25 years after the 74th Constitutional Amendment (Nagarapalika Act) prescribed effective citizen participation through ward committees, to bring in accountability of the local councillor to the community, an opportunity is at last being given to citizens to get into ward committees. Till now, if at all the ward committees were constituted; councillors were themselves nominating the individual members and registered associations who would sit on ward committees. It was not surprising that the ward committees used to be filled with the councillors’ own party-men and cronies, defeating the purpose of the ward committees. The two seats for registered associations used to be filled by them with organisations which had no history of involvement in civic issues, such as Wrestlers’ Associations, Ganesha Festival Committees, temple trusts, etc.
Since ward committees had not been constituted after BBMP elections in 2015, despite several orders of the High Court, at a hearing of the Court on April 24th of the case (WP 24739/2012) related to garbage management and ward committees, the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka fixed a time-frame of one month within which the ward committees had to be constituted. Immediately, the Mayor asked the councillors of the 198 wards to give by May 10th eight names of individuals (2 SC/STs, 3 women and 3 belonging to general category) and two of registered associations from their wards to serve on the ward committees. But due to councillors’ lack of interest in the constitution of ward committees which would reduce their powers, very few of them responded to the Mayor’s direction. So much so that she had to extend the deadline to May 15.
But this practice of councillors nominating the names was challenged by CIVIC in the High Court during a next hearing of the case. CIVIC brought to the attention of the Court that as per Section 13H(2)(b) of the KMC (Amdt.) Act of 2011, the Ward Committee members are to be “nominated by the Corporation”, which means the Commissioner, and that it does not say that councillors are to nominate the names, and that the purpose of the committees would not be fulfilled if councillors were to continue nominating the members. As a result, the Division Bench of Justice Ashok B. Hinchigeri and Justice K.S. Mudagal gave an oral order that not more than two or three names should be chosen from the list submitted by the councillors and that other suggestions by citizens should also be considered.
Several citizens attempted to give their applications to councillors of their wards. But many councillors refused to take their applications saying that their lists had already been finalised. Based on the order of the High Court, citizens were advised by CIVIC to submit their applications to the BBMP Commissioner and not to the councillor. About 250 applications have thus been submitted by citizens to the BBMP Commissioner.
A team comprising members of Lancha Mukta Karnataka Nirmana Vedike (LMKNV), Janasangrama Parishath & CIVIC met the Mayor on 16th May. She too accepted that ‘nomination by the Corporation’ meant ‘nomination by the Commissioner’ and that the councillor could only recommend names. LMKNV submitted copies of the 35 applications of honest social workers to her and secured an assurance from her that citizens’ applications would also be considered before finalising the lists of ward committee members.
At the hearing on 1st June before a fresh Bench of Justice N K Sudhindra Rao and Justice Jayant Patel, BBMP submitted that 68 ward committees had been constituted and that the remaining 130 ward committees would be set up within the next two weeks. The Justices while granting the extension of two weeks also reiterated that the applications from citizens should also be considered.
Thus, for the first time after 25 years, there is an opportunity for any voter in a ward to apply and be considered to serve on the ward committee (WC) and contribute in deciding the development plans and expenditures for his/her ward as it is the WC which proposes and finalizes all developmental works in the Ward.
Since only 250 applications have been submitted by citizens so far for the 1980 posts in 198 wards, we appeal to all voters to make use of this golden opportunity to serve their ward by applying for WC membership to the BBMP Commissioner. They can contact BBMP nodal officers of their wards for any clarifications. The qualification criteria for becoming a WC member are the same as that for becoming a councillor. Also, the person’s name should be present on the latest electoral roll of the ward.
Enthused by the Court order, the LMKNV team has also met many BBMP Joint Commissioners in charge of the eight BBMP zones and apprised them that it is the BBMP Commissioner, through his official machinery, who is responsible for finalising the list of WCs and not the Corporators. The LMKNV team has also filed RTI applications seeking lists of WCs given by Corporators to the BBMP and also the final list submitted by BBMP to the Hon’ble High Court. If the lists are found to be similar, then it can be concluded that the Corporator’s list has been forwarded by BBMP without ensuring proper compliance with the KMC (Amdt.) Act of 2011 and also the spirit of citizen participation enshrined in the 74th Constitutional Amendment. As BBMP officials are made aware of the above facts, they have promised LMKNV that they will include names of honest social workers in the WC and not pass on the Corporator’s list as it is to the Hon’ble High Court.
As there are still some ten days left before finalization of the lists and submission to the Court, we appeal to the common citizens to utilize this opportunity to immediately apply and become part of governance at their ward level and bring in the much-needed transparency and accountability in BBMP. Applicants can refer to Facebook group “BBMP-Ward-Committee” and download sample documents for applications and also refer to simplified version or KMC Act.