Community organisations (COs) have exhibited promise when formally assigned local government institutions are encountering failures to some extent. The four-hundred-year-old Dhaka as the capital of an overpopulated developing country experiences high internal migration and becomes the ninth largest mega-city globally with an enormous population– about19.58 million (UN, 2018). Earlier, Dhaka was managed by a single city corporation (CC), however, though remained debate about the bifurcation of the organisation, yet one of the reasons endured that the government intended to bring increased population and areas under effective service delivery umbrella. However, it is evident that both CCs suffer from inefficiency in delivering quality services to city dwellers. It stays factual– CCs are suffering from lack of personnel, fund supply, corruption, red-tapes, huge populations and such other issues. City dwellers observed – in their areas – sewerage drains remained clogged, garbage stayed filed up at collecting points for days, mosquitoes and flies established their kingdoms, vagabonds, beggars, muggers, and other anti-social persons roamed about the streets. The surface water colour changed and lifted the bottom of water bodies with throwing debris arbitrarily. The greenery vanished and traffics maintained little discipline (Gulshan Society, n.d.).
In response, city dwellers themselves come forward to compensate for the failure of city governance by forming their own area-based Community Organization (COs). Gulshan Society, a self-grown institution, leads the process originated in 2002 articulating the motto – ‘for serenity, security and better living.’ It has been followed by – Banani, Niketan, Bashundhara, and Baridhara Society, DOHS Parishad and such other community institutions – in diverse areas of the city. It is important to notice that most of the societies develop in such areas of the city, where comparatively richer people reside. However, in other parts of the city, there observe the development of small-scale institutions in dead-end gullies. Initially, with their worthiest efforts, COs failed to persuade CC to deliver necessary services. Failing to receive so, they marched onward with varied issues, such as – securing and keeping their areas clean, fostering goodwill and community spirits, developing congenial ambience and safe community for socio-cultural, recreational, environmental and spiritual pursuits.These COs defend sizeable areas; thus, geographical borders and areas are demarcated and divided into several zones respectively. The zones are run by decentralised zonal committees under the elected zonal convenors accompanied by some nominated members and can be increased on demands. These COs develop their own offices, register the institutions legally under the ‘Societies Regulation Act, 1860,’and formulate administrative rules and regulations. They frame objectives, specify targets, develop action plans, receive mandates to obtain donations, transfer resources, borrow and raise money, engage in lawsuits, and enter accords with governments, NGOs and foreign agencies.
The membership of COs stays varied types, such as – life, senior citizen, general, associate (tenant of the area for at least for one year) and corporate members. However, those groups who possess property in the areas secure voting rights to elect an executive committee (EC) and make decisions. EC, the apex elected body of COs of 15-20 members for a two-year term, needs to fulfil mandatory provisions to include women in varied positions. For electing EC officials, trustworthy elections are held regularly with a predetermined date by which the outgoing EC get ready to support non-partial election commission by accomplishing necessary tasks. Moreover, standing committees are established on varied extents with provisions for appointing sub-committees when necessary. The formation of committees remains flexible to include members as necessary depending on gravity and complexity of conditions. However, to confirm better functioning of COs three committees’ convenor ship stays reserved for the president and two vice-presidents of EC in Gulshan Society. Moreover, the society also prioritises members of EC to be placed in three top posts of remaining standing committees – convenor, joint convenor and member secretary. Some organisations develop an advisory committee to receive conversant opinions. It is noted that in most cases the jobs of the officials and committees stay well-defined to avoid debate, and through orientation meetings, newly elected officials become aware of their roles.
The financial sources of COs for project implementation remain many, like admission fee, subscriptions of the residents, donations, loans, local and foreign grants. Moreover, they cherish opportunities to borrow money on emergency from formal and informal sectors. The COs stay committed to conducting all financial transactions through banking channels for ensuring accountability and transparency. It stands pertinent here to mention every transaction and expenditure have been made auditable. Moreover, EC remains empowered to employ auditors in needs at any time in addition to regular auditing.
The COs take responsibilities of multifarious activities. They broaden awareness of dwellers about the violation of civic laws, mobilised residents to act collectively, and press designated service deliverers jointly to perform their responsibilities. For ensuring security and managing traffics they appoint GPS traceable community police equipped with digital devices to track offences and collaborate with metropolitan police. They endeavour to make the areas green, clean and beautiful by removing trash regularly with their own vehicles, supplying cleaning agents, planting trees, operating drive against mosquitoes with their own pesticides and machines, and conducting cleaning drives collaborating with NGOs, for instance – Gulshan Society teamed up with JAAGO Foundation and Water Aid Bangladesh to clean Gulshan Lake. They equally undertake the management of public park from RAJUK and recover parks of CC from illegal apprehension. Initiatives are also taken to establish social infrastructures – convention centres, mosques, schools, theme parks, shopping malls, and health care centres/medical camps – by spending own funds and signing MoU with commercial and non-commercial entities.
COs maintain effective liaison with CC for ensuring service delivery, building drainage for storm water, modern sewerage system, pavements, road repairing and such other tasks that stand unbearable for them. Varied other services – utility service, ambulance, arbitration, libraries, group SMS, family welfare schemes – are additionally offered. For recreation, they organise socio-cultural programmes for all community members, including children, on varied national days. For easy and widespread connectivity, COs maintain interactive websites and Facebook groups, through which they receive complaints, disseminate service-related information, foster awareness, alert people on emergency, and convene residents for varied campaigns and meetings. However, though they succeeded in multiple areas, failed in few cases due to opposition of vested groups, administrative red-tapes, apathy and corruption of actors.
The causes of the success of COs remain manifolds. The wealthier dwellers unite easily and sustain their amalgamation for securing their resources through building institutions. Democratic culture with a short two-year term, credible consistent election and smooth transfer of power make office bearers accountable to inhabitants and make aspirants wait for little to contest for office. The institution-building process develops ownership, social capital and leadership and makes community members committed to engaging for the betterment of the community. One noteworthy issue remains that they perform political activities non-politically by keeping existing parochial politics away officially. The COs follow consensus-based decision-making with participation, accountability and transparency. They on top keep distance with debatable issues and religious questions. Importantly, these societies of the most civilised portions of the country receive persistent financial supports from affluent community members and donors. Moreover, their collective demands to service deliverers, such as – CC, RAJUK, and WASA receive extra attentions for their muscling and persuasive capabilities. Likewise, the visible success of COs makes community members rally behind these organisations.Notwithstanding, necessity stays immense; COs should not replace councils. Rather councillors need to take assistance from COs for prioritising and solving problems and be empowered financially to respond to needs of the areas, as democratically elected councillors will try to honour their commitments to citizens and will not think service delivery as their generosity rather duties. Thus, there should be a strong relationship between these two organizations. Another issue remains – will COs succeed in comparatively disadvantaged areas of the city? Definitely, the existence of COs stands possible there, however, they need external interventions as the poor needs support to become class for itself. There are several success stories in different parts of the country where COs have brought vibrant changes in the process of service delivery with the help of the NGOs. Agency building approach has been used by the NGOs to build awareness of the citizens. Of course, the sustainability of these COs at the local level has been one of the pertinent questions. Nevertheless, with committed collaborative efforts of both COs and CC, Dhaka will be a quintessence of beauty.
Respectively, the writers are an Assistant Professor of the Department of Political Science, Chowmuhani Government S. A. College, Noakhali, and a Professor of the Department of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.