Why BBMP elections are not happening

Consistent pressure from the High Court is not working. The absence of an elected city council makes the BBMP ship without its sails, allowing lack of local political accountability to persist.

The BBMP has, ever since its formation, received the citizens ire for its failure to deliver civic services effectively. When young children fall prey to the open drains in Bengaluru or when trees are callously cut for the metro or road widening purposes, Bangaloreans, feeling the heat, protest against the BBMP. But the citizens have not been able to find any answers, as currently there is no one that is politically accountable to the local problems in Bengaluru. So for almost three years, Bengaluru has been under the Bureaucrats Raj.

Due to the absence of elected representatives in BBMP, there is some distance between common citizens and the city corporation. Where are the councilors?

A slug walk to the elections

The five year term of the elected council of BBMP ended on November 23rd 2006. On January 16th 2007, BBMP was officially formed by merging the 100 wards of  BBMP, along with seven City Municipal Councils (Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Dasarahalli, Bommanahalli, Krishnarajapuram, Mahadevapura, Byatarayanapura and Yelahanka), one Town Municipal Council (Kengeri) and 110 villages around Bengaluru. The total area of Bengaluru hence increased from the 226 sq km  to nearly 800 sq km under BBMP. However, the first elections to the reconstituted corporation have been delayed on various grounds since then.

The primary issue cited by the government for the delay in BBMP elections has been that of delimitation of wards. The delimitation process was actually completed by March 2008 when the 100 wards of the BBMP were extended to 145 wards by the state government. But due to assembly elections in May, BBMP elections were proposed to be held after the new government assumed office. However, even after the new government came in, it failed to take a decision on the newly constituted ward limits. The central elections of April 2009 and the recent assembly by-elections have also been grounds cited for the delay.

There have been various court orders which set deadlines for the conduct of the elections. On September 30th 2008 the High Court of Karnataka ordered contempt notice to the state government and State Election Commission (SEC) for failing to comply with an order which required BBMP elections to be conducted within three months.  None of the three deadlines of October 2nd 2008, March 9rd 2009 and July 31th 2009, set by the High Court for conducting the BBMP election, have been adhered to.

The government instead, decided to further increase the number of wards to 198. So all the delimitation work that had been done till then went in vain. The draft of the delimitation for 198 wards was published in June 2009, with only a 13 day period to hear citizens’ suggestions. The final notification of delimitation was out in July and the draft voters list along with the polling booth details was recently published with only a five day period to hear people’s objections.

The reservation of seats for Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and other communities in the wards has not been complete despite government’s assurance to the High Court in July that it would be complete in less than a month.  More recently, matters got worse. The High Court stayed the ward reservation guidelines issued by the state government because the latter sought to reserve the wards based on the SC/ST population of the assembly constituencies and not as per the SC/ST population of BBMP wards.

In a hearing on October 27th, the High Court reportedly pulled up the state government for framing unscientific guidelines for reservation of wards. The petition challenging the reservation guidelines was filed by one Ramakrishna Pai. Justice H N Nagamohandas has asked BBMP to file details regarding list of wards, percentage of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST) population, besides the percentage of SC/ST women in the population of the city, says The New Indian Express, in a report on October 28th.

With this, not only has the October 23rd High Court deadline for announcing the calendar of events for elections not been adhered to, there will now be further delay, and the elections might not happen before December.

The elections that won’t happen
November 23rd 2006: The 5 year term of BMP ends without the holding of elections.
January 16th 2007: The BBMP is officially formed by merging seven CMCs, one TMC and 110 villages with BMP.
March 24th 2008: The Government publishes the draft notification of the new ward limits which has increased from 100 to 147.
September 30th, 2008: The High Court orders contempt notice to State Government and SEC for failing to implement the High Court order to conduct elections within three months.
November 10th 2008: High Court orders the State Government and SEC to conduct the BBMP elections before March 9th, 2009. (fours months)
March 31st 2009: The High Court directs the Government and the SEC to hold the elections before the end of July. (4 months)
July 2nd 2009: The High Court directs the State Government and SEC to conduct the BBMP Elections within three months.
July 15th 2009: The State Government issues the final notification on the delimitation of wards which has increased from 147 to 198.
September 17th 2009: High Court stays the ward reservation guidelines also asks for the calendar of events for elections by October 23.
October 27th 2009: High Court criticises state government’s use of Assembly Constituency population data for use in ward reservation for SCs/STs and other communities and asks BBMP to provide ward level community population data.

Ward delimitation: Why cannot Karnataka follow the example of other states?

Under the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, the delimitation and the reservation of wards are to be done by the state government and not the state election commission. So if any state government wants to delay the holding of the local elections for not losing the political control it can wield over the city, it can do so by conducting a delimitation process which lasts for years. Opposition parties have also contended that it is due to the government’s obstinacy to hold power that the elections are delayed.

In states like Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal, the SEC has also been empowered with the task of delimitation and reservation. So in Karnataka also, handing over the task of delimitation and reservation to the independent SEC would mean that vested interests of the state government does not cause delay in the local elections. The High Court, though it heavily criticised the government’s apathetic attitude, could have also played a sterner role in enforcing the deadlines for the elections and hence work as a check on state power.

Continuing violation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment

The absence of a locally elected body running the city is a continuous violation of the Constitution of India which after the 74th constitutional amendment, requires the municipal bodies to function as “institutions of self-government”. The 74th amendment which created the three-tier governance system, aims at ensuring regular conduct of the local elections. What it sought to achieve is the empowerment of municipal bodies through mandatory devolution of functions, funds and functionaries to these elected bodies, like BBMP.

So the goal of the amendment was to empower the people in their local affairs by having politically accountable representatives who are responsible for their well being. However, under the present situation, there is no one representing the people in BBMP and citizens are expected to directly deal with the state appointed officials of the corporation. As per the Constitution, elections to the municipal bodies have to be held before the expiry of the five year term of the previous council. By delaying BBMP election by three years, the government has denied the citizens a democratic right guaranteed by the Constitution.

A word for the sceptics

The cynics would question whether the elections would solve any of the local problems in Bengaluru and whether we actually need local representatives for better efficiency. The question is that of political accountability. The fact remains that BBMP officials cannot be held accountable to the people of Bengaluru as they are merely bureaucrats, coming not necessarily from Bengaluru, who are appointed by the state government. It is to have political accountability for local issues that the Constitution of India gives the people the democratic right to vote for a favorable local government.

By having elected councillors for every 30,000 odd people, the local problems can at least be addressed better than they are being addressed now. That still more reforms are going to be needed, even with a city council, is another story. Perhaps, the local administration system needs to be perfected, but no city government can work with efficiency and accountability without a locally elected body.

We regularly hear about massive governance reform proposals and schemes for Bangalore from the state government. Contemplating broader urban governance reforms when even the basic constitutional requirements have been ignored is the height of hypocrisy.   ⊕

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