Can the new BBMP Bill improve governance in Bengaluru?

State government has drafted a BBMP Bill, exclusively for the governance of Bengaluru city. But can this new law solve Bengaluru's myriad problems?

Elected representatives have long been clamouring that the existing Karnataka Municipal Corporations (KMC) Act of 1976 is unsuited for a huge metropolis like Bengaluru. Hence the state government has drafted an exclusive BBMP Bill.

The Bill was placed before the Legislative Assembly  on March 24, without any pre-legislative disclosure in public domain which violated Section 4(1)(c) and (d) of the Right to Information Act. As per the Opposition’s demand, the Bill was then sent to a Joint Select Committee that comprises members from various parties. Hopefully, the Committee will conduct consultations.

BBMP Bill is largely ‘cut-and-paste’ from KMC Act

The Bill has about 197 Sections whereas the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (KMC) Act is far more detailed, with 500 Sections. So, a lot of dilution and wholesale elimination of several chapters has taken place. But the new Bill is also largely a ‘cut-and-paste job’ from the already existing KMC Act.

For instance, the entire chapter on elections and provisions related to the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) are carried ‘as-is-where-is’ from the KMC Act, despite the many deficiencies in those provisions. For example, in the Bill, the MPC still has representation of CM, MLAs and MPs, making it a body more controlled by the State than the local government.

Some new provisions are positive

There are a few fresh provisions enabling greater decentralisation of functions and accountability in the framing of the budget. There is no reason why these positive changes should be only Bengaluru-specific and not apply to all municipal corporations.  Hence, instead of introducing a new BBMP Bill, it would be better to amend the KMC Act itself so that all municipal corporations benefit from these changes.

Can a new Act solve Bengaluru’s problems?

Even assuming that a special Act for Bengaluru is necessary, the question is, whether the proposed changes would help solve Bengaluru’s current problems such as:

  • Increasing inequality
  • Ecologically-unsustainable development
  • State government’s interference in local governance
  • A Metropolitan Planning Committee kept deliberately dysfunctional
  • Non-devolution of functions necessary to ensure ‘Planning for Economic Development & Social Justice’, the ‘chief function’ of municipalities as per the 74th Constitutional Amendment
  • Lack of coordination between the BBMP and multiple parastatals/agencies such as BWSSB, BMTC, BESCOM, BDA
  • Multiple agencies handling the same functions
  • Lack of umbrella bodies such as a Water Management Authority and Urban Mass Transport Authority
  • Corruption being the accepted ‘daily mode of governance’
  • And last but not least, problems of the citizen who runs from pillar to post to get his entitlements and his grievances resolved.

One does not see any solutions to most of these problems in the proposed Bill. So why the Bill, if it is not going to solve Bengaluru’s problems?

What are the key provisions in the Bill?

The Corporation as institution of self-government

Surprisingly, for the first time, one finds in this Bill an acknowledgement of the Municipal Corporation as “an institution of self-government” which shall have full powers on the matters entrusted to it. But if this intent is genuine, why does the Bill include Bengaluru MLAs, MLCs and MPs in the BBMP Council, with voting rights to boot?  

The Bill says the Municipal Corporation shall prepare and implement schemes for “urban development and social justice” in relation to functions like urban planning, water supply, etc.  But how will BBMP do this, as the Bill does not mention BDA, BWSSB or other parastatals being brought under BBMP? 

Prioritising funds for BBMP’s core functions

There is the surprising commitment that the fund allocation will be prioritised for core functions of the corporation. And that only after the core functions are satisfactorily performed, will funds, if available, be spent on other general functions and ‘sector-wise functions’.

This is a departure from the usual practice we have been witnessing, of funds being allocated for non-primary needs such as road widening, in lieu of essential duties such as proper infrastructure for garbage management.  But there is also much overlap and confusion in the listing of functions under the ‘core’ and ‘sector-wise’ categories, as some functions are listed under both categories.  

Corporation Fund and Budget

The Bill says that the corporation’s funds shall be maintained in accordance with the Karnataka Local Fund Authorities Fiscal Responsibility (KLFAFR) Act.  This Act, passed in 2003, has never been implemented as even Rules were not framed under it. But this is a desirable provision as the KLFAFR Act spells out several principles that urban local bodies (ULBs) should adhere to while framing budgets. Former BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad had also recommended to the state government to implement this Act.

The Bill also says that before ward committees make their recommendations on the plans and budget for the ward, they should organise public consultations. 

Most of the above provisions – on the KLFAFR Act, prioritising budget for core functions, etc – are desirable for all municipal corporations, and not just Bengaluru.

Delimitation of wards

In the Bill, a maximum of 225 wards has been fixed for the BBMP area. Instead, for each ward, maximum limits on the area (say 2 to 3 sq km) and on population (say 35,000) needs to be fixed. With such a provision, wards can be delimited again to maintain this norm after the decennial census figures are out, and the number of wards can be increased as necessary.

The limitation of 225 wards may prove a hurdle to achieving an optimal population in every ward when the city’s population increases. 

Election of Mayor and Deputy Mayor

Direct election of Mayor and Deputy Mayor is not thought of, but their terms have been extended to five years. Also, since the existing Standing Committee system in the KMC Act is to continue, the Mayor-in-Council system advocated by many does not find a place in the Bill.  

