Reforms in municipal administration in Karnataka have been hanging fire for years due to lack of political and bureaucratic will. The Yediyurappa government now has a chance to ensure that the latest attempt quickly sees the light of day. The previous government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) to “codify, consolidate and reform urban planning and development laws in the state.” At present, there is no uniformity in laws that regulate municipalities, or the taxes collected by them. The draft Karnataka Municipalities Bill, 2019, submitted by NLSIU proposes several far-reaching changes, including re-defining the contours and composition of municipal areas, to make their functioning more effective. Though the draft Bill, which took two years to frame, was submitted three months ago, the government has so far shown no inclination to take it forward.
One of the major recommendations of the proposed Bill, though not a new proposal, is a five-year term for the mayor and the consolidation of all municipal-related activity under one body. Today, there is absolutely no cohesion in town and city planning as various civic bodies are entrusted with different responsibilities. This anarchy in municipal administration will end if the proposal to task one single body with all civic activities, like preparation of masterplan, water supply, roads and street-lighting, is accepted. But the suggestion has not found much favour because it will lead to the abolition of some bureaucratic posts which are treated as power centres while diminishing the area of influence of certain local politicians once the city maps are redrawn. Besides, the draft Bill has made several provisions for instilling accountability in municipalities, something that has not gone down well with officers and elected representatives of civic bodies which are now steeped in corruption and lack of transparency.
In addition to the NLIU recommendations, the government should also do away with the present system of permitting legislators and MPs to vote in the elections of mayors and municipal presidents. This is often used by political parties to change the composition of the House, negating the will of the people. Our cities and towns are decaying and some of them, like Bengaluru, are fast becoming unliveable due to poor civic management. The draft Bill will go a long way in instilling some method into the madness that prevails at present. The Yediyurappa government should look beyond short-term politics and introduce the Bill in the next session of the legislature. Only some hard measures can save our urban living spaces from certain death.