Loopholes that can render Bengaluru’s Ward Committees useless

Despite court orders and civilian protests, the Ward Committees (WCs) were not allowed to function in Karnataka for a long time. Finally, in a weak beginning, a few wards held WC meetings on 1st December, 2018.

There are many systemic issues that would not let the WCs function effectively, or bring good governance in the city administration. The following issues need to be addressed as soon as possible:

1)  The WC members do not truly represent the public in the ward:

According to 74th amendment, the ward committee members are supposed to be chosen by the Area Sabhas.Thus each WC member not only should represent his area, but should have an independent mind; and should not be afraid to discuss unpalatable issues, such as failures of the corporator or the BBMP in achieving a result.

This purpose is defeated in Bangalore, where the Corporator selects the WC members. Naturally, the corporator would choose only pliant people who would never oppose even his most controversial decisions.

In some cases, a ward is reserved for women, so the party cannot field a locally popular male candidate. As a workaround, the party chooses the man’s wife as proxy candidate. After the elections, the husband runs the ward.

Thus the WCs will include the corporator’s friends and family, rather than public representatives; and no laws control this distortion in the system.

2) The scope of work is not defined for WC:

Originally, the WC members were supposed to receive inputs from Area Sabhas (ASs). But in reality, there are no ASs. The ward committee is hand-picked by the Corporator, and the public is not supposed to raise any points at the WC meeting. There is no other formal process for interaction between WC and the public. Then how is WC expected to know the concerns of the public and discuss them?

3) The WC cannot control some major functions:

The 74th Amendment (12th Schedule) lists 18 functions. Public utilities such as electricity and public transport are not listed here. These functions are not handled by BBMP. How can WC or even the corporator ensure balanced planning of the area?

4) The centralised functions cannot be managed by the individual WCs

Even within BBMP’s own scope of work, some functions cut across many wards. The WCs cannot handle such functions effectively. For example, solid waste management has local logistics aspects and city-wide operations as well. But the WC can deal with only its own local logistics. It cannot monitor what is going on at the central level facilities existing in its own ward.

For example, BBMP recently claimed that a scam of 400 Crore was unearthed after four years. The moot point is, why did BBMP take such a long time to “unearth” such an obvious issue? A normal MIS system can give away such facts immediately. The fleet management and geofencing would have detected mismanagement of vehicles instantly.

In the new WC-monitored system, there should be no scope for such scams. But this is beyond the power of WCs in the current format.

5) The central agencies cannot attend the WC meetings

If the WCs in all 198 wards are meeting on the same day at the same time, how will senior officers from BMTC, BESCOM, BWSSB etc will manage to attend all of them at once?

6) The WC members do not have the required domain knowledge

Even if the decision-makers from these agencies are present in WC meeting, the WC members do not have the domain knowledge to take an informed decision.

For example, scheduling of buses requires specialised knowledge of Travel Demand and scheduling (part of Operation Research). If technically unqualified public decides to meddle in such activities, they would end up making a mess of it.

7) WC cannot be effective in matters that involve multiple wards

Some subjects involve multiple wards. For example, setting a bus route that passes through multiple wards, or Solid Waste Management, where the logistics are spread over multiple wards. The WC members do not know of such operations nor do they have the jurisdiction to take a decision in such matters.

Currently such issues are independently handled by the Standing Committees, and the WCs have no role to play. The decisions taken by the Standing Committees are not even discussed in the concerned WCs.

8) BBMP does not have an effective issue-tracker system

Typically, a WC discusses individual local complaints, like the Jana Spandana events. This leaves no time for systemic decisions. This calls for an efficient issue-tracker. Only the MIS of this issue-tracker should be discussed at WC meetings; not individual complaints. But BBMP does not have a good tracker. BBMP’s Sahaya Helpline closes most of the complaints without taking any action. This prompts the public to take their individual complaints to the WC.

9) BBMP does not share operational data/metrics in public domain

BBMP’s management should be data-based, not about resolving individual complaints.For example, the WC should not be discussing why specific potholes are not getting filled. Rather, it should be discussing why a particular road is too costly to construct, or why it takes too much money to maintain it.

This is possible only if the WC has access to such data. But BBMP does not publish its operational data in public domain. In our example, if the WC checks the e-procurement data, it cannot conclude anything about a given road.

Who will take the onus of proposing a suit of metrics (operational + economic)? An expert team should go through the available data and decide what new data is needed; and how the available data needs to be collected in a different format. BBMP should then set up a website where such data is collected and posted on regular basis.

