BBMP polls: Citizens have a responsibility

At last the decks have been cleared for the long and much awaited election to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The election which is to be held this month after a three-year hiatus ends months of frustration for citizens who did not have a voice in the civic affairs of their City.

Like other elections, major political parties will present their manifestos that will most likely be promises galore and active Residential Welfare Associations along with NGOs in their quest to bring essential changes to governance will promote their own candidates. With a myriad of problems and formidable challenges confronting Bangalore, this election assumes significance for both citizens and political parties.

Amidst cynicism of voters and apathy of the political class, issues like illegal constructions, garbage collection, road traffic, capital value system in property tax, welfare schemes for urban poor and an orderly development of the city need to be tackled. Increasing population and inept resource management for the last several years has put a severe strain on the City’s finances and infrastructure — leading to a deteriorating quality of life.

Planning
Poor tax collection has contributed to waning revenues while wasteful spending has resulted in declining productivity. Borrowings of the City has doubled in the last four years, which  needs to be restricted to avoid imposition of excessive property taxes. The upcoming election gives people an opportunity to voice their opinion and elect representatives, who would strive to solve some of these problems.

A cursory look at the most recent BBMP budget and Medium Term Fiscal Plan indicates the depth of resource crunch faced by the City. Although the BBMP budget shows revenue receipts of Rs 3,960 crore, only 30 per cent of it comes from the City’s own taxes — property tax, advertising fees and other levies. The remaining 70 per cent comes from borrowings, grants from the State Finance Commission and other agencies.
With three quarters of revenues spent on administrative expenses and routine maintenance works, the City is left with very little funds for infrastructure development and social welfare schemes. The challenge for the contestants is to provide a meaningful plan for raising resources without increasing debt that can withstand rigorous public scrutiny.

Apart from the resource gap, the City faces rising urban poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Dilapidated schools, poorly run hospitals and leakages in welfare schemes have contributed to an increase in urban poverty. The City’s storm water drainage system has proven inadequate to address the flooding caused by heavy rains in many areas. While the waste management system has a capacity to handle 3,500 tonnes of solid waste per day, many citizens will vouch for the fact that garbage collection has been very unsatisfactory in their neighbourhoods. With more than 300 slums that lack basic amenities, the city needs a comprehensive slum development plan to rejuvenate many of these areas.

Being the silicon valley of India, scarce use of technology in many of the administrative functions is reprehensible. Handling of public grievances is poor and inefficient. Political parties and contestants need to address these issues in their campaign.
Many of the problems confronting other cities in Karnataka are similar to those of Bangalore. Hence, the upcoming BBMP election assumes importance for major political parties. As cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Belgaum and towns in north Karnataka develop into sprawling metros, the parties should focus on developing a model that can be a useful resource to confront issues that are urban in nature and can be implemented in any of the cities.

With the state delimitation exercise and migration having tilted the power to urban voters, political parties cannot rely on rural voters alone to rule the state. They need to offer feasible solutions to many of the urban problems. Almost 50 per cent of the Assembly constituencies are currently influenced by urban voters and the challenge for major parties is to provide effective administration and good governance in municipal councils that can serve as a springboard to the state capital.
Given what is at stake, the voter turnout is crucial to determine the policies the BBMP is likely to adopt for the next five years. Apart from stressing the importance of exercising their franchise on the poll day, citizens need to scrutinise party manifestos and contestants like never before to elect representatives who will attend to their needs and not beholden to special interests.

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