Opinion: Bankrupt BBMP should be replaced by an efficient, powerful Metropolitan Council

BBMP is not equipped to handle the problems within its limited area of 712 sq km, let alone those in the larger Bengaluru Metropolitan Region. Pic: BBMP

Part 1 of this series explored why the recently-introduced BBMP Bill is problematic. In this part, the author proposes an alternative governance structure for the city.

The recently-introduced BBMP Bill proposes splitting the 198 wards in Bengaluru to 225, but not bringing about major changes in the functioning of the bankrupt, dysfunctional BBMP. Besides, given the entire Bengaluru Metropolitan Region (BMR) of 8,005 sq km is urbanising rapidly, the governance of Bengaluru needs to include this larger area as well. BBMP is not equipped to deal with this.

To handle the integrated problems of garbage, traffic, water and pollution in the entire BMR, we need a larger, more effective body. This can be done by forming a Bengaluru Metropolitan Council (BMC), based on learnings from global metropolitan cities like London.

The Greater London metropolis is divided into 33 boroughs, and the elected representatives in each borough deal with only local issues. Whereas the larger city is governed by a London Assembly (LA) headed by a Mayor who is directly elected by all voters of London, with other members too directly-elected or nominated. The LA decides on larger metropolitan issues like public transport and land-use planning, and the boroughs are legally bound to comply with their decisions.

Like the LA, Bengaluru Metropolitan Council (BMC) will be the apex body to govern the BMR. And along lines of the 33 boroughs in Greater London, the BMR (under the BMRDA Act, 1986) should comprise a total of 41 ‘Municipal Councils—MCs’, of which 25 would be within BBMP limits, and another 16 outside the city.

Old areas like Shivajinagar can be part of the 25 inner MCs. File Pic

The inner 25 MCs can cover the oldest areas like Malleswaram, Basavangudi, Ulsoor, Shivajinagar as well as localities added later such as Jayanagar, Rajajinagar, Koramangala, Mahadevapura, etc. The outer 16 MCs can include towns like Yelahanka, Hosakote, Nelamangala, Doddaballapur, Devanahalli, Ramanagaram, etc.

Each of these 41 MCs will have a population of 5-6 lakhs, and will in turn have a ward-level population of 10,000- 20,000 each. Ward committee members should be selected based on certain standards instead of the current practice of the ward councillor nominating them whimsically.

Composition of BMC

The BMC would be chaired by the State’s Chief Minister, and will have 77 other members:

  • Presidents of the 41 MCs
  • The 36 MLAs elected out of BMR

BMC should have its own secretariat as well, headed by an officer of the rank of Chief Secretary to the government.

The rationale for this structure is, unlike the UK with its long democratic traditions, we in India and Karnataka have ‘Defection Democracy’ or the Karnataka-patented ‘Resort Democracy’ where footloose elected representatives reincarnate themselves by changing colours for cash.

In spite of the 74th Amendment of 1992, no state has transferred powers to the large municipal corporations of the metropolitan capital cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, etc., which have many times the qualifying 10 lakh population. Nor is there a directly elected Mayor-in-Council as in London, Seoul or Jakarta.

This is because, in the BBMP area of 1.2 crore population for instance, a directly elected Mayor-in-Council will be an immediate threat and a ready-made, instant substitute to the Chief Minister himself who is elected by an Assembly Constituency of just about three lakh people. No strong CM in any Indian state, let alone Karnataka, will commit political harakiri by creating his destroyer – constitutional amendment or not.  

For instance, the directly elected Mayor of Seoul Metropolitan Area of 11 million population, Lee Myung-bak, after completion of his term as Mayor, became the President of South Korea in 2003. Similarly, Joko Widodo, the directly elected Governor of Jakarta Metropolitan Region (population 3 cr), went on to become the President of Indonesia in 2014. It is naïveté to expect the same to happen in Karnataka. Nor will the MLAs part with their power to the corporators.

So the practical solution to save Bengaluru is, in the place of the BBMP of 198 corporators in the limited area of 712 km2 of Bengaluru, to bring together the 36 MLAs and the 41 MC presidents as equal, full-fledged voting members in the larger 8,005 km2 of BMR.

BMC would not be a “local body” as defined in the 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 because BMR is a regional body under the BMRDA Act. BMC, with the CM as chairperson, and with almost equal number of Municipal Presidents and MLAs, will enable a checks and balance system in the BMC. To implement the major schemes for tackling garbage, traffic, water and pollution, the BMC should meet, say 100 days in a year.

MLAs likely more competent than corporators

BBMP, even in its smaller area of 712 km2, cannot solve major issues like garbage because of the election of small-time corporators. Hence it is unrealistic that the same framework will be successful for the larger 8,005 km2 BMR. In the previous BBMP election, the total number of voters was around 73 lakh, and thus the voters for each of the 198 wards on average was 37,000.  In contrast, the number of voters for each of the 28 Assembly Constituencies in BBMP was nearly seven times this – 2.62 lakh.

Only about half the electorate vote in BBMP elections – that is, around 18,000. Even in a straight fight of only two candidates, therefore, 9,000 voters elect one corporator. In the 2015 BBMP elections for instance, the winning candidate in BTM Layout got just 5,773 votes and in Vasanthnagar the winner got 4,348 votes.

Whereas in the Assembly elections in BMR, the winning candidates got 91,000 votes on average, and the runner-up 64,000. The point is, herding a vote bank to get 91,000 votes is much more difficult for an MLA who has to be of a better competency and calibre than a corporator who gets around 6,000 votes.

