I’m not sure why there is such a brouhaha about the Mayoral election. Being Bengaluru’s mayor is a prestige, no doubt. Beyond that I have only my sympathies to the person holding that role. (S)he is like a person commanding a cemetery. There are lots of people below, with hardly anyone to listen to the command. The problem is the structure of the municipality under Karnataka Municipal Council (KMC) Act, not the individual.
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Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has a huge budget. The Commissioner is the administrative head and the most powerful person in the BBMP. He can stall or speed up any initiative. Government heeds his recommendations rather than that of the Mayor. Then there are the Standing Committees. Most executive decisions are taken in the committees and these work with individual personal agendas of the councilors nominated to the Committee.
The Mayor is more an overseer than an active participant in the committee decisions. The legislators have no role constitutionally and seldom contribute to debates or build legislative pressure on proposals, but bring their own pressures on the Commissioner. In all this anarchy, the Mayor is a rubber stamp with a grand deportment and extremely less “actual” powers.
Things weren’t like this always. Earlier Bengaluru Mayors like K M Naganna, J. Lingaiah, Krishna Iyer and others grew politically after assuming office as Mayors. It was undermining the ruling status quo. The KMC Act was amended to make sure no leader emerges from the Council. It is no coincidence that many councilors of the eighties and early nineties are now MLAs [or ex-MLAs], but there is no such political progression this century. Limiting the term to a year is also another ruse in this direction.
The final nail in the coffin is the caste-based reservation in appointments that ensures that the possible “leadership” material that is present in the Council is eliminated for lack of opportunities.
Mayors in Karnataka can cut ribbons and wear ceremonial dress, but are not set to create any substantial public impact. Having expectations on the incumbent is not fair.
There is a difference between power and influence. Bengaluru Mayors can wield a lot of influence in the short time they are around. They can’t bring systemic changes in the way that the citizen expects can do. They can bring changes, in subtle manner, in those areas that don’t upset the existing vested interests. There are a hundred areas where such initiatives can be launched.
For an initiative to grow beyond a passing cloud and become a standard practice, the impact must be seen in the short tenure itself. The procurement processes should not be long and the budgets should not need state cabinet clearance. The Commissioner should be able to clear the budget. With this boundary line conditions in place, the number of projects would reduce dramatically.
The one big problem I see in the working of the BBMP is its opacity in project execution. Thousands of crores are spent without any accountability. It is not just about corruption, but also the effectivity of the projects that BBMP takes up. People appreciate any leadership that can demonstrate progress. Councillors understand this if they seek re-election. BBMP provides that data for a Councillor’s re-election. This project meets that objective as well.
The BBMP now has a website and storage space. It has field officers in every ward in every department. There is no infrastructure to tender for. Everything is available.
A simple dashboard and an app would be a strong change driver in Bengaluru at this time. Dashboards are not new. What the dashboards lead to is the crux of the issue.
The dashboard could initially focus on two departments–engineering and solid waste.
The proposed dashboard should give complete information about every engineering contract in a single page. BBMP puts up its contract on the dashboard with a timeline. They also upload the government standards or their acceptance criteria for releasing payment. It is even more important that the budget sanction papers are shared, so people know that a project has financial approval.
Most people have smart phones. The contractor is encouraged to enable his GPS location and upload daily progress in the form of photos and videos. It does not take much effort to ensure that the photo displays both the date, time, location and GIS data of the photo. The contractor uploads appropriate number of photos at the end of every working day, showing project progress. He also uploads the photos when officers / Councillors / MLA visit the location for project inspection.
This process guarantees both administrative and political oversight on every project. Specific officers’ can be held accountable if work quality is poor. If there is no engineering oversight [as it often happens now], then the fact gets highlighted. The process means that fake bills can’t be generated that easily. This cycle continues till the tendered project is completed. Piece-work contracts are also projects under this definition.
In case of project stoppages, either the contractor or the engineer should mention the reasons for project stoppage through a video. The department should mention financial impact of this stoppage through a document. This arrangement will absolve elected politicians of blame from affected public. All proof of quality compliance (like lab reports, concrete mixing reports, inches of tar applied and other details) shall be shared by contractor on the portal through video / photo / documents as appropriate.
Without any major cost escalation, the on-site engineer / contractor shall be sufficiently insured against action for administrative blunders. Right from the Chief Minister everyone including taxpayers can view the project progress from their desks / drawing rooms.
In case of solid waste, BBMP can upload the contract information; schedules for both collection and road cleaning; name and photos of the actual BBMP employee / contract worker on that schedule; supervisor’s’ name, photo and phone number; and escalation authority contact information. The inspector is paid to supervise the activity. They would take photos of cleaning work happening on each street on their phone cameras and upload them from the spot. The collection contractor shall get the driver to upload collection photos at predetermined spots. The date–time stamp and GIS would appear on the upload.
A couple of MPs like Baijayanth Panda from Orissa do this activity on Member of Paliament’s Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund projects currently. Some MLAs implement this idea on their Facebook / WhatsApp. A working dashboard would change Bengaluru substantially–every other major administrative problem would address itself seamlessly henceforth.
Narendra K V is an entrepreneur in human resource sector living in Malleshwaram, Bengaluru. This is one of the shortlisted entries in ‘If I were the Bengaluru Mayor’ contest launched by Citizen Matters in September 2017.