BBMP Elections: A Backgrounder

The pitfalls of an overly centralised governance structure, without adequate devolution of power and funds at the local level, was increasingly becoming grave. The 74th Constitutional Amendment was enacted to devolve powers to the Urban Local Bodies and to strengthen citizen participation at the local level. Local governments reflect the will of the people either by direct individual participation or through interest group action. (Reference

However, various state governments have delayed holding elections to Urban Local Bodies and misused provisions to dissolve the councils due to political reasons. Jammu Kashmir, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh , Gujrat, are just few of the states that have deliberately delayed elections to the local bodies. In many such instances, the Judiciary has come down heavily on state governments. In the month of March this year, the Andhra Pradesh High Court and Karnataka High Court considered two Writ Petitions against the delay in conduct of elections to Urban Local Bodies. The Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed the Government of Telangana to conduct the elections at the earliest, failing which the High Court would announce schedule for the elections. (Reference

These instances indicate a dangerous trend in our democracy. The attempt by various state governments to delay elections to Urban Local Bodies, and appointing administrators/other officers in the interim to carry out the role of the Urban Local Bodies. Not only are state governments violating constitutional provisions, but also diluting the scope for citizen participation in urban governance.

In 2006, after the term of the Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BMP) ended in 2006, the State Government postponed elections to the BMP on the grounds that there was a proposal for reconstituting the territorial jurisdiction of the BMP, by inclusion of seven City Municipal Councils and one Town Municipality. An administrator was appointed to look after the administration of the BMC. The appointment of the administrator was challenged by a former councilor PR Ramesh. The Karnataka High Court allowed the Writ Petition and directed the State Government to hold elections. The decision was assailed by the Supreme Court and the elections to the BBMP was held in 2010. The term of the current council ends on April 22nd 2015.

The recent events in the State of Karnataka highlight the State Government’s total disregard for the Constitution and the citizens’ prerogative to elect their representatives. In CK Ramamurthy and others vs. State Election Commission and others, Justice BV Nagarathna has directed the State Election Commission to complete the process of election to the BBMP on or before May 30th 2015.  This decision has been challenged by the State Government, and the Writ Appeal is pending before the High Court.

It is pertinent to note that the honorable Supreme Court through a multitude of decisions has held that elections cannot be delayed under any circumstance. As this juncture, it becomes relevant to mention some of the decisions.

The honorable Supreme Court in Election Commission: In Re: Special Reference No. 1 of 2002, (2002) 8 SCC 237 has succinctly observed that-

 “ A democratic form of government would survive only if there are elected representatives to rule… Any decision to postpone elections on unreasonable grounds is anathema to a democratic form of Government and it is subject to judicial review on traditionally accepted grounds… It is the duty of the State Election Commission to see that election is done in a free and fair manner to keep democratic form of Government vibrant and active.”

Similarly, in the case of Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the city of the City of Ahmedabad and others the honorable Supreme court held that-

“it is true that there may be certain man-made calamities, such as rioting or breakdown of law and order, or natural calamities which would distract the authorities from holding elections to the Municipality, but they are exceptional circumstances and under no circumstance the election commission would be justified in delaying the process of election after consulting the State Government and other authorities. But that should be an exceptional circumstance and shall not be a regular feature to extend the duration of the Municipality. Going by the provisions in Article 243-U , it is clear that the period of five years fixed thereunder to constitute the Municipality is mandatory in nature and has to be followed in all respects. It is only when the Municipality is dissolved for any reason and the reminder of the period for which the dissolved Municipality would have continued is less than 6 months, it shall be necessary to hold any elections for constituting the Municipality for such period. “

Periodical conduct of elections is an integral part of any free and fair elections. However, the State government has deliberately delayed the elections. The State Election Commission has stated that the State Government has not been cooperating with the Commission, despite its efforts since June, 2013. The state government had not taken steps towards the de-limitation of the constituency and de-reservation of wards, despite repeated reminders from the State Election Commission.  

Now under the guise of trifurcation, the State Government wants to delay elections to the BBMP. The petitioners contended that the election to the BBMP should be conducted on time, and that the issue of bifurcation and trifurcation of BBMP has nothing to do with the timely conduct of elections. The State Government cannot use the excuse of BBMP division to not fulfil its constitutionally mandated function.

Does the State Government have any basis for dissolution of BBMP?