Right now this is missing.

10) The WC members are not trained in data-based decision-making:

Even if the operational data/metrics are freely available, the average WC member is not trained to analyse the data and decide based on it (especially based on econometrics and operational metrics).

Thus most WCs are very likely to occupy themselves in endless discussion of specific complaints. Typically, each WC member would bring complaints from his neighborhood (“why is my drain not desilted?“, “I am not getting adequate BWSSB water!“, “BMTC buses do not come to my area.”…) But they may not look into actual data to see the pattern and causes.

All WC members must be trained annually to change this mindset, and to enable them to use data and metrics effectively.

11) The new wards on outskirts are too large for WC to manage:

In 2007, 110 villages were merged with the main city area, to form BBMP. A ward is always created based on its population. Since the newly merged area had very less population in past census, the government created large wards based on that sparse population. For example, Bellandur is 10 times the average ward size!

But over the next decade, the same areas are heavily populated. These wards need to be split into multiple wards based on the current population. Till then, the WC will find it difficult to handle such huge wards

12) The new wards have tiny budgets, not sufficient for even maintenance:

The core areas of the city have been receiving regular funding, and the infrastructure is developed to a saturation point. Therefore they need only a nominal budget for routine maintenance.

In contrast, the newly merged areas started getting funds only from 2010. They have a huge infrastructure deficit, and are in urgent need of large budgets. But these wards are completely ignored in the budget. Without money, development work cannot be taken up. What can the WCs of these wards do without money?

13) The BBMP budgetary allocation is arbitrary and ad-hoc:

Time and again citizens are assured of a particular road, park or any other development, and after some time the project is delayed repeatedly, and sometimes shelved.

This happens because BBMP does not have a system to capture all needs in a central database, and to prioritise budgets using specific criteria. This is why core areas get disproportionately higher budgets.

On top of this, BBMP owes huge amounts to its contractors, for contracts dating back to several years. It tries to settle this outstanding amount with some of the contractors in an ad-hoc manner, by diverting money from sanctioned projects. This brings the affected project to a grinding halt. Such practices must stop.

These are what we need:

  • A centralized database must manage the lifecycle of all projects, right from the proposal stage (“funnel management”).
  • Once approved, the project must get completed without fund diversions.
  • Some of these proposed projects may not be accepted in the current year. That should be noted.
  • In ward-wise allocation, give weightage to current development state (give less to mature wards)
  • In ward-wise allocation, give weightage to ward size (give more to larger wards)
  • If any ward has past outstanding, it must be counted in current year’s allocation.
  • This TOTAL allocation must be proportional to ward size and lack of development.

14) The urban planning policies not under control of WCs

The WCs are not responsible for faulty urban planning, and yet they have to deal with the problems arising out of it. For example, the urban sprawl policy. By 2050, urban sprawl will cause an annual loss of 1.5 Trillion USD to Indian cities! According to an IISC study, Bangalore has the worst urban sprawl in the country. Thus in future, Bangalore will account for most of this projected loss.

In urban planning, several techniques are available to counter urban sprawl, and to make the city compact. But the WCs are not equipped to launch an all-out assault on urban sprawl. Also, when the actual measures are taken, certain wards will have to make some sacrifices for the greater good. How will we ensure cooperation from all wards?

15) The term “RWA” needs to be re-defined for full inclusion of public:

BBMP defines “RWA” as a registered body with minimum 3 years of operation. But due to legal constraints, the apartment management committees cannot register under KSRA.

The layouts and villas are even worse off, as their management committees don’t even qualify as “Association of Persons” (AOPs). Thus very few genuine RWAs would be able to participate in the WC meetings. In other words, most of the public will not be able to send their representatives to the WCs.

To sum up, we need to find solutions to the points listed above, so that the WCs can start functioning on the right footing. If we let these problems continue, the new WCs would also get used to the distortion in the system, and tag along. In that case, the very purpose of having WCs will be lost.


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About Nagesh Aras 20 Articles
Nagesh Aras is a resident of Bellandur. He works on urban governance issues like mobility, lake and water management, and STPs.

1 Comment

  1. Lot of discussion has to take place with respect to effectively monitoring ward & for alround development of Ward. Feed back from all public should be called & selection of Ward committee along with their responsibility to be finalized. Ward Committee members should represent from all sections of society & right/capable persons should be selected to make it more effective.
    Hope, lot of changes will take place in days to follow. Earlier is the better. All higher secondary schools & colleges should have one chapter regarding ward administration.

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