Instead of letting corporators and garbage contractors decide on the garbage problem, public can get directly involved now. High Court has directed that each ward in the city should form a ward committee, which will include 10 residents of the ward and will be headed by the local corporator.
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The committees are supposed to be functioning by January 21st; you can approach your corporator and suggest that you or any competent person you know, be included in the committee. BBMP is holding a Council meeting on 15th, during which corporators will submit their nominations.
The interim order came in a PIL filed last year by Kavitha Shankar, a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT). The court has been pulling up and giving orders to the government to implement every aspect of waste management.
The question of ward committees came up in the case when talking about decentralisation and audits on waste management, says Ajesh Kumar Shankar, lawyer for the petitioner. “Currently no one knows about who clears the waste in a street in a ward, how much is billed for it, who gets paid etc. There is a requirement that an NGO or RWA in the area should sign the bill; contractors get away by ‘creating’ some groups who sign the bills,” he says. He had argued in court that setting up ward committees will help monitor and audit waste management.
Court agreed with this logic, and asked government as to why the committees had not been set up so far. The KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporation) Act had already been amended in 2011 to set up these committees. The concept was that citizens will directly be able to control all aspects of city corporations’ work, through these committees. Solid waste management is only one part of this. Committees can submit ‘ward development schemes’ to the Corporation for funds, use these funds, fulfill Corporation’s responsibilities like maintaining public spaces and sewerage system etc.
Government did not have an answer to the court on why the committees were not set up, and hence court ordered that these should be set up by January 21st. Though the government asked for more time, court said that BBMP Council should convene on January 15th to nominate ward committee members.
Yesterday, BBMP issued a press release saying that the Council meeting will be held on 15th to start the process. “On 15th, councillors will bring their list of nominations. By 21st, the committees should have their first meetings,” says Mario Pires, Additional Council Secretary.
Court has also ordered that not just BBMP, but all city corporations in the state should set up ward committees.
Who can be members of the committee?
KMC Act clearly defines the constitution of the committee. There were will be ten members (excluding the corporator), of whom at least three should be women, two should be SC/ST members, three should be members of registered, active local RWAs. Anyone who had contested corporation elections earlier, but lost, cannot become a member. BBMP will appoint its officers as Secretary for each ward committee, who will convene meetings and record proceedings.
The drawback here is that corporators have the power to nominate their own members. There is a worry that corporators might nominate their own supporters or other vested interests. Also, corporators can override decisions made by their committees.
But Adv Shankar says that the committees would still bring major change, as they are statutory bodies and can be held accountable. “Anyone can file RTIs to the committee on works done and money spent. Also, you can take the corporator or other committee members to court,” he says. Usually, on a civic issue, you can file a case against BBMP or the state government only. Elected representatives cannot be taken to court for non-performance. With ward committees, you can hold specific corporators accountable.
Adv Shankar opines that since councillors can nominate committee members, the best thing public can do, is to approach their corporators in large numbers. “When many people want to be part of the committee, corporators cannot ignore them completely,” he says.
The next hearing of the case is on January 21st. At this hearing, BBMP will has to explain about its finances and audits; BBMP has been asked to produce its financial statements for the last few years. (Backgrounder: Who audits the BBMP).
Adv Shankar says that having audit statements will help ward committees raise questions. “It will also help check performance of garbage contractors, and help make decisions while appointing new contractors,” he says. Currently BBMP does not have a proper internal audit system. A state government auditor works for BBMP; but these audits lag by many years, and hence there is no clarity on BBMP’s finances.⊕