The very events that led to the State Government announcing the delay in holding elections indicates extraneous reasons for the delay. The one member Kataria Committee was set up to probe irregularities in the BBMP. On the basis of this report, a show cause notice was issued to the BBMP council. This was vehemently opposed by the ruling party in BBMP. Council member NR Ramesh has even gone on to state that the notice, issued on the basis of Rajendra Kumar Kataria Committee report on the poor administration of the Palike, was “flawed” as the report itself had shortcomings. “The committee didn’t record the statements of officials, employees or even the elected representatives. The report is not substantiated by hard evidence. Rather, it relies on some newspaper reports and the TVCC (Technical and Vigilance Committee under Commissioner) report”. (Reference)  

Is misadministration a solid ground for dissolution and is this the first time that the council is plagued by maladministration?

News reports mention that some of the reasons quoted in the report for the supersession of the BBMP are large-scale irregularities in the transportation of garbage, financial mismanagement, leaking of advertising revenue, duplication of work etc. 

These are serious lapses that require close scrutiny and require systemic changes. However, the problems mentioned, have plagued the BBMP since the very beginning. By not taking steps earlier to correct course, and choosing to dissolve the council at the fag end of its term, seriously reeks of mala fide intention on the part of the State Government to delay elections. 

Even if the BBMP is plagued by irregularities and corruption, it is the mandate of the people to vote them out.  The timing of the report, along with the reasons stated for dissolution completely lacks objectivity.

Dissolution is not a solution for the maladministration. There are larger issues, due to which, Bengaluru is being governed by an overstrained, inefficient and corrupt governance machinery. It is more important to study and address these issues, rather than dissolve the BBMP. The BBMP Restructuring committee in its second interim report has recommended that 5-8 municipalities should be set up, instead of one single corporation Bengaluru (Reference). The findings need further discussion, especially in terms of the distribution of manpower and financial resources. In the meanwhile, the State government has promulgated an ordinance for the trifurcation of BBMP, and had sent it for the governor’s consent. However the ordinance was returned by the governor to the State government. The timing of the ordinance, and the manner in which the State government has gone ahead with the same, is a direct assault on democracy.

The Constitution provides for the constitution of a Metropolitan Planning Committee in every metropolitan area for developing a draft development plan for the metropolitan area as a whole (Reference). However, the MPC was constituted almost two decades after the 74th Amendment in Bengaluru. Even after being constituted last year, the MPC has not even met once. In this regard, the State should amend the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976 and the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee Rules, 2014 to strengthen the MPC.

The State should strengthen Ward Committees and suitably amend the KMC Act, to remove the veto powers of the Chairperson. For a truly representative polity at the grassroots level, the area sabhas should be set up.

It should be acknowledged that the governance deficit cannot be merely attributed to BBMP’s unwieldy size. By doing so, the fundamental reasons for poor governance are being entirely missed. Until the issue of administrative incompetence, cronyism, understaffing and financial devolution aren’t adequately dealt with, the whole exercise of BBMP restructuring would be futile.

Timeline of Events

 

2006

Term of the Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike ended and the government postpones elections to BMP. An Administrator is appointed in the interim. A former councilor challenges the appointment of the Administrator before the Karnataka High Court.

July 2nd 2008

Karnataka High Court allowed the Writ Petition and directed the State Government to conduct elections to the BBMP.

March 6th 2010

State Election Commission published Notification to hold elections to BBMP.

April 23rd 2010

The first meeting of the newly constituted corporation held.

September 22nd 2014

BBMP restructuring Committee set up by State Government for a period of 3 months.

December 24th 2014

Term of BBMP Committee extended by 6 months.

February 19th 2015

State Government constituted the Rajendra Kataria Committee to look into probe financial irregularities in BBMP.

February 25th 2015

Corporator C.K.Ramamurthy and others file a Writ Petition, praying for directions to the State Government to hold elections to the BBMP before the term of the council ending on 22 April, 2015.

March 5th 2015

Kataria Committee report submitted to the State Government.

March 18th 2015

Show Cause Notice was issued to BBMP on the basis of the Rajendra Kumar Kataria report, seeking a reply before 30 March, 2015.

March 30th 2015

Karnataka High Court directs the State Government to hold elections to the BBMP on or before 30 May, 2015.

April 9th 2015

State Government files an appeal against the single judge decision of the Karnataka High Court.

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