Statutory body, not elites, must plan city

It took an expression of disapproval from the court for the Karnataka government to scrap the pompously named Bengaluru Vision Group which it had set up in 2014, ostensibly to make recommendations to solve the city’s infrastructure and civic problems. The Vision Group had later evolved into another body with an equally high-sounding name, the Bengaluru Blueprint Action Group (BBAG). It was headed by the chief minister and had as its members eminent persons like Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, Wipro Chairman Azim Premji and urban experts and development professionals, apart from ministers and MLAs. The role of such a body was ambiguous, though it was claimed that it would create a roadmap for the city’s future, help to upgrade its infrastructure and improve the quality of life of citizens. The group was to promote reforms and draw up plans, attracting ideas and expertise from outside the government. 

The body had faced legal challenges right from the beginning. Hearing a petition questioning its validity, the Karnataka high court recently observed that the setting up of such parallel bodies was “illogical, unwarranted and uncalled for”. The court questioned the need for such bodies when a statutory body, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Committee (BMPC), set up under the provisions of the Constitution, already existed. The BMPC was created in accordance with the 74th amendment of the Constitution. The court felt that it is this statutory body that should plan for the city, although it could consult experts or get expertise from any source on matters it wanted to study and act upon. The court’s views are correct and represent the opinions of all those who are concerned with the development of the city and have given some thought to it. 

The growth and development of a city like Bengaluru pose serious challenges. The issues to be addressed are complex and call for comprehensive and multi-pronged approaches and actions. But it is essentially the task of the government to frame the necessary policies and implement them. This cannot be outsourced to an extra-constitutional body. For more than a decade, it has been fashionable for every chief minister to set up such bodies and fill them with the city’s elites as a way to send out a message to the aspiring middle classes. But, do these bodies actually help solve any of the city’s persistent problems? Most of the time, such exercises do not show any result, and sometimes even end up serving narrow interests. The responsibility for planning and developing the city so that it becomes livable for all, not just a few, rests with the government and the statutory bodies created for that purpose. The court did well to underline this. 

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Statutory body, not elites, must plan city

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