New BBMP Act: Will it improve Bengaluru?

New BBMP Act: Will it improve Bengaluru?

There are several controversial inclusions in the new law. These if not revoked, will take Bengaluru backward and not forward

BBMP building. Credit: DH File Photo

Will the new Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act  improve the way the city is governed?  It appears as though the government and the Joint Select Committee (JSC) that reviewed the BBMP Bill have heeded neither the lacunae identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the implementation of the ‘Nagarapalika Act’ by the state, nor the suggestions made by experts.   

The Bill was placed before the legislature without any pre-legislative consultation and disclosure under Section 4(1)(c) and (d) of the Right to Information Act. Even the JSC failed to hold consultations though it had stalwart Opposition members as members.

The CIVIC and several experts have been questioning the need for a separate Act for Bengaluru instead of amendments to the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (KMC) Act itself, as improvements are needed for all cities.  That the changes made are not going to solve the problems of Bengaluru has also been expressed by many. Many changes made are at variance with provisions of the KMC Act which apply to other municipal corporations, causing inequality before the  law. 

The Administrative Reforms Commission had said that the power to delimit wards and reserve seats and posts for the Council should be vested with the State Election Commission and not the state government.  The new Act attempts to circumvent this criticism by creating a Delimitation Commission which would undertake these tasks.  But this is a camouflage as the recommendations of this Commission are to be reviewed again by the state government.  So, delayed elections can continue to plague BBMP as per the state government’s convenience.

Though there is the grandiose statement in the Act that BBMP will be recognised as “an institution of self-government”, MLAs, MLCs and MPs representing Bengaluru continue to be given voting rights in the BBMP Council, repudiating the statement.    

All funds required by BBMP to perform the 18 functions listed in Schedule 12 of the Constitution are to be automatically devolved to BBMP by the government.  But some functions may require sharing of tasks between the state and BBMP, in which case `activity mapping’ of the tasks will need to be done before deciding the quantum of funds to be transferred.

The Act has not proposed any measures to strengthen planning by the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC). Without this, the lack of coordination between the multiple parastatals/agencies, such as BWSSB, BMTC, BESCOM and BDA and the lack of umbrella bodies such as an Integrated Water Management Authority, will continue to plague the city.  

There is the surprising commitment that the core functions of the corporation shall have the first charge on the municipal fund. This is a departure from the usual practice one has been witnessing of non-primary needs, such as flyovers being given funds in lieu of mandatory duties, such as providing proper infrastructure for garbage management.  

The law says that the Corporation Fund shall be maintained in accordance with the Karnataka Local Fund Authorities Fiscal Responsibility (KLFAFR) Act.  This is a desirable provision which can prevent unrealistic budget formulation, give essential services a push, mandate transparency and public consultation on budget formulation, debt limitation, etc.   Another salutary provision is that all audit shall be under the technical guidance and supervision of the CAG.

A key recommendation of CIVIC regarding institutionalising a ‘Performance Management System’ setting key performance indicators for measuring outcomes as per corporation priorities has found a place in the Act.  But that outcomes should be linked to achievement of Sustainable Development Goals at ward level is missing.

Colonial practice

The term of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor has been extended to 30 months. But there is no clear renunciation of the colonial practice of giving the Commissioner executive powers and reducing the mayor to a figurehead. 

The single most important change from the KMC Act is that an intermediate tier of ‘Zonal Committees’ is foreseen between the BBMP Council and the Ward Committees, which facilitates greater decentralisation.  The CIVIC’s suggestion that one of the councillors, and not the zonal commissioner should be chosen as the chairperson of the Zonal Committee has also been accepted. But constitution of an Assembly Constituency-Level Committee under the MLA, between the Ward Committee and Zonal Committee, is an aberration and against the spirit of the 74th Amendment.

The territories of up to five contiguous polling stations are to be declared as an ‘Area’ by the state government for calling Area Sabhas, an assemblage of all voters of the ‘Area’.  But five polling stations will have up to 25,000 voters in Bengaluru. Is it possible to have an Area Sabha meeting with 25,000 voters? Ideal would be each Polling Booth Area having about 1,200 voters which should be notified as an ‘Area’.     

Nominations without guidelines continue to be the mode for selecting Ward Committee members and Area Sabha Representatives (ASRs).  In contrast, the latest amendments to the Karnataka Municipalities Act provide for the selection of ASRs by the citizens themselves. The recommendation that ASRs should be members of the Ward Committee has found a place but the ASRs are there without voting rights. However, the dubious provision that “the recommendations of the Ward Committee shall be advisory in nature” has been added.  Then why call ward committees a ‘Municipal Authority’ if they have no powers?

A Grievance Redressal Authority, independent of the local government, headed by a retired judge or IAS officer, has been included at city level with powers to penalise officials. But its decisions can be reviewed by the Urban Development Department on Appeal. There was a recommendation regarding a ‘Single-Window’ at ward level for collecting applications and grievances, and Ward Committees to conduct physical ‘Janaspandana’ for grievance redressal, but these have been ignored.

There are several controversial inclusions against which a PIL has been filed.  These, if not revoked, will take Bengaluru backward and not forward.

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bengaluru)

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