Participatory Budgeting


Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. (New York City Council, n.d.).

“How do you spend $1 million of the city’s money…?” The pamphlets used in New York’s pilot program on Participatory Budgeting (PBNYC) ask this question to the citizens.

The practice of Participatory Budgeting originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It attracts almost 50,000 citizens every year to deliberate on the utilisation of approximately 20% of city’s monetary resource (Shah, 2007). Its positive impact is a noticeable improvement in the accessibility and quality of various public welfare amenities in those municipalities that have adopted it. The participation and influence of people belonging to low-income groups in the budget allocation process are proof of their empowerment (Bhatnagar, Rathore, Torres, & Kanungo). Numerous governments, NGOs, institutional bodies, social movements and political parties have adopted participatory budgeting to bring changes in public policy and implementation processes.

Participatory Budgeting in India

Since the amendment of 74th Constitutional Act, the interaction of local civic bodies with the decision-making bodies of government ameliorated. Along with this, the sectors of economics, planning, justice and budgeting became transparent to the public and they eventually became crucial stakeholders. A few notable Participatory Budgeting initiatives in India are in Bangalore, Mysore, Pune and Kochi, where formal institutional methods were established which made sure that citizens were also part of decision-making (Shetty, 2015). Bangalore was the first city to implement participatory budgeting and the campaign resulted in citizen’s participation in budget allocation in over 20% of wards in the city (Keruwala, 2013).

Case of Pune

Participatory Budgeting was launched in Pune in 2006 under the then commissioner of Pune Municipal Corporation. Pune Municipal Corporation consists of four zones with 15 administrative wards. Each administrative ward contains 4 to 6 prabhags. Each prabhag (composed of two electoral wards) was allocated a budget of 50 lacs and could execute any number of projects with a maximum cost of Rs. 5 lac per project. For 76 prabhags in PMC, a total of Rs. 38 crore was allocated through participatory budgeting (Keruwala, 2013).

The process begins when Pune municipal Corporation (PMC) invites suggestions from citizens at the respective ward offices. These inputs vary from roads, electricity, buildings to slum improvement and water supply and drainage. Suggestions by the citizens are compiled at the ward office and submitted to prabhag samiti, which in turn sends the approved suggestions for accounts scrutiny to produce a final list of projects to be implemented in PMC region.

Decentralised Planning in Kerala – An Experiment through Ninth Five-Year Plan

In India’s ninth five-year plan, Government of Kerala established a decentralisation plan, which was an outcome of People’s Plan Campaign – an experimental approach to reformations in local planning. Participatory budgeting was first launched in 1996 and covered the entire state including 991 rural villages, 152 block panchayats, 53 municipalities, 14 districts and 5 corporations that represented different levels of administrative bodies (Wilhelmy, 2013).

Following this, in the period 1996 to 2001, the entire state devolved approximately 40% of state revenue into the projects chosen by 65% of the 3 million beneficiary citizens and eventually this model became a part of state planning, now popularly known as Kerala Development Plan (Wilhelmy, 2013). With an objective to ensure that priority projects meet the needs of beneficiary citizens, the model aims to establish civic engagements exercises. Participatory planning in Kerala focuses on local economic development, social justice and various public services with excellence (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011).

Kerala’s process evolved into a dynamic model with two key features of the campaign – resourceful and trained administration and the extent of involvement of people elected delegates. The model created an inclusive platform of citizens supported by 373 state-level trainers, almost 10,500 trained provincial-level resource persons and 50,000 trained local activists (including 4,000 retired administrators) (Wilhelmy, 2013). The delegates elected by the people were involved in the budgeting process at every phase with a say in raising demands, prioritising projects and development plans (Wilhelmy, 2013).

Stages of Participatory Planning

The procedure of participatory budgeting comprises of six stages:

  • A range of local assemblies/grama sabhas are conducted.
  • Conducting development seminars, which facilitates discussions between politicians, experts and groups of citizens.
  • Preparation of report from the data collected from development seminars.
  • Drafting of project proposals with technical requirements and budget planning details by the ‘task force’ created by the development seminar.
  • Approval of the projects and budget by District Planning Committees.
  • Implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the approved projects.

Public Participation

All stages of participatory planning ensure involvement of the stakeholders. The local government, to execute the initiatives and to promote maximum participation of the public, forms certain Working Groups (Figure 22) that are mandatory in every local body (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011). These groups include the sectors shown in the diagram. The Working Groups, with an elected head perform effectively to guarantee participation of all marginalised societal groups. At the second stage of participatory planning – Development Seminar, the proposal projects put forward by the Working Group are presented and are subjected to public suggestions and improvements (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011).

Sectors of Working Group

For maximum participation of all the stakeholders, the respective local bodies ensure communication at all stages from conceptualisation to implementation. Right to Information Act plays a major role in the framework as it facilitates access for public to the processes and documents involved. Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011) conducts training programmes for members of Ward Sabha/Ward Committee and this capacity building initiative ensures that decision-making process is all-inclusive.