“Voters not sophisticated enough for ward committee elections”

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“I’m a defaulter”, he says laughing, for having dodged this interview for several weeks. Dressed casually in a pink striped shirt and black trousers he sits down to talk, in the backdrop of the public consultation of the urban development draft policy in Bengaluru. This policy was drafted in light of the challenges related to urban governance and to chart a new course for urban areas in the state.

Former Corporator and now Minister for Law, Parliamentary affairs and Urban Development, S Suresh Kumar appears to have his priorities right. “We have to learn lessons from Bangalore. Bangalore should be repeated for good reasons”, he says, referring to the draft policy for the state.

Minister S Suresh Kumar and Dr A Ravindra, Advisor to Chief Minister on urban affairs, at the public consultation of the Karnataka Urban development draft policy. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

Dr A Ravindra, Advisor to the Chief Minister on urban affairs, is the author of the draft policy which was released in November last year by Kumar. On January 8th 2010, the Ministry held a workshop to discuss the draft policy.

Citizen Matters spoke to Kumar after the workshop, questioning him on urban development and Bengaluru.  The draft policy proposes measures for democratising urban governance, somewhat on the lines of the Kasturirangan committee report and ABIDe’s Bengaluru Governance draft Bill. Cutting straight to reforms for city elections, a line from the draft states, “…a system of elected ward committees, with members ideally drawn from different neighbourhoods within a ward through elections…”.

But immediately after the public consultation, Kumar’s views seemed to be in contrast to what his own ministry’s draft policy suggests!

That (electing people into ward committees) is a very sensitive issue. Though it has good intentions it will definitely, it will create a clash. Because in each ward there will be a councillor or corporator. He is an elected man. He thinks he is incharge of the whole ward. Upto the extent where ward committee members are nominated, he may agree.  He will not agree for the elections, elected persons.

And there is a practical difficulty also, if we have a directly-elected mayor and if we have neighbourhood committee also for which election should take place, each voter will cast four votes. Our voters, they are not so much sophisticated to distinguish between these things.

And the primary reason, more than all these things, the councillors, the political parties, they don’t want elections to ward committees because definitely we will be creating clash of interests in the wards. For example, so far in Jaipur, in Jaipur the Mayor elected is from Congress, the body is from BJP. You just imagine the clash that may take place in future.

(Note for readers: Till recently, the mayor was chosen indirectly through elected corporators. But last year, for the very first time, Jaipur citizens directly elected their Mayor. This after the state government amended the Rajasthan Municipal Act.)

But what is your personal view?

Personal thing is, it takes time. It is too early for us to implement the elections to the ward committees. It is too early.

What is your party (BJP) saying about this?

Party, we have not seriously discussed this. But the general opinion of our people in the party, of our workers in the party is ward committees should not have elected members. It will create unsolvable problems.

The draft policy also goes into the need to amend the Land Acquisition Act, Karnataka Land Revenue Act and Karnataka Land Reforms Act and also simplify the procedures for acquisition/purchase of land (for urban development). This was met with a lot of objections during the public consultation with an argument over vertical growth versus horizontal growth.>

Attendees of the workshop insisted that the draft policy be put before the Cabinet only after thorough public consultation across the state. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

In line with this, rapid roadwidening in Bengaluru is part of the state government’s urban development thrust. The BBMP has for sometime now, tried to use the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) scheme to get citizens to give up their properties on roads being widened. On questioning Kumar about the lack of awareness of the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) scheme, here is what he said.

See TDR has not become a success in Bangalore because it is not being a citizen-friendly act. TDR may help the developers, the persons with huge property, not to the individual who loses his property. So we have to make it more citizen-friendly and we have to give more publicity for that and before that we have to involve the important persons who will lose their property in this widening and other things. Unfortunately it was brought in a hurry. Now we are reworking  on it.

