Ramakrishna B V, 75, is one of the 16 nominated councillors in BBMP now. In April, just before Mayor election, he was in news for alleging that the candidate (current Mayor) D Venkatesh Murthy had encroached Civic Amenity (CA) sites.
Ramakrishna is Joint Secretary of Abhyudaya, a Federation of South Bangalore-based RWA. He had retired as Production Engineer in HAL, and is also President of Radha Krishna Layout RWA now. He, along with other nominated councillors – all BJP supporters – had taken oath on July 2nd and were part of the budget discussions. According to Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, state government can appoint 10% of councillors to city councils from among public.
Ramakrishna’s appointment was seen as a way for government to quell dissent. In this interview with Citizen Matters, he talks about his activism, on toeing party line, and how he has been working as a nominated councillor. Even as councillor, Ramakrishna says that councillors should be under the control of state government and that BBMP should have autonomy only in work execution. He is also a hardcore loyalist of R Ashoka, Deputy Chief Minister and Padmanabha Nagar MLA.
Excerpts from the interview:
It is said that you were nominated to the Council so that you would not continue to be a whistleblower.
That is false. I am still a whistleblower. I am not fighting individually, but through Abhyudaya. In the case of Venkatesh Murthy’s CA site encroachment, we are following the case between Murthy and BBMP (Murthy is fighting a court case against BBMP saying that he owns the site; BBMP has said that Murthy encroached the land). As Abhyudaya Joint Secretary I have written to BBMP and BDA to get the case cleared immediately. I have not done this as an individual, but as association office bearer. Now as councillor, I can write to Commissioner to get the case cleared.
Since you were nominated by BJP, are there any restrictions on how you work?
My opportunities have only increased. Whatever work I have been getting done earlier, I am doing now too. But as corporator, I can do more work and officers oblige me more. Nominated councillors have the same powers as elected councillors. I can talk to Minister Ashoka as a councillor itself, rather than as Abhyudaya member. Whatever work we have gotten done at Abhyudaya was with Ashoka’s support, and he nominated me as councillor.
Are you an active BJP member?
I am an RSS man, having joined the Sangh at the age of nine. And have BJP membership. I work for the party in election campaigns, but do not go for its processions. I have supported BJP right from the time of Jana Sangh. I am also the President of Padmanabha Nagar Vidhan Sabha Kshethra Brahmanara Sabha.
Were you nominated to Council based on party affiliation?
No, I was selected by Ashoka only because of the public service I have done. There are many other people in the party who fight for public cause, but I was selected for my contributions.
Can you tell us about your work so far?
I have been active with Abhyudaya since 2002, after my retirement. In 2006-10, during Administrator’s tenure in BBMP, Abhyudaya held some 35 ward sabha meetings in which public could interact with BBMP, BESCOM and BWSSB officials. We got works worth Rs 18 cr done from Hoskerehalli to ISRO Layout, including road works and provision of water supply connections. At the time I had stopped many poor quality asphalting works. I am a mechanical engineer by qualification and was in state PWD initially, so I knew when the work was poor. All this happened through Abhyudaya.
As a BJP supporter, do you have to toe the party line in Council? What if you do not agree with a decision by the party?
I have to be on BJP’s side because of my affiliation to the party. I cannot go against the party. Fighting for public cause is different from party affiliation. If I do not agree with a decision by BJP, I can give suggestions and say that it is wrong, but I cannot reject the decision completely. For example, in the case of budget, I can point out that only 42% of projected revenue was collected last year, and can suggest ways to get revenue. But I cannot oppose the party’s decision like the Congress or JD(S) do. It is left to the party to take my suggestion or leave it. Anyway, BJP will not do anything against public interest.
Ideally, do you think government should be nominating councillors irrespective of their political affiliations? Here all nominated councillors are BJP members.
Yes, all 16 nominated councillors are from BJP. Ideally independents should also be elected. But even for MLC seats, nominations are always along party lines. All parties have been doing this.
