A new blueprint for urban governance

A new blueprint for urban governance

IN PERSPECTIVE

A consolidated draft law for regulating urban governance prepared by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, has proposed, among other things, the setting up of a Municipal Regulatory Commission and a Municipal Vigilance Authority which will oversee the functioning of the municipalities in the state. The draft Karnataka Municipalities Bill, 2019, seeks to consolidate several existing laws governing the municipal services. The 267-page draft bill covers the entire spectrum of urban governance like setting up of municipalities, its duties and functions, elections to local bodies, preparation of reports, accounts, development plans, solid waste management, water supply, civil society participation, etc. 

The draft bill envisages four types of municipal areas depending on the population of any urban area, the density of population, revenue generated, percentage of the workforce in that area employed in non-agricultural activities, and other factors. A metropolitan area with a population of more than 2.5 million would be classified as ‘Greater City’. A large urban area with a population between 500,000 and 2.5 million would be specified as a ‘City’, and smaller urban areas with population of less than 500,000 but more than 50,000 would be classified as ‘Towns’. Transitional areas with a population of less than 50,000 but more than 20,000 would be called a ‘Nagara’. Each of these categories will have councillors ranging from a minimum of 10 to 180 depending on the population.

The Bill provides for Municipal Councils, Standing Committees, Ward Committees and Area Sabhas consisting of the elected representatives, who will be responsible for carrying out the duties assigned under the Act. In every municipality, there would be seven  Standing Committees: Public Health and Sanitation; Education and Social Justice; Taxation, Finance and Appeals; Town Planning, Infrastructure Development and Improvement; Budgeting and Accounts; Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage; and Ward Management and Ward-level Public Works.

The bill envisages strengthening the existing ward committees and area sabhas and a unique 15-digit numbering scheme for the premises in the municipality. Standing Committees are supposed to prepare annual reports.

In order to bring in some accountability among the elected representatives, the bill says that no person can stand for elections for more than one ward and those aspiring to elected office cannot have any interest in any contract issued by the municipality. There is also a proposal to levy penalty on such councillors who are found to have any interest in municipal contracts. This applies even to officials of the municipality.

Accountability of the officials is also ensured through an inventory of immovable properties of municipalities, maintenance of records of urban land and properties. The bill recommends a Municipal Fund to which all monies received by the municipality are to be credited. It has made a provision for four types of audits -- internal, special, external and audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG). In the light of the controversy surrounding advertisement contracts and leases issued by the BBMP, the bill has a provision to regulate advertisements.

An important recommendation is the setting up of a State Municipal Regulatory Commission (SMRC) by the state government. The SMRC would have a chairperson and five members. The state government would, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, appoint any person as the chairperson from amongst persons who are or have been judges of the High Court.

The functions of the SMRC include setting standards for municipal services, promoting competition and efficiency in municipal affairs, advising the government, collecting and recording information about municipal services and publishing data, and adjudicating disputes between municipal authorities and suppliers of services, etc.

The SMRC would have its own advisory committee. The SMRC has been given the powers to penalise and punish those who do not follow its directions. The advisory committee would advise the SMRC on major questions of policy, matters relating to the quality of municipal services provided by the municipal authorities, protection of consumers of municipal services, and improvement of overall standards of performance, efficiency and economy in the provision of municipal services.

Perhaps the best recommendation is to set up the State Municipal Vigilance Authority (SMVA) to bring in transparency in the functioning of the municipalities. The SMVA can inquire into complaints of corruption, misconduct and other kinds of malpractices on the part of officers and employees of the municipality. No councillor and no officer or other employee of any municipality would be eligible to be appointed as the chairperson or as member of the SMVA.

Besides, the bill provides for formation of a State Municipalities Union. The object is to examine issues of common interests to municipalities, disseminate information, and the like.

(The writer is founder, Consumer Rights Education and Awareness Trust [CREAT])

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