Will 50% women councillors in BBMP help Bengaluru?

The Karnataka cabinet on 7th May announced 50% reservation for women in urban local bodies. Is this a political gimmick?

The Karnataka State cabinet on 7th May underlined its commitment towards women empowerment and announced provide 50 per cent reservation in urban local bodies on the lines of reservation in gram, taluk and zilla panchayats.

Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs S Suresh Kumar after a cabinet meeting on 7th, reportedly said that the government will amend the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964 and Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976 in the next legislature.

Karnataka has nine city corporations including the recent inclusion of Tumkur. It has 205 other municipalities: 43 City Municipal Councils, 94 Town Municipal Council and 68 Town Panchayats.

So half of the seats will now be reserved for women in CMC, TMC, TP and corporations including our BBMP. Increased representation of women by reservation in elected sabhas are supported by those who feel this will address problems of gender inequality, women’s safety, etc.But can this mark a difference in the quality of governance in Bengaluru?

Citizen Matters spoke some women’s empowerment activists in Bengaluru.

50% women reservation for BBMP council, gimmick or empowerment? File pic: Citizen Matters

Manvel Alur, a member of the civic group Koramangala Initiative believes that  reservation should not be the key point. She says this has no direct impact on the efficient working of an urban area. The gender of the candidate is not as important these days, says Manvel, but agrees that in the past reservation was important to help bring equality in the system of governance.

“What is more important is that clear set of criteria be given for each position in government and the candidates should be qualified to fill that position based on the criteria (education, clear legal history, past experience in governance, etc.). This is what will make the difference in governance”, add Manvel.

In contrast, disagreeing with Manvel is a resident of Jayanagar and feminist-activist Laxmi Murthy. Laxmi argues that there is some experimental evidence to show that elected women representatives are generally more responsive to people’s issues – water, roads, schools, garbage collection etc. “So, if there are more women corporators, it is likely that these issues will get more attention”, she says.

But at the same time Laxmi admits that hopes that women would be less corrupt or prone to the influence of vested interests has not always been the case.

Going by the statistics, the reservation change in BBMP would mean that the strength is increased  to 99 women corporators. This is an increase of 28 seat, roughly 17 percent. Today, there are 71 women corporators out of the total 198 wards.

Husbands as fronts to women councillors

In Koramangala for instance, the corporator is a woman, B N Kokila. A citizen who spoke to Citizen Matters on condition he not be named says, “B N Kokila is the front to the ‘real decision maker’ which is her husband. But having said that, she has learnt the issues over the year, and does respond to local issues sometimes.”  

The issue of husband standing for their wives is a weak spot in women’s reservation but at the same time the ‘proxies’ controlling the elected representative is not new throughout the country. In a feudal set up like India, the leader of the family tends to rule politics.

In line with this, Laxmi argues that the issue of husbands controlling their wives who have been elected is blown out of proportion. She believes that male corporators are also influenced by family members – and sons are often proxy for their fathers or other older family members. She feels that out of odds this situation can even be fixed.

“There are certainly cases of husbands calling the shots instead of their wives. But these instances can be minimised by providing on-the-job training and capacity building for corporators”, argues Laxmi.

Citizen Matters
spoke to another resident of HSR Layout,  where the corporator is also a woman, K Latha works. Brigadier (Retd.) Murthy who is the president of RWAs of HSR emphasised on the merit for any candidature be it women or men. He expressed his deep concerns over reservation used as to gain political mileage. He says, “Last mayor was a lady but she was unable to speak English correctly and had no technical knowledge of the functionality of BBMP. That’s not the kind of reservation we are looking for.”

Murthy also feels that K Latha as a corporator is yet to  make a mark. “We have told her the ground level problems but she is not at all  been effective.”

On an optimistic note Ruth Manorama, Bengaluru’s dalit empowerment activist feels that this move will definitely change the quality of governance. She also asks state politicians to fix the balance in their own legislative assembly. “We welcome the move but at the same time we need more women in state assembly. If a mass of women jumps into politics provided conducive environment, things will change”, snaps Ruth.

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