One has to be thankful that a beginning has been made to create Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee. But why have the MPC Rules been framed to apply only to Bangalore, while Mysore and Hubli—Dharwad are also about to cross the 10 lakh population criterion, or have already crossed it? Are the rules going to be framed for each city separately?
The way the rules have been framed for the MPC’s functioning, it will serve only two functions: 1) to comply with the High Court order to meet the letter of the law, but not its spirit; 2) to continue to vest the reins of planning for Bangalore in the hands of the state government, MLAs/MLCs and para-statal agencies, and not hand it over to the local self-governments (LSGs) as envisaged by the 74th CA.
1. Mayor has no place
No wonder that we have been having a State—level minister in charge of Bangalore, even while we have a figurehead mayor who changes every year! And how else is one to explain the strange omission in the rules of the mayor of Bangalore from the membership of the MPC? Instead, the chief minister and the minister for Urban Development are included as members. If the BBMP mayor wants to be on the MPC, he has to stand for election along with others!
2. CM to be de-facto chairman?
Equally strange is that the post of chairperson of the MPC has been left to the committee to decide. In a committee which has the CM as a member, will anyone else dare to don the role of chairperson? This appears to be a deliberate ploy to mask the fact that the state government is being given the handles of power in the Committee.
3. Non-voting members exceed actual members
The Karnataka government has chosen to make all MLAs/MLCs of the metropolitan area ‘permanent invitees’ of the MPC, though the 74th CA does not require states to do so. Since there are more than 35 legislators, both MLAs and MLCs, it will make the meetings of the body unwieldy. In fact, the number of permanent invitees will exceed the number of formal members.
Experts opine that for all MLAs and MLCs to be represented in their individual capacities would be a travesty of the constitutional provisions. True, ‘invitees’ to a committee cannot have voting rights. But it is obvious that members of the local bodies on the MPC will be so overawed by the presence of MLAs/MLCs that they will be unable to voice their real feelings and opinions.
4.Who will plan for social, economic justice?
The MPC needs to draft not just a spatial, zonal or an ‘engineering’ plan but a development plan. The main function spelt out in the 74th amendment is that the committee should ‘plan for economic development and social justice’. The necessary officials and sub-committees to perform this enlarged role of the local bodies are nowhere in sight on the MPC.
The MPC needs to prepare plans for all the 18 functions listed in the 12th Schedule of the 74th CA. These include, among others, safeguarding the interests of the weaker sections, slum improvement and upgradation, urban poverty alleviation, etc. The plan needs to spell out what the MPC is going to do in terms of performance targets and outcomes for all these functions, how it is going to do it, the cost for implementing the plans, how the resources will be raised and what is the monitoring and evaluation system.
Who will then prepare plans for economic development and social justice? There is no provision in the rules for local plans to be prepared by ‘municipalities and panchayats.’ Instead, the rules speak of plans by ‘local authorities’ which seems to be a clever formulation to vest continued planning powers with parastatal agencies such as BDA and BMRDA, as powers of planning have still not been devolved to municipalities in Karnataka.
The MPC’s focus will hence be diverted from looking at panchayat and municipality plans to discussing the spatial plans prepared by the BDA and the BMRDA. These bodies do not have the mandate to prepare plans for ‘economic development and social justice.’
5. No representation to citizens, underprivileged
Truly troubling is the fact that there is no representation on the MPC or its sub-committees to citizens and their associations; nor is there a provision for the MPC to consult them while drafting its plans. There is only a fleeting reference to “consult NGOs and other professional bodies” in preparing the draft development plan. It is not mentioned which are the stakeholders to be consulted, except for the Chamber of Commerce and Town planners, showing a bias towards experts and the elite in society as though they are the only stakeholders in the city.
The rules should have specified the groups with which mandatory consultations should be held in order to make the plan truly ‘inclusive’ as these are the groups who are under-represented in the corridors of power and whose interests are the ones that need to be planned for in the development plan if it is to be truly ‘inclusive’: farmers, traders, trade unions, small-scale industries, unorganised workers, slum-dwellers, women’s groups, children’s rights groups, SC/STs, RWAs, etc. If left to the whims of the MPC, they may never consult these groups.
