Time for a separate Law to govern Bengaluru

Time for a separate Law to govern Bengaluru

A welcome feature of the Karnataka budget for 2020-21 is the announcement by the chief minister regarding the government’s intent to enact a separate legislation for Bengaluru. The need for such a law was first mooted by the Kasturirangan Committee on ‘Governance in the Bangalore Metropolitan Region and BBMP’ in 2008. In fact, a draft Bill had been prepared during the previous BJP regime (2008-13) during Yediyurappa’s first term as CM.For some reason, it did not see the light of day. It would be useful to recapture the salient features of the earlier draft Bill which are summarised below.

Known as the Bangalore Metropolitan Governance Bill, its objective was “to provide for responsive, democratic, transparent and accountable governance in the urban local bodies in the Bangalore Metropolitan Region.” Broadly speaking, it sought to give a new shape to the governance system not only in the city municipal jurisdiction but in the entire metropolitan region that includes Bengaluru Urban, Rural and Ramanagara districts, covering an area of over 8,000 sq km. Its focus areas included: a) metropolitan planning, b) restructuring the municipal corporation (BBMP) and redefining the role of the parastatal organisations like BWSSB and, c) governance reforms to ensure greater accountability and transparency among the functionaries.

Metropolitan Planning: As envisaged by the Constitution, a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) is constituted for the entire Bengaluru metropolitan region. It consists of members elected from the local bodies in the region including the BBMP, the municipal councils and panchayats (two-thirds) and those nominated by the government (one-third), including representatives of the Centre, the state government, legislators, representatives of industry and experts. The chief minister is the chairman of the MPC and the mayor of BBMP its vice chairman.

The functions of MPC are primarily to prepare a draft development plan for the region, taking into consideration the plans prepared by the local authorities, the overall objectives and priorities of the government and the nature of investments likely to be made in the region. Metropolitan Standing Committees would be constituted to prepare sectoral plans. The BMRDA would act as the secretariat to the MPC and the Metropolitan Commissioner its member-secretary.

Restructuring BBMP: A major change from the existing system is the provision for a directly elected mayor with a term of five years. There will be a Mayoral Committee, somewhat analogous to  the cabinet at the state level, and the mayor will allocate subjects (portfolios) to the members of the committee, who shall be responsible for the affairs under their domain, such as Finance, Public Health, Public Works, etc. In keeping with the principle of decentralisation, there are ward committees responsible for the affairs of the ward, with clearly defined functions like preparation of ward plans, supervision and maintenance of roads, solid waste management, etc.

Some other important changes pertain to the functions of parastatals relating to water supply and planning. At present, water supply and distribution is the sole responsibility of BWSSB. The Bill proposed that the function of BWSSB may be restricted to bulk supply of water and the responsibility for distribution be vested in BBMP. This was done keeping in view the fact that the elected representatives should be involved in dealing with an essential daily need of the people like water. Similarly, the BDA will be divested of its city planning function, which would be vested with the MPC. The BDA will serve as an urban infrastructure development authority.

Governance Reforms: Provisions to improve the performance of the BBMP and other civic institutions include making regulations for award of contracts, procurement of goods and services, prescribing performance standards and public-private partnerships. While public disclosure of information is mandatory under the Right to Information Act, such information should include the administrative structure, finances and operations of civic services.

The previous government under Siddaramaiah had constituted a Bengaluru Restructuring Committee to mainly consider splitting the BBMP into smaller corporations and other aspects relating to effective municipal governance. The committee recommended that a single civic body like BBMP for the expanded area of over 700 sq km was unsustainable and, in its place, there should be five municipal corporations — one each for the central, northern, southern, eastern and western regions of the city. It also recommended a three-tier governance structure comprising a Greater Bangalore Authority (GBA-tier 1), the five municipal corporations (tier 2) and the Ward Committee at the local level.

The GBA at the apex level would be responsible for city-level planning, coordination of activities of the various civic agencies and decision-making on strategic projects relating to arterial roads, mass transportation and city-wide infrastructure. The municipal corporations would perform the civic functions prescribed under the Act and the ward committees would be responsible for decentralised activities like solid waste management, road maintenance, etc. The committee further suggested a Greater Bengaluru Finance Commission to ensure proper devolution of funds to local authorities and an ombudsman to act as a vigilance body.

With substantial work on the content and form of the Bill already done, what is now required is for the government to review the material on the table and take decisions. Certain key issues need close attention: Should there be a directly elected mayor? What should be her term and powers? Should the MPC’s jurisdiction extend over the entire Bengaluru metropolitan region or be limited to the metropolitan area (BDA jurisdiction)? Should its function be restricted to preparation of the draft metropolitan development plan as required under the Constitution or include statutory city planning and coordination? What should be the extent of decentralisation to ward committees? Should BBMP be replaced by two or more smaller municipal corporations? How to strengthen local resources? These are critical decisions to be taken.

It is important for the citizens of Bengaluru to know the contents of the new Bill before it is made into a law. Government must therefore adopt a transparent process by preparing a draft Bill and put it out in the public domain for debate and discussion. After considering the public comments and suggestions, the final Bill may be prepared and introduced in the legislature for discussion and passing.

Governance of a city like Bengaluru, which holds great promise and poses great challenges, needs a sound legal framework, with well-defined functions and functionaries and adequate resources. The sooner a Metropolitan Governance Act is in place the better.

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

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