How ward committees failed Bengalureans

How ward committees failed Bengalureans

Legal and administrative issues may have withheld BBMP elections, but nothing prevented the government from holding regular meetings

Ward committee give both citizens and decision-makers a platform to discuss solutions to various civic issues. The picture is of a ward committee meeting held in Murphy Town, Bengaluru, on February 2, 2019. Credit: DH File Photo

In the absence of an elected BBMP council since September last year, Bengalureans had hoped that ward committees would give them a say in how the city is governed. But this idea of involving citizens in local governance has yet to take off even two years after the government mooted it. 

Legal and administrative issues may have withheld BBMP elections, but nothing prevented the government from holding regular meetings of ward committees to address the numerous civic issues plaguing the city. Ward committee meetings in most BBMP zones are irregular and ineffective at best and non-existent at worst. In some zones, ward committee meetings have been inconclusive due to the absence of officials. Instead of facilitating change at the ward level, these committees have only become part of the problem. 

Out of the 198 BBMP wards, 11 wards have not held a single meeting since August last year while 37 wards held fewer than five meetings each in the same period. Only 42 wards held meetings more than 25 times. (See the table). 

The data was collated by NGO Janaagraha from minutes of meetings published on the BBMP website and its volunteers' interactions with ward-level nodal officers. 

Gangambike Mallikarjun, a former mayor, said that in the absence of an elected BBMP council, the government ought to have ensured that ward committees met and functioned properly. These committees would have given both citizens and decision-makers a platform to discuss solutions to various civic issues, she said. 

Srinivas Alavilli, head of civic participation at Janaagraha, said: "Training the nodal officials in their roles and responsibilities might help improve the smooth functioning of ward committees. There is an urgent need to formalise and strengthen the process. Building capacities and training nodal officers is a long-pending task that the BBMP has to take up on priority. The staff should be sensitised to the workings of ward committees." 

He cautioned that the data may not fully reflect the ground reality and suggested there could be cases where nodal officers do not upload the details to the website. "Even though we cannot determine the reality through this, we have no other means to track these meetings," he said. 

Lalithamba B V of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party echoed him, saying BBMP officials are inconsistent in both informing citizens about the meetings and uploading the minutes of the meetings. 

"Right now, there is no way to know if a meeting has happened and what was discussed. We have to check with other residents in the ward or call up the nodal officers. Not many nodal officers respond,” she said. 

Gangambike has a suggestion. She said BBMP Chief Commissioner Gaurav Gupta should pay surprise visits and review the meetings. Other top-level officers can also make sure these meetings are held regularly regardless of when the elections are held. "These meetings lend a voice to the people," she said. 

Acknowledging that ward committee meetings are both irregular and ineffective, Gupta promised that steps were being taken to set things rights. 

"In a few wards, we have noticed a lack of interest or officials may have been transferred. All these lacunae are being addressed. We will continue to try to ensure these meetings are held regularly and the minutes are updated constantly so that people's voices are heard and documented," Gupta said. 

He added that at a recent review meeting, he had instructed the nodal officers to hold ward committee meetings regularly. 

Alavilli makes another point. "It is as much the responsibility of citizens as of officials. The best way to make sure these meetings happen regularly is by increasing citizen participation," he said.  

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