Rescue ward panels from councillors

Rescue ward panels from councillors

After dilly-dallying for over six years since the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act was passed, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has finally approved the constitution of ward committees for its 198 wards across the city. The amendment itself was the result of an undertaking given by the state government to the Centre to introduce mandatory reforms providing for community participation in city governance so that it could receive funds under the UPA regime's Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). But the highly arbitrary and undemocratic manner in which the ward committees have been constituted negate the very purpose of the amendment and its exalted promise to "institutionalise citizens' participation" in the democratic process.

When BBMP announced its intention to constitute area sabhas and ward committees, many citizens' organisations in Bengaluru that had been waging a relentless battle for people's participation in city governance, had hoped that the Palike would implement the high court's order to give maximum representation to independent citizens. The residents' groups filed more than 500 applications for nomination to the ward committees. But after promising to consider these applications, the BBMP commissioner, it is alleged, went almost entirely by the recommendations made by city councillors. As a result, both the area sabhas and ward committees are packed with the friends, relatives and followers of councillors, making a complete mockery of the goal of transparency and accountability in the functioning of the BBMP. The state government should intervene immediately, scrap these nominations and order the commissioner to draw up fresh lists, based on a transparent process that conforms to the original goals of the exercise.

The politicians and bureaucrats who have deliberately and consistently thwarted citizens' participation in the functioning of urban bodies have relied on certain lacunae in the Act. Although it elaborates on the three-tier structure of governance at the levels of the municipal council, the ward committee and the area sabha, it does not specify how the members are to be selected for the latter two bodies. The provision for 'nomination' is the root cause of arbitrariness, which has been thoroughly exploited by the councillors to pack these bodies with their relatives and cronies. It is said that some councillors have nominated their own spouses. The only way to avoid such blatant nepotism may be to have elections at the ward level. The government should also do away with the provision that the area sabha representative is to be nominated by the councillor, as well as the latter's  'veto' powers at the meetings of ward committees. The pervading corruption and waywardness in the functioning of the BBMP can be curbed only through effective participation of citizens in the administration.

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