BMC should have its own secretariat

As mentioned earlier, the BMC should have its own high-powered secretariat. This secretariat should be headed by an officer of Chief Secretary’s rank, and assisted by 10 officers of the rank of Principal Secretaries who will head departments that impact the whole area of BMR, such as:

  • Lands, Properties and Finance
  • Transport
  • Waste Management & Environment
  • Culture and Education
  • Water & Sewage
  • Energy
  • Roads, Parks and Open Spaces
  • Health
  • Industry and Commerce
  • Public Grievances & Citizens-Participation

The BWSSB, BESCOM, BMTC, BMRCL, Pollution Control Board, Lake Development Authority, etc., currently working as independent kingdoms or not at all working, will work under the supervision of the BMC and its secretariat. They will all be directly accountable to the BMC and secretariat.

The reason for BBMP’s malfunction is its unqualified bureaucracy appointed as clerks without any due process of selection, and who get promotions over the years without any fear of transfer (except the BBMP Commissioner). Hence they inevitably develop vested interests with contractors and corporators. In contrast, the BMC’s bureaucracy will all be on deputation from the state government—the IAS, IFS, KAS, Secretariat Service and other services, and will be transferable and accountable under the Civil Service and Conduct Rules.

The presence of higher-level bureaucrats in the BMC, headed by a Chief Secretary rank officer and Principal Secretary level officers, will improve the working of the apex body. There is  criticism of the higher bureaucracy also in India.

What’s forgotten is that, because of the undermining of the permanent bureaucracy in Pakistan, the military has been in power there since 1956 either directly or by proxy.  This has not happened in India mainly because of a permanent bureaucracy continued by Sardar Patil and selected through an incorruptible competitive examination system (annually about 11 lakh graduates write the examination of whom about 750 are selected for all Central Services—of which 150 are for the IAS).

Established in 1923, UPSC is the only institution in India which has not been accused of corruption while even the judiciary has not been spared. The civil services is much sought after by university graduates in India because they know the selection is purely on merit and no bribe is to be paid unlike in the State Public Service Commission.

Best practices should be adopted in awarding contracts

Therefore, with senior officers at the administrative helm of BMC, the macro-problems of BMR can be well-attended to. The major source of corruption in all the schemes of the BBMP is the giving of contracts to favoured persons without following rules. This can be overcome by following the best practices enforced in government projects that are financed by international funding bodies such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.

For instance, national highways as well as the 5,000 km of state highways in Karnataka under the State Highways Improvement Project I & II (K-SHIP I & II) remain intact and pothole-free for long because the contracts are awarded on the basis of International Competitive Bids (ICBs) and Locally Competitive Bids (LCBs).

In the ICB-LCB tender procedure, after pre-qualification, the bidders are finalised by a committee headed by the Chief Secretary of the State. And the bills of works are passed only after certification of quality control by an external agency selected, again, on the basis of competitive bids, thereby avoiding departmental officers.

Public consultation as well as Environmental Impact Assessment by an independent agency are mandatory before starting these projects. There is no ‘hush-hush’ hurry and discretion leading to corruption in project sanctioning and implementation.

Unfortunately, even in government projects where there is no external funding in which the lender-body insists upon the best practices, the projects become conduits for corruption as the ICB-LCB tender procedure is avoided. However, by legally incorporating the ICB-LCB tender process and other best practices in BMC, the burning problems such as garbage, water, traffic and pollution can be competently addressed.

As we have seen with Bengaluru and other Indian cities, expansion and increasing urbanisation is inevitable. BMR’s mammoth problems cannot be solved by BBMP, with its corporators and lumpen bureaucracy. It requires a drastic solution. As the German philosopher Wilhelm Hegel of 19th century said, “Gangrene cannot be cured by Lavender water”. 

[Disclaimer: This article is a citizen contribution. The views expressed here are those of the individual writer(s) and do not reflect the position of Citizen Matters.]


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About V Balasubramanian 3 Articles
V Balasubramanian retired as Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Karnataka. He was also the Chief Adviser to the Joint legislature committee on land encroachment (Ramaswamy committee), and the Chairman of the Task force for recovery of encroached government land.

4 Comments

  1. BBMP department should be dismantled. Reform with new department/agency so that it’s free of currupt free middle men free .

  2. This needs more debate. However, it is clear that the present system is dysfunctional and needs to be overhauled drastically or replaced.

  3. MLAs more competent than Corporators, so hand over to the MLAs?
    Isn’t this the exact same argument made about MPs being more competent than MLAs and centralizing a lot of decision making?
    If you have a system where more decision making is transferred to local bodies, competence will rise over time, and it will attract more competent people to take charge. This argument also holds towards transfer of more money and decision making in more areas to states.

    I am not entirely convinced what bankruptcy has to do with replacing them. If you replace a bankrupt body with another body with the same systems that caused bankruptcy, you are going to eventually end up with another bankrupt body.
    Unless we solve the problem of most of the tax money going to Delhi and then trickling back to local wards, we are only going to be playing musical chairs with cash-starved governing bodies.

    Time to have states collect GST and pay the centre their dues instead of the other way around. In fact, let us take it even further and have a portion of GST stay in that ward. Have your local bodies collect GST instead and then trickle it up to Delhi. Yes, there will be corruption, but the anti-corruption bodies are all under Delhi and State control, so they’ll have huge incentive in ensuring they get their fair share.

    • Even better. Abolish all taxes on labour.! That means no gst, no income taxes, no sales taxes.

      States should collect only property taxes. For movable properties collect taxes as per city road and police dept cost. For highways, collect tolls.

      Center can live with excise taxes and center can tax states. And loksabha members should be 2 per language. Yes, 2 members per state if only one state has one language. For tilangana and AP there should be 1 seat for each state. Ditto for jharkhand and Bihar.

      And we need to abolish pm and cm. Governors and presidents should be elected directly.

      And finally each govt position should ‘ve very clear. President should deal with foreign matters only. No more Pradhan mantri yojna etc……

      You get the gist.

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