Taking citizens on board

Taking citizens on board

While the High Court may have cracked the  whip, whether the elusive area sabhas and ward committees see the light of the day to ensure real public participation in City's developmental agenda is still moot.

Bangalore’s garbage woes over the last five months has thoroughly exposed the stinking rot in our system. The civic agencies’ failure to effectively manage the City’s mounting waste has only emphasised the crying need to consult the citizens and accommodate them in key decision-making that directly affect their well-being.

Acknowledging the huge potential of the citizenry, the Karnataka High Court has mandated the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to constitute the much-delayed ward committees and area sabhas.

Elected representatives and public servants have always been cagey about involving the citizens in governance. The fear of losing their firm grip over power and funds was behind the undue delay in constituting the ward committees. Hitherto, they were content at framing rules to their benefit and pushing through unwanted development projects without people’s consent.

About eight years ago, the Union government had sensed the need for public participation in local governance keeping in view the ambitions of the young, educated and enterprising Indians whose population. It came out with a scheme - Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), wherein it insisted the states make provisions for ward-level committees. To push the states, the Centre necessitated the formation of such ward committees for Central grants under the JnNURM.

Till 2011, the State government sat on the Centre’s diktat. But finally, it was compelled to amend the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act in August 2011, making it mandatory for the local bodies to form area sabhas and ward committees within three months from the date of the elected body coming into being in the municipal councils and corporations.

As per rule, the area sabha should comprise a maximum of five polling booths in a ward, which will be headed by one area sabha representative. This way, on an average, there will be at least six to seven area sabhas in each ward. Their term will be co-terminus with that of the corporator of the ward concerned. Every month, the area sabha representative should preside over the meeting of the sabha.

There will be a nodal officer for each sabha for administrative assistance. It has been tasked with forwarding proposals for schemes and development programmes to be implemented in the area, implementation of government schemes and identify the eligible persons to avail of the benefits of such schemes.

Ward committees

The ward committee will comprise ten members, including three women, two members from the SC/ST community and two from the resident welfare associations, while three others could be from any community and intelligentsia from the warconcerned.

While these provisions were there for the last one-and-half years, the BBMP awaited the High Court’s order to form these area sabhas and ward committees. The court also reminded that without public participation, the garbage crisis or any other civic problems cannot be sorted out.

Former mayor P R Ramesh blames the successive BBMP commissioners who did nothing in the last one-and-half years to form area sabhas and ward committees.

He says, “The amendment to the KMC Act clearly says that when no recommendations are received within 90 days from the date of constitution or reconstitution of the corporation, the commissioner shall recommend names to the corporation for nomination. Is it not a matter of shame that the commissioners waited for the High Court to crack the whip?

Why not action be initiated against all the commissioners who were reluctant to form the area sabhas and ward committees?”

Ramesh demands that the BBMP initiate procedures to form area sabhas. “Area sabhas are as important as ward committees. While the BBMP is focusing only on ward committees, it is ignoring area sabhas for the reasons better known to the commissioner and the elected representatives.”
Corporators’ grouse
The High Court direction to form ward committees caused quite a flutter among many MLAs and corporators. During the Council meeting on January 16, Bommanahalli MLA Satish Reddy was quite vocal against it, saying that the area sabha and ward committee would render the corporators powerless. Corporators had the grouse that there is no provision for reservation to the other backward castes. They also rued the lack of powers to area sabhas and ward committees.

M K Gunashekar, Opposition leader in the BBMP Council, questions the formation of area sabhas and ward committees. “What is the use of having area sabhas and ward committees when they don’t have financial and executive powers. My concept of area sabha and ward committees is that they should be given planning authority, too.

In addition to it, a certain percentage of revenue generated in each ward should be reserved for the area sabha and ward committees to carry out development works at the ward level.”

 While the elected representatives were wary of forming area sabhas and ward committees, the civil society insisted these reforms in governance be implemented. Alarmed by the responses in the Council meeting, civic NGOs held a workshop where the BBMP Special Commissioner K R Niranjan invited them to propose draft bye-laws for the ward committees on Saturday morning.

Niranjan told the gathering, “The BBMP is in the process of making byelaws for ward committees. You can submit to us your draft copy of the bye-laws and we will frame ours. The sacrosanct will be accepted.”
A meeting on January 16 had attracted the participation of at least 200 people representing various Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) including Citizens’ Action Forum.

However, on Saturday only a handful attended the meeting, while none had the draft bye-laws. Only Kathyayini Chamraj of Civic Bangalore had done some homework before going to the meeting. She gave some precious suggestions to BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah.

A key suggestion was that the area sabha or ward committee members should not be affiliated to any political outfit and should not have any criminal cases against them.

Kathyayini insisted on penalising officials if they do not conduct monthly meetings.  
Siddaiah said he would give the suggestions a serious thought and agreed to make all genuine RWA presidents and secretaries members of the ward committees.

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