Powers of Chief Commissioner Vs Mayor

Strangely, the functions of the Mayor are mentioned in a single sentence – “The Mayor shall discharge all functions as has been assigned to him by the Corporation and this Act”. But nowhere does the Bill list these functions.

There is no clear enunciation of the role of the Mayor as the executive head, and the Commissioner (called Chief Commissioner in the Bill) as the implementer of the Council’s resolutions. This would have been a desirable change, given that the KMC Act currently reproduces the colonial heritage of giving the Commissioner executive powers, and of reducing the Mayor to a figurehead.  

Zonal Committees

The most important change from the KMC Act that one can see in the Bill is that an intermediate tier of ‘Zonal Committees’ is foreseen between the BBMP Council and the Ward Committees, giving BBMP a three-tier structure that facilitates greater decentralisation.  It gives greater voice to the councillors representing the wards in the Zone, which is not possible in the current 198-member BBMP Council.

A heartening matter for us at CIVIC is that we had suggested this three-tier structure to the BBMP Restructuring Committee (B S Patil Committee).  The idea of Zonal Committees would be desirable in all municipal corporations with a population of, say, 10 lakhs and above, and not just in Bengaluru. Mysuru and Hubballi-Dharwad would qualify for them.

However, while CIVIC had suggested that one of the councillors should be chosen as the Chairperson of the Zonal Council, the BBMP Bill makes the Zonal Commissioner the chairperson of the Zonal Committee.  This is a questionable provision as it reverts to the colonial mindset of giving greater powers to bureaucrats than elected representatives.  

Composition of Ward Committee

There is confusion about the composition of the Ward Committees. At one point, the Bill says it shall have 20 members who will be nominated by the Corporation. Further down, it says there shall be 10 members. 

One salutary provision is that the Zonal Commissioner or an officer authorised by him shall nominate members to the ward committees. Though not ideal, this is better than the current practice of the councillor nominating them. The Bill also specifies that the nomination should be done within 30 days, a provision that is absent in the KMC Act. However, the Bill has no further guidelines on the manner of making nominations.

The Bill does not mention a fixed day for holding the Ward Committee meetings as well. Getting this in place was a significant achievement of civil society groups in Bengaluru.  However, the Bill has a salubrious addition that, if the chairperson of a ward committee is absent from a meeting, a committee member chosen from among those present shall preside over the meeting.

Functions of Ward Committee

The existing “Functions of the ward committee” in the KMC Act have been cut and pasted into the new Bill.  But the dubious provision that “the recommendations of the ward committee shall be advisory in nature” has been added.  Is this not a contradiction in terms? 

For example, ensuring “proper utilization of the funds allotted to the ward” is a mandatory function of ward committees. If the committee finds this has not happened and reports the issue to the Zonal Commissioner, can he treat the report as merely recommendatory, and not take action on the findings? 

Determination of Areas

The KMC (Amdt.) Act of 2011 had introduced the concept of ‘Area Sabha’ – a gathering of all the voters of an ‘Area’ to plan and perform other functions for their ‘Area’ – a parallel to the Grama Sabhas of rural areas. This, however, has not been implemented in Bengaluru.

The BBMP Bill says that the territories not exceeding five contiguous ‘Polling Stations’ may be determined as an ‘Area’. This will mean one Area may have 20,000 voters.  How is it possible to have an Area Sabha meeting with 20,000 voters?! In the case of Bengaluru, declaring every Polling Booth Area (PBA) with 1,000 to 1,200 voters as an ‘Area’ is the minimum requirement if Area Sabha meetings are to be feasible.  

Representatives of Area Sabha

Another improved provision is that the Area Sabha Representative (ASR) for each area shall be nominated by the Zonal Committee from among civil society representatives.

The second suggestion by CIVIC that has found acceptance is that ASRs should be members of the Ward Committee.  But the BBMP Bill does not give ASRs voting rights on Ward Committee decisions that other nominated members have.  This too is a questionable provision.

Some other salubrious additions

The Bill proposes a concession in payment of tax on building or vacant land for those who implement socially or ecologically beneficial schemes such as rain water harvesting, vermicomposting, etc.  

When a person dies or suffers an injury due to a defect on a public street, he or his family shall have the right to claim compensation from the Corporation. This is in adherence to a High Court order.

Some desirable provisions ignored

The Bill says that the Zonal Commissioner may summarily evict any encroachment on a public street or footpath. But this provision completely ignores the Street Vendors’ (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014, which the Karnataka High Court too has ordered should be strictly implemented. 

Despite an Supreme Court judgement and two Cabinet decisions on not outsourcing sanitation work, SWM (Solid Waste Management) contractors are foreseen in the Bill. There is also no commitment to have local processing of wet waste or to include several other directions of the HC on this, or on making Zero-waste Wards. 

Additions that can be made

Another draft law prepared by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, has proposed, among other things, the setting up of a State Municipal Regulatory Commission (SMRC) and a State Municipal Vigilance Authority (SMVA). These two provisions are worth being included in the new Bill to improve the poor quality of services being provided by BBMP and to curb corruption by vested interests. 

[Corrigendum: This article had mistakenly mentioned that the BBMP Bill does not specify a time limit for the nomination of ward committee members. The error has been corrected.]

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