How did you contribute to budget discussion this time?
Senior corporators do not allow others to participate. I wanted to talk in Council and gave my name to Council BJP leader N Nagaraju before the meeting, but he said that senior party leaders should be given the chance.
I had suggestions on how BBMP can get revenue without taking loans. Central and state governments collect Rs 60,000 cr from Bangalore annually as taxes like income tax, sale tax, service tax etc. Central government returns 70% of its collection to state government as grants. So BBMP can pass a resolution to ask state government to give 8-10% of its revenue from Bangalore, to BBMP. This amount itself will come to Rs 9,000-10,000 cr. This is as per information collected by CAF (Citizens Action Forum). (CAF is a city-based federation of RWAs.)
N S Mukunda, Secretary of Abhyudaya and President of CAF, says, “This concept of nomination itself is not good. Nominations should be done on the basis of expertise – those who are experts in some areas (like traffic) can be nominated, to advise the Council. Ramakrishna has done good work with Abhyudaya for long. Since he is nominated, we have an opportunity to push our suggestions in Council.”
I am the senior most member in Council now; I should have been given a chance to contribute. But this was only my first session; I may be given a chance next time. I will put forth this suggestion in the next Council meeting.
The budget was inflated as usual, and finally over Rs 300 cr was added to it. Your comments on this.
If BBMP collects tax properly, the Rs 9000 cr budget can be achieved. Rs 3500 cr can be collected from malls and commercial complexes which are left out now. BBMP has identified 18.5 lakh properties so far; but CAF, in its assessment, has identified 21 lakh properties.
But it is not possible to achieve the collection target this year as it is July and there is not enough time. It will spill over to next year.
As councillor, which issues will you highlight?
I will talk about financial matters and garbage management. Bangalore should be made garbage-free; plastic bags should be completely banned. Abhyudaya has worked on creating awareness about garbage segregation. While BBMP plans to set up waste segregation centres in each ward, Padmanabha Nagar does not have land to set up one such centre as there are no CA sites here; the sites have been lost because of encroachment.
Before Council sessions start, corporators meet in their respective party offices and discuss the meeting agenda. As nominated corporator, do you do this?
Yes, we first have to go to party leader’s office. Party should tell us what the agenda for the day is, and what stand we have to take. But I have not done this yet, as only senior leaders attend these meetings. So far, nominated councillors have not been accepted as councillors.
Corporators are reluctant to share power, and feel that nominated councillors are not on par with them. There was opposition to our nominations itself in the Council initially. Nominations should have been done two-and-half years back, when the Council was formed. But councillors did not want this. But now under Minister Ashoka’s pressure, the nominations were made.
Do you think state government and its ministers are controlling BBMP too much?
Ashoka is in-charge minister for Bangalore, and should have control over BBMP. State government also should have control, including in financial and policy matters. BBMP should have autonomy only in work execution. This is because state government is financially helping BBMP – in addition to grants, it gives 35% of JNNURM grants also. It also deputes officers to BBMP.
The change needed now, is to increase Mayor’s term to five years instead of one year. Mayor should be elected directly so that he has no party affiliation. If not, at least there should be the five-year term. Currently, Mayor cannot do anything – he spends the first three months accepting thanks, then the budget gets delayed and there is no time for implementation. Public should have the chance of recalling Mayor also if he does not work in public interest. BBMP’s financial audit should also be done.
Why do you think government control is necessary?
If elected representatives are given autonomy, they will be difficult to control, and administration will go to the dogs. There is too much corruption; lower cadres of the party are getting works done in the name of corporators. In policy matters, BBMP’s legal cell is not competent to give opinions, but government’s law department is competent. There should be transferable posts for councillors – they should be transferred from one city council to another. Administration should be left to the Commissioner. Bodies like Election Commission, CAG and CBI should be strengthened.⊕