To save boom town

A metropolitan govt for Bengaluru

Dividing Bengaluru into five mini-municipal corporations will only increase its maladies because of its proven bad administration. In 1941, Bengaluru’s population was 4,10,000 and it was India’s 16th biggest city. Its population is now 1.12 crore. Some 20% of Karnataka’s population of 6.1 crore and 49% of the state’s urban population live in Bengaluru. It contributes 40% of Karnataka’s GSDP and 65% of its tax revenue. It has 70 lakh motor vehicles and is behind only Delhi in private vehicle ownership.

Some 22% of India’s IT industry jobs are in Bengaluru. About 41.5% of the people in Bengaluru speak Kannada, Tamil 18.4%, Telugu 15.5%, Urdu 12.9%, Hindi 3.4%, Malayalam 3%, Marathi 2.2%, Konkani 0.71% and others 3.2%. It is a truly cosmopolitan city with a majority of its population streaming in from outside.

No pious wish will control Bengaluru’s population. Its four calamities — water, vehicles, air pollution and garbage will keep deteriorating because of the quality of municipal corporators and officials. A small sample:

• “Hooch Queen”, former bootlegger and history-sheeter Mari Muthu, accused in the Lingarajapuram-Tannery Road hooch tragedy of 1981 in which 229 people died, was given a ticket by a mainstream party from Sagayapuram ward in the BBMP election of 2015.

• Yeshwantpur corporator Munirathna was an accused in the case of death of a student, Sanjana Singh, in a compound wall collapse on Hebbal Road. He was reported to be the contractor.

• The same person, after becoming Rajarajeswari Nagar MLA, was an accused in the Rs 1,500-crore fake bills scam. The Lokayukta raided a house and recovered 850 files that were being processed by BBMP officials.

• Gandhinagar corporator S Nataraj was murdered in gang rivalry in his “meter-baddi” business, charging 30% daily interest and employing rowdies to enforce collection.

• Dewan Ali, an auto-driver and rowdy-sheeter, who became Banashankari Temple Ward corporator, was murdered in Banashankari II Stage area by a rival gang (some corporators demanded in the BBMP meeting that a statue should be erected for him because, after all, Mahatma Gandhi was also murdered and there are many statues of him!).

The reason the corrupt, the rowdy and the criminal are able to become corporators is because s/he has to secure fewer than 5,000 votes, one-fifth of the electorate to win the election. In upscale Vasanthanagar Ward, the winning candidate secured just 4,348 votes in an electorate of 20,204; in BTM Layout Ward, the winner got 15% of the total votes, 5,773 out of 39,224. With middle and upper classes largely abstaining from voting and at least three parties — Congress, BJP and JD(S) — contesting, with no qualms about fielding petty criminals as candidates, a contestant can become a corporator by getting the votes from a few of Bengaluru’s 2,000 slums or by appealing to his caste or community. 

Besides, all employees of BBMP are its long-time clerks. With passage of time, they have become Deputy Commissioners and Additional Commissioners. Most officials have developed deep-rooted symbiotic relationships with the corporators. The unchecked corruption, such as payments for fictitious garbage trucks, payments to 20,000 pourakarmikas when only 16,000 are working, non-existent works (“Hale Kallu, Hosa Billu” — old stones, new bills — as explained by one veteran corporator), the ubiquitous corruption in issuing “khata” for properties — the minimum rate for apartments is said to be Rs 25,000, etc., is all due to this unholy alliance. 

Therefore, if Bengaluru is to survive, it must have a Metropolitan Council (BMC) of a higher status for the ever-expanding city, comprising the Metropolitan Region of Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural and Ramanagara districts, which was the composite Bangalore District till 1986.

The BMC should consist of all the 36 MLAs and MPs from the Metropolitan Region and representatives of 41 town councils, to be structured for an average population of 50,000 per town, in place of the current 198 BBMP wards and six CMCs, 10 TMCs and 284 Panchayats within the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region (BMR). It should have nominated members from among nationally acknowledged experts in urban water, housing, transport, waste management, environment, health, education and culture. This will consist of about 120 members and the chief minister should be the chairman of BMC.  

Thus the composition of the BMC will be: chief minister as chairman; presidents of 25 town councils of the erstwhile BBMP; presidents of 16 town councils in BMR area outside BBMP; 14 MPs (6 Lok Sabha + 8 Rajya Sabha); 36 MLAs, 21 MLCs and seven nominated experts. 

The BMC should have an upgraded secretariat, headed by a chief commissioner, who would be a full-time serving additional chief secretary equal in rank to the chief secretary of the state. He would be assisted by eight commissioners of the rank of principal secretary to head the departments of revenue and finance, transport, environment and waste management, culture and education, water, energy, roads, parks and open spaces, health, industry and commerce, and public grievances and citizens’ participation.

As no legislator will agree to make the BBMP all-powerful or for a directly elected mayor, who will be a rival to the chief minister, the practical way is to bring in the legislators and municipal representatives together with the CM as chairman, assisted by a higher level, accountable bureaucracy. The role of the 41 town councils within the BMR will be as in the 33 boroughs of the Greater London Authority — all residual maintenance functions except major inter-town matters within the BMR.  

For comparison, Goa has an area of 3,702 sq km, 15 lakh population, 17 towns, 188 panchayats, 40 MLAs, 3 MPs and one-twentieth of Karnataka’s GSDP. Yet, Goa is a full-fledged state with a secretariat of 12 secretaries and a chief secretary. So, there is every justification for Bengaluru Metropolitan Region to have an administration of a higher status than at present. Otherwise, Bengaluru will soon go from the ‘Boom City’ to ‘Doom City’.  

(The writer is former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)

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