6. No mention of sub-committees
Rules do not specify on what subjects sub-committees may be formed and who may sit on these. The Kolkata MPC has five specified sub-committees for sectoral issues. But the kind of broad freedom foreseen in the current rules to constitute sub-committees which may not even include members of the MPC, allows room for handing over plan-making powers to elite committees comprising powerful and influential persons, who make plans to suit their vested interests.
Sub-committees on the lines of working groups, with representation to sectoral experts and representatives of interest groups, could have been specified in the rules to draw up sectoral plans which are integrated into the overall plan. These could have been on the following clubbed issues, such as land use planning; Water, sewerage and sanitation; Health, education and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD); Urban poverty alleviation and housing (inclusive of SC/ST and other issues); Economic development, livelihood, skill training and social security; Environment, wetlands, parks and playgrounds, etc.
In the existing structure of MPC, the State is likely to call the shots, though local bodies have to do it. Pic: Kathyayini Chamaraj
7. Continued existence of other bodies
The rules accept the continued existence of para-statal agencies, namely, Bangalore Development Authority, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, and Bangalore Electricity Supply Company, etc. Parastatal agencies should have been brought either under the control of the MPC or local bodies, depending on their jurisdictions and made accountable to them. They should have acted as the technical wings supporting the MPC and local bodies, rather than as independent planning authorities. Their planning functions should have been transferred to the MPC and/or local bodies. Without effective local control over these organisations, the MPC is reduced to a figurehead.
8. No technical experts on board
Though the Draft Rules include most of the 18 subjects in the 12th Schedule among the functions of the MPC, the concerned officials dealing with these subjects are not members of the MPC. Only officials heading BWSSB and BESCOM are represented on the MPC, while there are no officials representing the housing department, slum board, women and children, welfare, labour, etc. They should have been ex—officio members of the MPC for providing technical support.
Many of these officials are however members of the BMRDA. And while the Mayor of Bangalore finds no place on the MPC, he is a member of the BMRDA!
9. No dedicated funding plan
There should have been an MPC fund into which all the Central and State government allocations are deposited as existing for the BMRDA. Merely planning without an assurance of the fund availability will lead to castles being built in the air. Planning without assured finances has resulted in the plans remaining on paper in the Kolkata MPC. The MPC needs to know the extent of finances available with the service and development agencies for which it is planning.
The conditions of transparency stipulated in the rules are inadequate. The plans for the Planning Districts should be displayed at the ward offices situated within the concerned planning districts to elicit suggestions from the local community. They should also be made available for discussion to the ward committees and the Area Sabhas.
10. Power of rejecting the plan lies with State
The 74th CA says that the MPC should prepare a draft plan and submit it to the Director, Town Planning, BMRDA, who then submits it to the government for approval implying that the government may approve, modify or reject it. This appears to be a weak point in the 74th CA. If it is for approval, then what happens to the autonomy of the MPC to make its own plans? The plans of the MPC need to be rejected or modified only when they violate laid down principles, priorities and framework set by the State government.
11. CM to play the role of Rajinikanth in Endhiran?
A final anomaly is that the CM, as member of the MPC, will be handing over the plan to himself as the Chairperson of the BMRDA and again to himself as the head of the government! He will then forward it to himself as the Finance Minister for releasing the moneys for the plans!
Will he, as the head of the government, then ‘disapprove’ the plans made by himself as the member or chairperson of the MPC? Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? Hence the CM should not have been a member of the MPC which makes the plans, which he as the head of government approves or rejects. This is against the principle that, you cannot be a judge in your own cause.
As T R Raghunandan, former Joint Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Government of India, puts it, “The current MPC rules are symptomatic of a much deeper dysfunctionality. There is need for a larger process of harmonisation of the law with the constitutional intent. These distortions in the MPC rules appear to be the result of Karnataka’s weak urban decentralisation structure. This has meant that planning responsibilities have been centralised in the hands of parastatals, the BDA and the BMRDA which were created prior to the 74th amendment. There has been no attempt to re-align the pre-constitutional amendment system in Karnataka with the new requirements after the constitutional amendment.”