Participatory Budgeting
Sanskriti Menon, Centre for Environment Education

Participatory Budgeting programmes are innovative governance processes. They can provide citizens with the opportunity to give their inputs in resource allocation and to monitor public spending. Social and political exclusion can be better addressed as low income and traditionally excluded citizens or groups get the opportunity to participate in decision-making.

Over 250 cities are applying participatory budgeting methods. The majority of these are in Brazil (where participatory budgeting began, in Porto Alegre). Participatory budgeting initiatives have been taken up in recent years in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia as well as in some European cities.

The basic pattern of participatory budget processes is that community groups identify spending priorities and submit these to their local civic offices / representatives who transform community priorities into concrete project proposals; facilitators provide technical assistance in project proposal development; once local lists of projects are ready, citizens prioritize these and vote on which projects to fund; the public authority then implements the projects.

Participatory Budgeting has been tried in a few Indian cities as well, especially in Karnataka and Kerala. In Bangalore, Janaagraha facilitated a participatory budget process in 2002-2003 across 10 wards. The experiences gained from this exercise, as well as the materials produced – a book on participatory planning, a video on surveying neighbourhoods, survey forms to record citizens requests for works, etc – are now helping participatory planning and budgeting processes in cities such as Hubli-Dharwad and Pune.

Participatory Budgeting in Pune
In Pune, the municipal corporation initiated participatory budgeting in 2005. Meetings of citizens and civic officials were organized through local agencies such as the National Society for Clean Cities and Nagrik Chetna Manch. A few hundred citizens participated and submitted requests for projects. The experience helped lay a base for citizen engagement in ward level budget processes of the municipality. In 2006-07, a more detailed and formalized process was followed, with facilitation support provided by Janwani and CEE.

Citizen engagement in the slums was done through the Urban Community Development Dept (UCD) and the Community Development Society (CDS) structure promoted under the Urban Self Employment and Wage Employment schemes. Community volunteers were trained to conduct the budgeting meetings with members of the self-help groups and neighbourhood groups.

For citizen engagement through the ward offices, CEE and Janwani worked out a more elaborate process. This was needed as there is no outreach mechanism parallel to the CDS structure. Fourteen students from the Economics Dept of University of Pune were selected and trained as facilitators. For CEE, this was part of its work as the Sectt of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies Regional Centre of Expertise on Sustainable Urban Development.

The main tasks for citizens were to survey and identify works for their neighbourhoods, submit these in the specified format and to attend a prioritization meeting. At the prioritization meetings, citizens were grouped by electoral ward and they sorted through the lists of requests to arrive at the final lists within the allocated ward budget.

Community Meeting at Bhawani Peth
The meeting was held under a large peepal tree in a courtyard in a slum neighbourhood. Over a hundred women attended. The issues they discussed included:
a. Inconvenient timing of waste collection as it is water filling time; the consensus was that this was a management issue, not of infrastructure
b. repair of drains and manholes
c. lighting needed in the common meeting space

When the meeting was about to end, a karyakartas of the local councilor arrived on the scene. He demanded to know what was going on; he reprimanded the women for describing the issues of their neighbourhood/ community to ‘outsiders’ (since the meeting was being filmed) and asked why they did this when ‘hum hain na’. The women argued back that here was a chance for directly asking the PMC for some of the works they needed done, and that he should not interfere. For PMC, the main tasks were their own preparedness, publicity about the process, fine-tuning the works in conjunction with the citizens who submitted the ideas, costing the suggested works, holding prioritization meetings and preparing the final lists.
The sequence of activities was as follows:
  1. Preparatory Meeting at PMC- Head of the PMC Citizen Facilitation Centre, Zonal Commissioners, Ward Officers and Junior Engineers
  2. Publicity through the press, e-groups, phone calls to citizens groups and housing society representatives
  3. Citizens’ Meetings at 4 Zonal Offices to explain process and timelines
  4. Classification and Costing of Works at Ward Offices and preparation of electoral ward-wise lists
  5. Prioritization Meetings
  6. Finalized lists of Citizens Works

Participation of the Poor
Writings about participatory processes have highlighted that poor women often find it difficult to make the time to participate in planning processes, in addition to their domestic and wage-earning responsibilities.

