At the beginning of the year, BBMP finally started the process of formation of ward committees (WC). But many WCs remained only on papers. High Court intervened again on 27 August and asked the government to finalise rules for the committee soon. The state Urban Development Department (UDD) has issued draft rules.
Environment Support Group (ESG), an NGO that has, for many years, campaigned to establish local government or ‘Nagar Palike,’ organised a discussion to suggest revisions to the draft rules formulated by the state government for the formation and functioning of WC. An open discussion was held on 4 September 2013 at Ashirwad, near St Mark’s Road, Bangalore.
Leo Saldanha, Co-ordinator and Trustee of ESG, said: “WC is here to stay, now the government can’t escape. It is the right time to decentralise government and increase accessibility.”
Prem Chandavarkar, an Architect, who had previously worked with Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC), joined Saldhana in the discussion. He said: “A common man doesn’t know where to go to complain or even suggest any changes in his area. WC will fill this gap.”
Currently decision makers at the top level, hardly have an understanding of what is happening at the ground level. WC will take suggestions from the people, and put it forward to the government. This will ensure direct contact with the government.
HC unhappy with govt approach to WC
The Parliament of India had passed the Constitution 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act in 1992 to create Ward Committees and Gram Sabhas. However it was never implemented. The Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act 1976 (KMCA) Section 13 has provisions to form Ward Committees, but it remained only on paper.
After the garbage crisis that led to filing of series of public interest litigations at the High Court (HC), the then Chief Justice Vikramjit Sen recognised the need to segregate the waste at source and thus it was made mandatory last year. Later the HC realised that segregation at source is not possible without regular monitoring at ground level. Therefore, HC ruled on January 11, that BBMP form Ward Committees immediately.
However, absence of rules to govern Ward Committees has delayed the functioning of WC. The apathy of the government was brought to court’s notice during a hearing on 27 August 2013. This infuriated the HC which sent a final warning to the Principal Secretary of the Urban Development Department, P N Srinivasachary. The HC asked Srinivasachary to draft the rules soon and publish it on the website, and in the newspapers, and seek public opinion. The bench also directed the BBMP commissioner to push the state government to speed up the process for approval of the rules.
‘WC can address all the problems’
It seems the draft rules for the WC have been published in a hurry. They focus on rules mainly related to garbage issues.
The ESG discussion threw light on the 12th Schedule of the 74th amendment of Constitution of India that lists the below as the functional areas of urban local bodies:
- Urban Planning including town planning.
- Regulation of land use and construction of buildings.
- Planning for economic and social development.
- Roads and bridges.
- Water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes.
- Public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management.
- Fire services.
- Urban forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects.
- Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including the handicapped and mentally retarded.
- Slum improvement and upgradation.
- Urban poverty alleviation.
- Promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects.
The system should be such that the Ward Committee can be held responsible for poor condition of roads to the unmanaged electrical wires dangling in various places.
The discussion had participation from members of the Resident Welfare Associations of the city, policy makers, architects, writers, and many WC members. Bhargavi Rao, Trustee of ESG drew attention of the audience to the various aspects that citizens can suggest to the government that will make the neighborhoods look better.
- Tighten rules and make it compulsory for each and every household to harvest rainwater.
- Ensure pothole-free roads.
- Check if Storm Water Drains are well-maintained and remain free from encroachment.
- Have a regular check on the building bye laws.
- Promote safe streets in every ward.
- Promote safe cycling tracks.
- Awareness on disaster management.
- Create an online presence that will encourage youth’s participation.
Drawbacks of Ward Committee draft rules
1) There no specific rules laid down in the draft rules for the appointment of the committee members. The termination of the Ward Committees depends on the term of councillors. If because of any reason, the councillors term terminates, WC will also be terminated.
2) The rules fail to address how will Ward Committee be accountable to the Area Sabhas and how will they interact with the government and other citizens.
3) The drafted rules give powers to the Secretary of the committee to form agenda in consultation with the chairman. According to the rules, Secretary is a designated officer appointed by the under Sub-Section 4 of section 13H of the act, while the chairman is none other than the councillor. But participants felt that citizens should be able to suggest or complain to the WC members and accordingly agenda of the meetings should be drafted and not vice versa.
Many other such suggestions were made at the discussion. Saldanha suggested everyone to put it in writing and submit it to the government.
Saldanha remarked that the Babus are unwilling to take the WC forward, as they are fully aware that it will hamper their interest. The same unwillingness has failed to notify people about hearing or to open an online submission.
Where do you send objections/ suggestions?
Anyone who has ideas to make these WC more transparent and accountable can suggest / object to the Ward Committee rules. Send your suggestions or objections to Draft Rules for Karnataka Municipal Corporation (Ward Committee) Rules 2012 in written format, to Principal Secretary to Government, Department of Urban Development, Vikasa Soudha, Bangalore- 560001. You can post the suggestion, or give it personally.
Alternatively, you can also mail the suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also take directions on mailing the suggestions, by calling 080-22035096. Last date for the submission, according to UDD officials, is 27 September, 2013.
What about Area Sabha?
The Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act also talks about formation of Gram Sabha or Area Sabha. The purview of WC spreads over an entire ward. Area Sabhas will narrow the purview and act like a Gram Panchayat in the rural areas, thus ensuring efficient, responsible, quality work from the government.
Currently, the draft rules doesn’t talk anything about Area sabha but Saldanha believes that once WC is formed Area Sabha will also get formes sooner or later.
Veto power heats the discussion
The points mentioned in Section 13 H clause 7 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act (page 65) sparked a heated debate. The section says that “Decisions of the Ward Committee shall normally be taken by the majority of the nominated members of the Ward Committee: Provided that the Chairperson may exercise a ‘veto’ over any decision by giving reasons in writing. The decision of the Chairperson shall be final and binding.”
Nowhere does it state that the it can be challenged. “Since this veto power is already a part of the constitution, one cannot change it. At present we need to concentrate on rules,” says Saldanha.
Click here to read the revised Draft Rules for Karnataka Municipal Corporation (Ward Committee) Rules 2012 – published on 27 August, 2012.