Need to 'ward' off fears of vetoing public opinion

Need to 'ward' off fears of vetoing public opinion
The Karnataka High Court's direction to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to set up ward committees (WCs) has come as a victory for citizens, who till now have been subjected to myriad schemes that lack transparency and accountability.

However, only a framework for city governance with mere promises to pave the way for separate planning, execution and citizen participation in the decision-making process is not enough, feel residents.

DH spoke to some citizen group members and representatives of Resident Welfare Associations (RWA), who expressed their concerns about the efficacy of the WCs once they become functional.

Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, is upbeat about the formation of the committees as he feels it is a golden opportunity to implement the 74th Constitutional Amendment and to bring about better governance to fulfil citizens' aspirations at the ward level.

However, he feels, “the process of implementation should be fair and transparent and members chosen should not be political cronies with vested interests.” He believes the committee would offer a platform for people to voice their opinions and bring about change.

One big concern is being relegated to being mere puppets in the hands of the ‘veto’ power-wielding corporators. Corporators might continue to have the final say in dismissing and overruling the decisions of the WCs. Many feel that since the committee is headed by the respective councillor, there are chances of nepotism creeping into the system.

Pabbisetty too terms it “undemocratic” and hopes legislators will amend the Act to remove the anomaly. They instead seek powers that would help in facilitating community participation in municipal planning and want councillors to be more accountable to the members and in turn to voters.

Simi Khan, secretary of Salarpuria Cambridge Residency, however, begs to differ. She feels the reservation listed for panel members to the proposed WCs is very well balanced as it ensures that all, including non-RWA members like their association, would get an equal chance to voice their opinion on civic issues.

Basavanagudi RWA vice-president B S Manohar says that the formation of the committees has been a long-pending demand which was unfulfilled due to BBMP’s neglect. He believes that, “Councillors should, however, not bring in their henchmen to render the exercise farcical.”

Manohar is in favour of all getting equal representation. But he opposes the idea of ‘veto’ power resting with the councillor as it would dilute the role of the remaining members. “The committee,” he says, “should work like a watchdog panel to check the performance of the ward.”

Nurturing civic responsibility is key to the formation of the WC, feels Aruna Newton, president of the HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar RWA. She is batting for maximum powers resting with the largest representatives, in this case, the citizens. The collaboration of the government body with representatives from citizens would work towards better governance, she opines.

Aruna vehemently opposes reservation being a prerequisite to getting elected to the committee. “Equal representation irrespective of caste, class, status should be the aim of forming a heterogeneous group working towards the betterment of an inclusive society,” she says.

Her take on the issue: “Councillors trying to wield power would be a non-issue as he/she would be held accountable for the efficacy of the body and would have to face public ire in case a decision goes awry. This tightrope walk would ensure that the councillor exercises his veto power sensibly.”

Praveen S, secretary of Indiranagar 2nd Stage RWA, echoes the same sentiment. “Once the committees are formed, there should be transparency in their functioning and the minutes of the meet should be recorded and made available for public scrutiny. Lack of data would make it easy for governing bodies to scuttle the most active members who would be part of the panel.”

RWAs, civic activists and NGOs across the city are expected to collaborate with the BBMP to draft the bye-laws for the functioning of ward committees. The current rules, however, do not specify as to how the WC would be accountable and how they would interact with the government and other citizens, making the whole exercise seem only on paper. It is therefore imperative that the role of WCs be understood as being an instrument of community participation within a broader context of municipal governance.
 
                Empowering ward panels 
               
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