In Pune, attention was drawn to this by Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Sanghatan (KKPKP) when the timings of the NHG meetings were revealed। Since the overall focus of the requests was to be localized neighbourhood improvement or repair works, KKPKP felt that it wasn’t a big disadvantage that rag-picker women were not present in the meetings। On the other hand, being able to submit requests for sorting sheds in the areas where they work for scrap collection was seen as a valuable opportunity (see ‘The Ward as Work Place’).

The Ward as Work Place

The city is also a work place and should be conducive to a range of economic activities। While commercial spaces are generally planned for, informal economic activity often survives on ‘informal occupation of city spaces’. City planning, and therefore neighbourhood planning has to take into account the role of a range of informal economic activities, and allocate space for these. As a case example, the participation of waste-pickers / waste collectors was especially sought as their services are related to the municipal function of SWM, and it is also an economic activity for them. The municipality policy for SWM encourages decentralized sorting and processing of different materials. A key component in managing different streams of waste materials is space for sorting of recyclables materials and their sale to scrap shops. With the help of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (ragpickers’ trade union), waste pickers participated in the citizens budgeting exercise, and requested that budget allocations be made for sorting sheds in a few locations. These are envisaged as public amenities just like bus stops, hawker zones, vegetable markets etc.

Changing Governance Patterns
Participatory budgeting processes can help governance become more transparent and accountable. In Pune, Municipal Commissioner Nitin Kareer stressed that the PB process is departure from the 'you ask, we give' mentality. Describing this as a method of making democracy more effective, the Municipal Commissioner said that the next step would be for citizens to locally decide how their area is developed, including inputs into the development plan.

Announcing a participatory budgeting scheme in UK recently, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears said "The public will be able to decide whether their priority is play areas, youth facilities, traffic calming or more community wardens. Participatory budgeting is not just consultation. It is where people come together, set priorities and vote on what is going to happen."

Pune Mayor Rajalaxmi Bhosale expressed similar sentiments when after the Pune participatory budgeting exercise she said “This will help consolidate the relationship between the municipality and the citizens. The corporators will be under constant scrutiny from the citizens.”

Highlighting the role that elected representatives could play, Hazel Blear said "councilors must not feel their democratic mandate is bypassed, and instead recognize that it will strengthen their relationship with their local community". Also, that, "I think the world has changed. I think voting every four years and basically handing over responsibility and power to other people and then doing nothing again for four years, I think our democracy is not like that any more."

Citizens realize this too. Having attended a prioritization meeting, a citizen in Pune said, “The projects have been listed along with the name of the recommender. It is the responsibility of the concerned citizen to keep an eye on the progress of the work. The corporation also has the responsibility of providing details about the development of the work and clarifying doubts of the citizens.”

In Pune, as the city prepares for another round of participatory budgeting, several citizens, and the new municipal commissioner too, are asking for an assessment of last years’ process and how many projects have been or are being implemented। There is recognition that some project ideas are mundane (fix a pavement), and that the fact that citizens have to say it is a telling comment on how these very aspects are ignored in conventional budgeting processes। There are the not-so-usual ideas as well – sorting sheds, composting units, benches, hawking zone platforms, etc। There is also recognition that there is a long way to go to streamline and encourage this fairly new process.


  • Dove, Lesley (2004), Providing environmental urban services to the poor in Andhra Pradesh: developing strategic decision-making. Environment and Urbanization 2004; 16; 95
  • Cabannes, Yves (2004). Participatory budgeting: a significant contribution to participatory democracy. Environment and Urbanization 2004
  • Wintour. P. “Voters to get direct say on local spending”. Guardian, July 5, 2007,,,2118822,00.html (accessed July 15, 2007)
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For more information contact
Ranjit Gadgil
Programme Director, Janwani
Senapati Bapat Road
Pune 411005

The author is Senior Programme Coordinator, CEE Urban Programmes and may be contacted at

Sanskriti Menon

Ward wise meetings of citizens to discuss priorities for neighbourhood projects - a very important aspect of the participatory budget process.

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