected representatives, who will deliver better when they become aware that their work is being scrutinized by the people. Therefore, we need accountability from the elected representatives, in terms of servicing their electorate.
Our next milestone is to work in collaboration with the elected representatives who represent us in the local, state and national legislatures, first, by increasing people's interaction with them and eventually, by fostering a democratic culture of questioning, debate and dialogue.