A few days ago, Tejasvi Surya, MP for Bangalore South, created news when he worked with various stakeholders – BBMP, BWSSB, BMRCL etc – to help clear the mess that was Bannerghatta Road. He coordinated a joint meeting with these departments and relatively eased life for thousands of commuters who use this road. A lot of people were impressed that an MP got down into the grit of solving the basic infrastructure problems that plague our city.
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But that’s just the point here. Dealing with a bad road isn’t his job as an MP! Just so we are clear, this isn’t a take on Tejasvi Surya. This is a take on why the system isn’t working the way it is designed to, and what our options are to ensure it does.
We spend so much money on elections so that there is a hierarchy to power and it stays decentralised. But clearly, this isn’t working.
As the Bannerghatta Road problem shows, there is no cohesive plan for the city, much less coordination between the various stakeholders who administer our infrastructure needs.
Take any infrastructure project, there are multiple stakeholders. If the BWSSB has a project to lay new pipelines, the BBMP – which is the custodian of the roads to be dug up for this work – will have no clue about it. This leaves a mess which neither of the departments have the bandwidth or resources to clean up. We have too many parastatal service agencies (BWSSB, BMRCL, BMTC etc) and planning/sanctioning authorities (BDA, BMRDA, BIAPA, BMICAPA) in our city, but no plan!
To address this very problem, the Siddaramaiah government, under pressure from the High Court of Karnataka, created a 30-member Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee in 2014. Under the 74th amendment of the Constitution of India, articles 243ZD and 243ZE mandate setting up a ‘District Planning Committee’ in each District, and a ‘Metropolitan Planning Committee’ in every metropolitan area.
The Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), by law, is mandated “…to prepare a draft development plan for the Metropolitan area as a whole”. The committee was, therefore, meant to represent various departments so their power to take decisions in silos was reduced and there was a harmony to the process of planning.
To simply all this official jargon – the MPC would have to come up with a five-year plan for the city. It would address zoning, governance, transport etc and ensure the stakeholders were all in the know.
For example, BWSSB and BBMP officials would have to talk to each other before digging up the road in front of your house, rather than leaving it in a mess without either one being held accountable. There would be no more unplanned change of land use in the city, so you wouldn’t wake up to a sanctioned pub next to your house out of the blue. It would mean that BESCOM’s ambitious project of taking our cables underground wouldn’t disrupt traffic because the police were clueless till the work began.
So there is no question that Bengaluru needs an effective MPC – the operative word being ‘effective’.
Because an MPC does exist on paper. They have met twice – in June 2016 and November 2016. And that’s where matters halted. According to the rules made by the state government, the MPC is meant to meet every three months. They haven’t. According to the law, the city planning is under their jurisdiction. That hasn’t happened, or a group of citizens wouldn’t have had to go to court questioning the BDA’s effort of creating a revised master plan.
Somebody once explained governance to me as a stage where “…an MP behaves like and MLA, an MLA behaves like a corporator, and a corporator behaves like a garbage contractor”. When I had interviewed Krishna Byre Gowda just before the assembly elections in 2018, he candidly admitted that the reason he did a corporator’s job was because people expected it. “I would lose votes if I didn’t do it,” he had said.
The overlapping of expectations from our elected members without understanding their job descriptions, is what causes ‘interference’ which in turn makes local governance ineffective. Our local governance needs to be better than the best, because in no other space do the government and citizens interact more closely.
While Tejasvi Surya’s intervention in the Bannerghatta Road problem may have driven the system to solve the problem more speedily, we need a mechanism to ensure this happens regularly without it being driven by individuals. What we need is an MPC, so the MPs are free to do their job creating national legislation.