Reboot governance  

Reboot governance  

The govt must approach the proposed reforms in the genuine spirit of transformation, not as a political gimmick

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Last Updated : 21 June 2024, 23:51 IST

The Government of Karnataka is reportedly considering the reorganisation of Bengaluru’s local governance framework by replacing
the present Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Act, 2020.

This initiative appears to be based on the report submitted by the Expert Committee on BBMP Restructuring in June 2015, which recommended replacing the BBMP with a cluster of five municipal corporations (MCs) in the Bengaluru metropolitan area.

The goal is to enhance the quality of life for residents by improving infrastructure and services and ensuring the accountability of public service providers. However, many sections of residents distrust this move, fearing it will further delay the elections to the city government, which have already been delayed by nearly four years. 

There are concerns that some political leaders may exploit this reorganisation to gain electoral dividends by manipulating the boundaries of the prospective five MCs. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of the proposed reforms, assess their adequacy to meet the said objectives, and ensure the government’s commitment to transparency. 

Key recommendations 

The expert committee’s systemic reform package includes several forward-looking and desirable measures to address both current and future needs, as Bengaluru’s population is estimated to exceed two crore by 2040. Key recommendations include: 

i. A tiered structure with the Greater Bengaluru Authority (GBA) as an overarching local planning and coordination agency as the first tier at the metropolitan level; the five MCs and 10 zones as decentralised and autonomous local governments with full empowerment through devolution of power and resources as the second tier; and an empowered ward governance structure with decision-making authority, funds, and community participation through ward committees as the third tier at the hyperlocal level.

ii. Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) for visioning, strategic planning for social and economic development, and facilitating smooth urbanisation of villages within the metropolitan region to sustain and boost Bengaluru’s brand as a preeminent destination for innovation and investment.

iii. Greater Bengaluru Finance Commission (GBFC) to ensure equitable distribution of resources to all the tiers and constituent MCs. 

iv. Greater Bengaluru Services Ombudsman (GBSO) to address citizens’ grievances expeditiously and ensure accountability in the system. 

v. A Mayor with a five-year term for each of the five MCs. The manner of appointment of the Mayor (as to whether directly elected or a Mayor in Council on the lines of the cabinet system) needs careful considerations to be consistent with the parliamentary model of government at
the state and national level and avoid practical challenges in delivering impactful governance. 

vi. The GBA is to be headed initially by the chief minister and is to be gradually transitioned to a directly elected Metropolitan Mayor within a period of 10 years. The other members of the GBA will include the mayors of the constituent MCs, MLAs, representatives of Zilla Parishads (ZPs), parastatals, and domain experts.

vii. Competitive and adequate human resources with innovative options such as lateral entry for sectoral professionals and domain experts

These reforms aim to improve processes, build capacities, enhance transparency and accountability, and increase citizen participation, ultimately fostering the trust of citizens in their local government, improving tax remittances, fiscal discipline, reducing red tape, reducing corruption, and enhancing the overall quality of life in the city. 

Several challenges must be addressed pragmatically, and the government should be open to improving the design as it drafts the bill.

Firstly, in a situation where different political parties rule the different MCs under the proposed GBA and/or if the party ruling the state (which would control the GBA) is different from those ruling the constituent MCs, there is a significant risk of a governance crisis. Such situations can only be avoided by: 

a) full empowerment of the MCs in terms of functions, funds, and functionaries

b) clear rules and procedures for the transaction of work and seamless coordination between MCs and among other agencies under the GBA and the MPC

c) the political leadership exhibiting a greater degree of maturity and statesmanship by rising above narrow
partisan considerations in the greater public interest 

Secondly, the inordinate delay in conducting BBMP elections after the expiry of its five-year term every time, non-operationalisation of the MPC for over 30 years, flawed delimitation and reservation exercises, dismal coordination among agencies, and lack of consistent two-way communication between citizens and BBMP/GoK on major policy and projects don’t inspire confidence in an effective and competent GBA and the reformed governance framework.

Therefore, at the outset, it is important for the state government to take all stakeholders into confidence by articulating whether the proposed bill would adopt the complete package of the expert committee, publishing the proposed framework and the new bill in the public domain, and giving wide publicity to receive constructive feedback from all quarters. It is vital for the government to treat and position this exercise as a collaborative governance initiative and not as a unilateral political move.

Thirdly, the state government must build adequate safeguards in the proposed restructuring law to instil confidence among all stakeholders that it is a reform effort to reimagine and reboot Bengaluru’s governance in the true spirit of the tech city and avoid the temptation to reduce it to a mere tactic to delay local elections or make petty political gains. A few steps that the government may take in this direction are: 

Entrust the State Election Commission (SEC) with the responsibility of delimitation of wards as well as assigning reservations to them.

Respect the democratic process by committing to a reasonable time frame of, say, six months to conduct elections to the reorganised Greater Bengaluru entities and operationalising the GBA.

Define a practical design to elect (direct or indirect) the Metropolitan Mayor and abide by the 10-year timeline for transitioning the leadership of the GBA from the state government to the Metropolitan Mayor.

Be open to constructive input from the citizens and the Opposition on any matter on the draft bill to further improve the overall design of the framework.

In summary, if the government approaches this with a genuine spirit of reform and decentralisation, as envisaged under the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, the reorganised Greater Bengaluru governance framework could serve as a model for other metro cities in India to emulate.

(The writer is head of civic participation at the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy)


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