It’s unlikely that this level of questioning has happened systematically at public election events in Bengaluru before. During the last ten days of campaigning, BBMP council candidates around the city were grilled on tough questions: growth limits for the city, cash compensation for property losers from roadwidening, support from Akrama/Sakrama and more.
In addition to the expected and nevertheless important questions water supply, garbage and electricity, 37 candidates from across the city and across party lines were asked to take a stand on key policy issues in terms of ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ with explanations. While some of these questions were posed at public debates held in various parts of Bangalore, others were asked during personal interviews. (Also note that some questions were not posed to all of the 37 candidates)
For a city that is seeing a plethora of projects, multiple attempts to bring in reforms and an ever-increasing influx of people, these candidates took a position on some of the most controversial issues that have hogged the city.
In some cases, candidates of a party spoke in one voice. Take the BJP for example, all six who were asked to explain their take on Akrama-Sakrama spoke in favour of the scheme, indicating that they were in full agreement with their party high command.
Five Congress candidates who were questioned on whether government schools in the city should be English-medium, replied in the positive.
And then there were differences of opinion not only across party lines, but also within. Some completely opposite to what their party leaders have stated publicly in recent times. Slip of tongue, honest mistake or speaking from the heart? Hard to tell until results are announced and all 198 Corporators begin work.
Here are the stands that candidates took on some important matters of policy.
Roadwidening – cash or Transfer of Development Rights?
Starting off with the controversial road widening, candidates were asked if they supported giving a TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) certificate to owners who lose portions of their property or if cash compensation would be better.
This question was raised in the backdrop of the state government recently back-tracking several times on road widening itself and citizens voicing their anger over the project across the city.
Of the 27 candidates questioned on this, 14 of them said cash compensation would be better for property owners, eight said TDR is better any day, while five of them felt that both options need to be kept open.
The ruling party’s candidates are divided on this issue, with two of them saying yes to cash compensation and three sticking to TDR. Three Congress candidates supported cash compensation, while two preferred TDR. One Congress candidate said the government should give what the people want, and thereby keep both options open. A majority of JD(S) candidates also were for cash compensation, with five for it and two for TDR. Interestingly, the four independent candidates questioned were all for cash compensation.
BJP’s H K Muthappa, contesting from BTM Layout (Ward 176) felt that cash compensation is better as people can buy land wherever they want to, while party collegue Katta Jagadish Naidu, contesting from Vasanthnagar (Ward 93) said that the government cannot meet every cash compensation demand.
Independent candidate Harish Gowda, contesting from Sunkenahalli (Ward 142) said, "On the spot cash compensation should be given". Others like Karnataka Rakshana Vedike’s (KRV) Rajagopal, contesting from Banaswadi (Ward 27) said both options should be available to the public since they both have advantages and disadvantages.
Lok Satta’s Prakash Belawadi (contesting in Sunkenahalli, Ward 142) also feels that TDR or cash compensation need to be used as the situation demands. "This is a complex issue. It should be seen that all of society benefits and bears the loss equally".
Ready for a New Bengaluru?
With Bangalore’s increasing population and thereby the spiralling demands for basic amenities, Citizen Matters next asked candidates whether a cap should be put on the city’s growth limit. Here, the votes were split, with 16 in favour of a growth limit and 15 against it.
A major difference in opinion was among two Lok Satta candidates, Belawadi and N S Ramakanth, contesting from Vasanthnagar (Ward 93). Belawadi felt that a growth limit cannot be put on a city like ours but emphasised on the need for planning, his colleague Ramakanth felt there should be a growth limit for the very same reason. "Growth is happening in an unplanned way and the problems will only increase if we do not stop", he said. A Kodandareddy of the BJP, contesting from Banaswadi (Ward 27) also felt that the city has grown enough. "First give supply to those here. Let the others go to zillas", he said.
BJP’s Katta Jagadish Naidu, contesting from Vasanthnagar (Ward 93) said that growth should not be capped as coming to Bangalore is a dream destination for others from smaller towns. Instead he wanted ‘technology’ to be used to solve the problems of growth.
Others like Muthappa and Civic Front’s Asgar Rafiduddin (contesting from BTM Layout, Ward 176) felt that a New Bangalore should be developed just like New Delhi and New Bombay (Mumbai).
C Swarnalatha of JD(S), contesting from Sarakki (Ward 178) said that we need to concentrate on developing other cities on the state and not just Bangalore, and therefore felt the need for a growth limit.
Do the Akrama, bear the Sakrama
Akrama-Sakrama is a crucial and politically loaded issue for Bangalore. Both the JD(S) and the BJP have not been able to settle the issue of massive plan sanction deviations and illegal layouts. More recently, the BJP government’s ordinance (after it reduced penalties to regularise properties) was sent back to Governor H R Bhardwaj on grounds of it being an election gimmick.
While many say that since the Akrama has been done, the Sakrama has to be borne, others are dead against this scheme, arguing that it will only lead to more such violations. In some of the debates, the question became a BJP vs JD(S) political quarrel raising strong emotions amongst the candidates and the audience.
Of the 31 candidates who were asked whether they supported the scheme, 21 said they supported this while the remaining ten did not. All six BJP candidates questioned were in favour of this scheme. Four Congress candidates were for and two were against this. Among the Independent candidates, four supported Akrama Sakrama and one did not.
Now here’s what some of those ten candidates said. JD(S)’s S Ramesh, contesting from Sunkenahalli (Ward 142) said that it was his party supremo H D Devegowda who introduced this and that the BJP has now made it a money-making scheme. Ramesh’a opponent Belawadi asked if the BBMP and the BWSSB are going to pay fines as well since they sanctioned plans for these buildings in the first place. "If the political parties are so concerned about the poor, then let them forget the mistake altogether", he added.
