HC tells BBMP to set up Ward Committees within a month, but will they be effective?

The Karnataka High Court has directed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike to constitute Ward Committees in Bengaluru within a month! Several earlier orders that asked the civic body to constitute the ward committees had not been conformed with. Ward committees are mandated as per Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992.

The direction came as part of a petition filed by Leo Saldanha and others, that said the BBMP is in violation of repeated directions from Karnataka High Court.

Leo Saldanha, sharing this news over email, points out, “What would really help now is for public-spirited persons to step up and submit their intent to be on the Ward Committee before the Ward Office and to the Corporator.”  

Barring a few exceptions in Whitefield area, like Hagadur, Varthur and Kadugodi, few corporators had constituted the committees for the current BBMP council term that began in 2015. These were not notified by the Council, but were functional up to some extent.

Bellandur ward committee story

In January 2013, three years after the last BBMP council was formed, the court had directed BBMP to set up Ward Committees; the immediate goal was to ensure the implementation of proper waste segregation at source and management.

A group of us who had been active in the neighbourhood waste segregation initiatives from 2011 heard about the court order, and wrote to then Bellandur ward corporator Babu Reddy. We volunteered to join the Ward Committee and support waste management initiatives in the ward, and work towards making Bellandur a model ward. Babu Reddy selected four members from the list of volunteers while constituting the Ward Committee (one as RWA representative and three of us under the ‘women’ quota). Ward Committees across Bengaluru’s wards were notified by the BBMP Council.

Our experience serving in the committee was mixed: We had formal Ward Committee meetings in January, February, April, June and December of 2013. The meetings were always on time and focused on the agenda. We could always share our inputs and ideas with the corporator during the meetings. However, many items discussed and decided in the meetings were not implemented. We did not get quick and positive responses for our requests for data – including budgets, bills and work orders. Our request to officials for enforcing waste management rules went in vain.

We had proposed many ideas including pilot commercial area SWM plan, a segregation initiative at BBMP office, and comprehensive solid waste management pilot for the entire ward. The Joint Commissioner and Corporator had the final say in how the discretionary funds got spent at the ward level. And BBMP officials did not feel accountable to the committee, largely because it was setup as a toothless body.

The crux of the matter was the Ward Committee represented a responsibility without any power or authority. There was no power for the committee to enforce any positive change.

What will change?

The Ward Committee rules of 2016 does not fix these issues. The government had not considered any amendments to the Act suggested by citizens. Councillors still have veto power on Ward Committee decisions. The nomination process for selecting the Ward Committee members and Area Sabha Representatives remains the same.

So, while it is a step forward that all wards will finally have committees, how can we ensure they are effective?

Way forward for Ward Committees

There are many issues in the system, but we have come a long way from a time when few knew what a ward committee was. Resident Welfare Associations and citizen groups understand the role and the possibilities of this institution. Many have been waiting for such an opportunity to engage formally with the local government. And being a part of a ward committee is a great chance to engage formallly with the system.

If you are part of an RWA or a civic group and are trying to get into the Ward Committee,  we are keen to hear about your experience. Write to us at edit (at) citizenmatters.in

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About Meera K 41 Articles
Meera K is the co-founder of Citizen Matters, the award-winning civic media platform. She also helped initiate Open City, an urban data platform (opencity.in). Meera is an Ashoka Fellow, recognised for her work building open knowledge platforms that allow citizens to collaborate and improve their cities. She is Founder-trustee at Oorvani Foundation.