Push for meaningful change by citizens only hope in Bengaluru

Problems in Bengaluru

• There is no leadership of the city. Most of the important public services are in the hands of the State government, which is more concerned with its State-level priorities than with the city’s. Mayors serve short, uneventful terms.

• There is hardly any planning. BDA does no more than zoning of areas for different uses, and even this is very poorly enforced. Other agencies plan-as-they-go, without any reference to a regional or city-level perspective. There is no commonality of jurisdiction among agencies, either.

• The legal steps (outlined in the 74th Constitution Amendment Act, 1992) to address weaknesses in planning and implementation have been ignored by successive governments. JNURM continued this illegality.

• Accountability to citizens is extremely poor. Ward committees exist in name only, and have very little scope to help shape the wards’ development.

• Data acquisition, analysis, and scenario planning for the future is entirely absent. As a result, the risk of criticality in many sectors is high.

Hopeful signs

• A metropolitan Bill for the Bangalore region has been in the offing for a few years, and multiple committees have uniformly recommended a new law to govern the city.

• There is broad agreement that the city is getting too big to be governed in the current way, and restructuring of the municipal and metropolitan space is necessary.

• A few citizens’ groups and individual members of ward committees are asserting themselves, and the push for meaningful change is getting stronger.

• Some of the legal regulatory framework for water management is starting to take shape.

• Likewise, a first step has been taken in making an allocation of funds to develop low-income housing.

• The National Finance Commission is considering further devolution of funds directly to cities – bypassing the States – and maybe even to ward committees directly.

Not good enough

• The Assembly needs to urgently take up new legislation for the metropolitan region, to increase the powers and terms of Mayors, and to introduce statutory, regional planning.

• The Regional Plan is virtually defunct. BMRDA, which has many powers to direct the work of the different city agencies and coordinate them, is kept toothless and under-staffed by the political leadership.

• Transfer of funds from the State government to Bangalore is far lower than the city needs, and also much lower than the proportion of the state GDP from the city.

• The Community Participation law is such in name only; its language is almost entirely anti-participative, and it vests nearly all powers in elected representatives only.

• Land use and town planning remain highly compromised by corruption and laxity in enforcement, in which both BDA and BBMP stand implicated. For its part, the government appears more keen on regularising these malaises.

• The risk of the next BBMP elections not being held on time is growing, amidst talk of creating smaller cities.

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About Ashwin Mahesh 17 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.