Arun Kumar of the Congress, contesting from Sarakki (Ward 178) also does not support this asking, "If you pay fine, will everything become alright?" On the other hand, B R Naidu (Congress) contesting from Vasanthnagar (Ward 93), supported Akrama Sakrama but spoke about the need for a once-in-a-lifetime settlement for the city. He said, "I think all the wrongs must be made right in the next few years. And then all the decisions that are taken must be right so that this scheme does not have to come up again".
Rajagopal of KRV spoke against the scheme saying people will continue to violate if the scheme is introduced.
English medium in BBMP-run schools
It is well-known that government-run schools in Karnataka are regional language-medium, just like in most other states. However, English-medium schools open up youngsters to better opportunities, and a less-talked about question for local policy makers is should the medium of instruction in Bangalore’s corporation schools remain Kannada or be changed to English. This very question was posed to the corporator-aspirants.
Here again there was a split with 13 saying English should be the medium of instruction and six sticking their guns for Kannada.
Of the five Congress candidates questioned on this, all of them felt English-medium would be better. Three out of four BJP candidates also felt the same. The JD(S) candidates, on the other hand, were more in support of Kannada-medium with five saying so and only one in favour of English as the medium of instruction in BBMP schools.
Most of those who felt that government schools should switch to English-medium argued that in a city like Bangalore, which is on the global map, should have English as the first language and then Kannada.
But those who argued against English said the state language was more important. T Dayanand of JD(S), contesting from BTM Layout (Ward 176) said, "If you learn English, it’ll help you when you go abroad for work. But your mother tongue is also important. So government schools should be Kannada medium but English should be taught as well". His party colleague Swarnalatha felt that English should be the second language but taught like it is the first language. Another JD(S) candidate contesting from Madiwala (Ward 172), Ramakrishna Reddy said, "Kannada is better. Our language is Kannada. You can learn English later. How will Kannada grow otherwise? In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, you will not find english boards".
Rafiuddin of Civic Front said both languages need to be taught but more importantly, the quality of education and infrastructure in these schools need to be looked at.
BMTC bus signboards
Sticking to the language question, candidates were also asked if BMTC buses should have signboards in both English and Kannada, instead of just Kannada. Interestingly, all 22 candidates who were asked this question, replied in support of bilingual boards. All felt that both languages are needed as Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city and has a large migrant population who may or may not know the local language.
Even as these candidates, who will soon be part of the local government process, have this view, the state’s top political leadership who most often take decisions on such matters, have in the past rubbished the need for bilingual signboards.
A case in example is what Transport Minister R Ashoka (MLA, Padmanabhanagar) told Citizen Matters last year that ordinary buses (which have painted destination boards only in Kannada) are used only by Kannada people. He further added that no new plans were being made to change these boards and make them bilingual.
Relief for displaced slum dwellers
Come elections and it is not uncommon to see politicians thronging low income neighbourhoods to woo their votebank, the masses. In this context, Citizen Matters asked the candidates for their take on temporary housing for displaced slum-dwellers while new housing is being built for them. This question itself is never raised often enough, even though it is these citizens who are known to go out on election day and cast their vote.
In some areas of the city, slum-dwellers are forced to fend for themselves on pavements or given crude tin sheds as make-shift homes, while a mega housing project is being carried out for them. And no one knows if the project will be ready on time.
Of the 11 candidates who were asked if better temporary housing should be given to these low-income citizens, seven of them said yes while the remaining four said no.
Congress’s Manjunath Reddy, contesting from Madiwala (Ward 172) said that it is terrible to make people live in tin sheds. "These officials should be made to sit in these tin sheds for two hours during the summer. At least an asbestos sheet house should be given", he said, suggesting that temporary housing can be given in government buildings, community halls and hostels.
Reddy’s party colleague Arun Kumar said there is no space to give alternate housing. "In a few months they will anyways gets permanent housing. Till then they can stay in the tin sheds".
BJP’s Muthappa also said that there is no space to make temporary houses. He however added that there should be no slums in the city. Chandrashekar Raju (BJP), contesting from JP Nagar (Ward 177) said that if pucca houses are made for slum-dwellers for temporary housing, they will then keep this house as well as the new houses that are being built.
Regular meetings with citizens and transparency
Moving to process committments, Citizen Matters asked these corporator-aspirants about how they will engage their ward residents on a regular basis. All of them made promises of holding monthly meetings to review progress of work, along with area officials. In what seemed like a knee-jerk reaction, Independent candidate Harish Gowda, contesting from Sunkenahalli (Ward 142), said that the need for monthly meetings will not arise if he were elected corporator, as all work would be done promptly. His competitors expectedly disagreed.
On transparency and accountability, all candidates again promised to make public the budget and expenditure for all projects carried out in their ward, including monthly status updates.
It is a wonderful story that highlights the democratic process. Frankly, it is heartening to see people running for public office state their policy positions instead of harping on identity politics and the like. Of course, they may still do it in private but at least publicly they are debating serious policy options.
The organizers of these public debates ought to be congratulated for their effort. They are skillfully deepening roots of democracy and accountability.
One of the best indicators of modernity is the prevalence of rule of law rooted in consent of the governed and accountability. Public policy debates that are documented can go a long way in reinforcing accountability.
CM stories such as this one can be very helpful. Hope CM did a audio tape of the promises made.
its great that there was good debate in some areas atleast. as for road-widening, its sad to note that there was no question of whether road -widening is required at all in the first place! i mean people have assumed that road-widening is required. its really sad..its probably also the filaure of some of us working on the issue that we didnt work enough on questioning the very logic behind road-widening itself.