Raids not enough, BDA needs to be re-formed

Raids not enough, BDA needs to be re-tasked, re-formed

BDA raid

‘Raid at BDA HQ unearths corruption’ — there is nothing surprising about this headline which appeared a few days ago. It is common knowledge that corruption is a functional disorder in several government bodies, more so in the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). What was surprising was the large number of sleuths from the ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau) swooping on the office of the city’s development authority responsible for allocation of sites to the people.

The fact that the BDA deals with urban land, which is the most valuable commodity in an urban agglomeration, makes it the richest organisation in the city in terms of immovable assets. The power to acquire private land, develop it into layouts and allocate plots to individuals and institutions makes it an unmatched property czar. The purpose of vesting such power in a public authority is to ensure adequate supply of land for the residential, commercial and infrastructure needs of the city and their allocation in a just and equitable manner. Unfortunately, most of the ruling elite and staff of the BDA tend to misuse this power for their personal gain rather than exercise it in public interest. No wonder, several BDA employees have turned crorepatis.

Can the BDA, playing the dual role of a city planning and development agency and fraught with a plethora of problems, be reformed? The question was examined in depth by two committees set up by the state government to improve the urban governance of Bengaluru, the first in the late nineties and the second around 2007. I happened to be a member of both the committees which recommended drastic structural changes that included winding up the BDA in its present form, separating planning and development functions and changes in the land policies crucial for any urban reform. Unfortunately, they were not implemented or even seriously considered by the government.

Now, things seem to have gone from bad to worse. Raids by themselves will not help reform any institution. They are aimed at exposing some officials who are supposed to have illegally accumulated wealth, and in creating a sense of fear among others. Past experiences have shown that few get punished, given the lengthy legal process of enquiry involved and the political influence the corrupt officials enjoy. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has said that there would be no interference in the investigation; if he is genuinely serious about setting things right, he must undertake the following reforms that can bring about far-reaching changes:

1. Planning is the most important tool for coping with the pressures of growth of a city to provide housing, infrastructure and civic amenities. A large and rapidly growing city like Bengaluru, with multiple organisations catering to various services, needs an integrated planning machinery with a metropolitan vision and a clear mandate to not only plan but to coordinate and monitor the entire process. The BDA has utterly failed to perform this function effectively and as such, it must be divested of its planning function, which must necessarily be vested in the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), the constitutionally mandated body to prepare the Metropolitan Development Plan, with the required technical and administrative support.

2. In the present era of liberalisation, where the private sector is also playing a vital role in development, the function of providing the housing and infrastructure requirements of a city can be better discharged by a corporate body than a statutory authority. The BDA can therefore take on the role of a metropolitan-level infrastructure development agency and execute projects on a contractual and commercial basis. For this purpose, it may be reconstituted as a Company under the Companies Act. Alternatively, a Bengaluru Land Development and Housing Corporation can be set up as a joint public-private venture, where the BDA can be the public sector partner and also ensure fulfilment of the government’s objective of meeting the needs of weaker sections.

3. Considering the scarcity of urban land and its high prices, a policy decision must be taken to stop allotment of individual sites to all categories of people. This will put an end to all the irregularities and corrupt practices associated with site allotment. The priority must be to build affordable housing within the reach of lower income groups, which must be a mandate for the corporate entity proposed above.

Finally, citizens must mount pressure on the government to act without delay on cleansing the BDA of its dross and establish a new mechanism to provide land and housing without hassles to the growing population of the state’s capital, projected to reach 15 million by 2030. Ultimately, it is the people’s power that works. The present raids on the BDA and across many departments seem to have been triggered by the complaint made by the Contractor’s Association regarding the high premium on award of contracts demanded by the powers that be, to none other than the Prime Minister. It may be recalled that Narendra Modi himself had branded the previous government a ‘10%’ regime and to be told that the present saffron regime has excelled the previous one must have come as an affront to one who claims that his government is corruption-free.

When I first took over as chairman of the BDA in the mid-nineties, the first thing that struck me was the huge number of visitors in its corridors. Gradually, the visitors started drifting to my office with a litany of woes. Soon, a group of people representing some voluntary associations met me and invited me to a meeting to discuss the problems they were facing in the BDA.

As I entered the meeting hall, I found a huge gathering waiting to pounce on me for all the ills of the BDA. I faced a volley of questions on the omissions and commissions of the authority, which in sum, reflected a high level of corruption. Without offering any defence of the organisation I headed, I said that corruption could not be tackled by the government alone and it would need the cooperation of the people, and invited their representatives for a discussion. After prolonged deliberations, it was decided to set up a joint platform of civic authorities (BDA & BBMP) and civil society representing different stakeholders to address people’s problems and improve delivery of services in the city. Named ‘Swabhimana’, it initiated a number of measures to improve civic governance with positive outcomes.

Government-people partnership is the way forward.

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

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