Moving on to a different topic. The draft policy talks about the urban poor.  It mentions the fact that different government departments act independently to tackle urban poor issues, rather than a single body with responsibility for their welfare, and suggests the setting up of a single agency like an Urban Poverty Alleviation Cell. Urban poor issues generally come up before and during elections. Everyone wants to do something for the poor.

Citizen Matters asks Kumar: As a politician elected from Bangalore (which has a big divide between haves and have nots) why do you think the poor continue to remain poor, whereas people like you and me, are where we are?

As rightly pointed out, there are ‘n’ number of policies to alleviate poverty. There are any number of policies which can make the poor to come out of that poverty line. But unfortunately, due to various reasons, due to systemic errors, due to political leaders reluctance, these policies are not reaching the poor. So they remain poor because of lack of will on the political side or administrative side to make the policies reach the poor. That we have to change.

And (for) poor people, as rightly pointed by one of my friends, alleviation (of) poverty should become the main agenda. And poor persons, poor people, they have the right to come above the poverty line. So remembering poor people only during elections for their votes and staying with rich people after the elections for their notes will not help.

Even as various governments make efforts to provide basic amenities such as housing to the urban poor, during the construction of these housing complexes, rehabilitation is not taken into consideration. A recent example being the case of a low income neighbourhood near JP Nagar’s Ragigudda temple where the chief minister laid the foundation stone for a housing complex. But the residents have been temporarily shifted to tin sheds, with no proper toilet facilities and irregular water supply. A member at the workshop reminded the minister that there is no mention of displacement and rehabilitation and that the Karnataka Rehabilitation Act has never been used.

Kumar’s reaction is an open admission of the lacuna, and little else.

See, this transition facility during the construction period should also become part of the whole project. Unfortunately, that aspect is not at all taken into consideration. Like this operation maintenance aspect is not taken up, not taken as a part of the total project. So we have to seriously think about it, make proper arrangement, even during the transit period they have to be accommodated in a better livable condition with all the necessary things like toilet, water, roads, etc. That should become a part of the project.

Unfortunately we think only about the project, we don’t think about the problem that we create during the project period.

At the workshop, members of the public placed their own suggestions in response to the draft policy. Electricity, social infrastructure, health, ward sabhas and inadequate data base at urban local body level, were some of the issues touched upon.

While many were unhappy with the lack of proper representation in the meeting itself from sections such as the urban poor, others demanded that the notice to such meetings be given much ahead of time to ensure better attendance. Some attendees also said that the draft policy should not be taken to the cabinet without completing a thorough consultation process across the state.

Kumar assured them that meetings will be held in other parts of the state. He said that the draft policy will be placed before the cabinet by February 15th 2010 for approval.

Some recommendations of the urban development draft policy, pending cabinet approval

  1. The Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) should be made a statutory body, with the powers necessary to enforce its planning decisions.
  2. An Urban Poverty Alleviation Cell or Authority must be set up to look at urban poor issues in an integrated manner. Also, the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board Act must be revised in accordance with setting up of this Cell.
  3. A Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC)  must be set up to look into town planning. All Urban Development Authorities must be abolished and their functions transferred to the MPC.
  4. Amend the Land Acquisition Act, Karnataka Land Revenue Act and Karnataka Land reforms Act to simplify the procedure for acquisition or purchase of land. Also, speeden the process of acquiring land for development projects.
  5. An Urban Art Commission or Heritage Commission should be set up for Bangalore with statutory powers to carry out urban conservation  effectively.

Read the urban development draft policy here and send your suggestions to advisor[at]urbanaffairs[dot]in

About Vaishnavi Vittal 140 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

1 Comment

  1. Does not JNNURM funding mandate elected ward committees? I thought the deadline for this was last year.
    what is the mechanism by which the state government proposes to by pass this?

    “Our voters, they are not so much sophisticated to distinguish between these things.” ..

    yes, ofcourse, you know the urban wards mostly have unsophisticated voters like you and me who cannot figure out where to put four stemps on one ballot paper..huh!

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