After Citizen Matters expose on BBMP quietly shutting down the Technical Vigilance Cell’s (TVC) call centre last year, very little has happened to remedy the situation. The cell that earlier used to accept complaints from the public directly regarding building violations, now monitors only public works as directed by the Commissioner.
But Commissioner Siddaiah told Citizen Matters that he has appointed Technical Advisor B T Mohan Krishna to look into building violations. Complaints that the commissioner receives from the public will be forwarded to Krishna, he says. "He will co-ordinate with the TVC also for this," Siddaiah said. Krishna took charge early this week.
"On getting a complaint, I will contact the concerned Executive Engineer, personally inspect the site, and submit a report to the commissioner," says Krishna. His job profile also includes ensuring execution of commissioner’s orders in such cases. So far he has received two or three complaints, he says.
But it is not clear how a single official can bring down violations considering the magnitude of these violations. In the mere seven months that it was functional in 2009, TVC’s call centre had received 794 complaints. But the cell had strength of 15 – including eight Executive Engineers and one Superintending Engineer. Moreover, the complaints reach Krishna only after the approval of the commissioner; citizens cannot complain to Krishna directly.
In a second and related development this week, the BBMP Commissioner has issued a directive to Town Planning officials saying that all engineers in the department should look into cases of building violations. A copy of the directive is with Citizen Matters. The New Indian Express reported this very briefly on 10th November. "The head office and zonal offices are not able to look into all violations due to staff shortage and the distance of building sites from these offices. Hence all Executive/Assistant Executive engineers in the department should look into violations," says the memo.
Citizens, however, have no confidence in such measures. Naresh D’Mello, a Domlur resident who is pursuing a case of building violation in his locality, says, "The purpose of the grievance system is to stop sanction violations, so the sanctioning system and the grievance system should be separated. There should be an independent third party who is above the level of engineers to check violations."
A few others believe that the system is beyond redemption. B N Venkatesh Murthy, core member of Ring Road Property Owners’ Association (RRPOA) and an advocate, says, "If there is a cell to look into the complaints, they would be the ones taking money from the public. It’s almost impossible to construct a building with zero violation, so the owner will have to bribe the officer if the work has to progress. Even if an honest officer is appointed to check violations, he won’t be able to work independently. Punishing the engineers who sanction violations may be the only option."
V Ravichandar, Chairman of city-based Feedback Consulting, referring to Mohan Krishna’s appointment says, "A Technical Advisor can at best give some guidelines to spot deviations – he cannot address the mass of complaints coming in. Unless the fear of a likely jail sentence for dereliction of duty exists in the administrative machinery, there is no hope of halting violations." Ravichandar is an investor in Oorvani Media Pvt. Ltd., publisher of Citizen Matters, and is a commentator on city affairs. He was also a member of the erstwhile Bangalore Agenda Task Force.
On Siddaiah’s directive to engineers asking them to look into building violations, Ravichander does not mince words. He says this is akin to having the ‘thief’ mind the house.
The commissioner’s moves are also not cutting ice with a few key city politicians.
Jayanagar’s BJP MLA B N Vijaykumar, who is known for his public announcement in 2008 asking for citizens in his area to report illegal constructions and encroachments, disagrees with Siddiah’s move to ask engineers at field level to look into violations. He says that there must be separate cell in the BBMP for accepting public complaints. "All complaints should go to the top level officers. Or one engineer can be appointed for each zone to look into building violations only", he says, clearly preferring the idea of having separate monitoring.
Narendra Babu, Congress MLA from Mahalakshmi layout and a former corporator himself, took a more general line in his reaction to Siddaiah’s moves. He feels bureaucrats can bring about change even without political support if they are committed enough. "You can make any number of cells, but if you don’t have the commitment to bring about change, then it would be useless. But if bureaucrats are committed, they can bring about change even with lack of political will." ⊕
Updated Novemer 15th, 2010.