Karnataka’s new municipal law tightens Govt grip on BBMP

Ignoring recommendations for restructuring the BBMP and avoiding public consultation, the Yediyurappa govt rushes through a new municipal law to govern Bengaluru, and helps itself to greater control.

A separate law for Bengaluru’s governance, to solve the city’s countless civic problems, has been on the cards since 2008. But when the state Legislature eventually passed the BBMP Bill on December 11, it seemed that years of deliberations on the law had been futile.

It was in 2008 that the Kasturirangan Committee report on ‘Governance in the Bangalore Metropolitan Region and BBMP’ suggested a separate municipal law for Bengaluru (instead of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, that applies to all corporations in the state).

In 2010, the ABIDe task force – constituted by the BJP government under B S Yediyurappa – put together a draft of the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Governance (BMRG) Bill. Later, the Siddaramaiah government formed a Bengaluru Restructuring Committee, which drafted another Bill in 2018, the Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill.

Yet, after the BJP government took over in 2019, a new Bill for BBMP was drafted afresh and passed, all within a year. The Bill, which became an Act after being passed, lacks many of the key provisions included in its previous drafts. And despite several problems in the Bill, pointed out by civic groups, no public consultations were held.

A hurried draft

Government kicked off the drafting process a year ago. It gave the job of drafting the Bill to non-profit think-tank, Vidhi Legal. In March, the government tabled the draft of the Bill in the Assembly. 

K Dwarkanath Babu, Secretary at the Department of Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation of GoK, informed Citizen Matters that the Bill was drafted based on municipal laws from different states and other state and central laws and documents.

V Ravichandar, who was part of the Bengaluru Restructuring Committee, says the new Bill and the one they drafted (Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill, 2018) are “as different as day and night”. “The new Bill is a Bill for BBMP alone, not Bengaluru. It ignores multiple parastatals like BWSSB, BDA, BMTC, etc., hence many core municipal functions like water and power supply, planning, transport, etc will be outside BBMP’s ambit. The Bill is not a fix for Bengaluru’s woes”, he says. 

A public hearing by Bengaluru Restructuring Committee at Mahadevapura during its term (From left: committee members V Ravichandar, BS Patil, Siddaiah) File Pic: Meera K

Ravichandar points to other issues with the BBMP Bill: ward committees and area sabhas having only advisory powers; setting up of ‘constituency consultative committees’ that give power to MLAs; and lack of clarity on whether the Mayor or the state-government-appointed Commissioner heads the BBMP.

In effect, the state government continues to have a stranglehold over local government, he says, pointing out that the Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill had tried to address this issue. 

For example, the latter clearly stated that the Mayor-in-Council, and not the commissioner, would have executive powers of the corporation; the Mayor-in-Council would also appoint the commissioner. Though the Siddaramaiah government had rejected the Bill’s proposal to split BBMP into five, it had agreed to implement many of the governance reforms in the Bill.

Minus public consultation

When the first draft of the Bill was tabled in the Legislative Assembly in March, many MLAs were even unaware of the provisions of the Bill. They demanded deliberation over it, and hence the legislature formed a Joint Select Committee that comprised 20 MLAs and seven MLCs across political parties.

However, the opacity to the public continued. A few NGOs sent their recommendations to the committee, but their demand for public consultations was ignored.

Kathyayini Chamaraj of the NGO CIVIC says, “We sent a document of 9-10 pages, recommending many changes. Only two changes were accepted.” Srinivas Alavilli of the NGO Janaagraha says the committee accepted 15 out of the 79 recommendations they sent. “The Bill has some good points, but overall it was a lost opportunity, it has many issues.”

Janaagraha had also been anchoring an initiative to get civic groups to collectively send a common set of demands they agreed on, to the Joint Select Committee. “We were still in the process of drafting this document when the Bill got passed in the Assembly suddenly,” says Srinivas.

Ravichandar says the Restructuring Committee had, in contrast, collected inputs from 1,000 stakeholders, but that it doesn’t hold value now given that the BBMP Bill does not reflect the provisions of the 2018 Bill.

K A Thippeswamy, JD(S) MLC ,who was part of the joint select committee, concurs that public consultations were needed. “Voluntary organisations and experts who work on urban governance could have been consulted. We did place this demand, but the government was in a hurry.” 

He believes the government’s hurry could have been because it wanted to use the implementation of the new law, which includes ward delimitation, as a pretext for postponing the BBMP elections and for continuing the government-appointed Administrator’s rule in BBMP.

Despite multiple calls, this reporter was unable to reach Deputy Chief Minister Ashwath Narayan for comment.

Provisions and pitfalls

Following are some key provisions of the BBMP Bill:

  • Term of Mayor: Mayor and Deputy Mayor will have a 30-month term instead of the current one-year term. No direct election of Mayor.
  • Division into more zones: BBMP will be divided into 15 zones (instead of the current eight). Zonal commissioner will be the nodal officer for administration of the zone.
  • Delimitation of wards: Total wards to be between 225 and 250, instead of the present 198. Delimitation will be such that wards are divided within MLA constituencies, and don’t cross constituency boundaries.
  • Ward committees: Will comprise the ward councillor as chairman, and 10 members nominated by the corporation. Area Sabha Representatives can attend ward committee meetings, but cannot vote. Ward committees can prepare the annual Ward Development Plan proposing projects, create annual budget estimates for the ward, monitor works, etc. But, their recommendations will only be advisory in nature, and not binding.
  • Zonal committees introduced: Zonal committees will be set up above the ward committees, to add another layer of decentralisation. Each committee will comprise councillors from that zone, an engineer, BDA and BWSSB officials, and two experts. One of the councillors in the zone will head the committee. Zonal committees can allocate funds to ward committees, submit zonal budget estimates to the Mayor after consulting ward committees, approve new infrastructure projects.
  • Constituency consultative committees: These will be set up a step above the zonal committees, at the assembly constituency level. Each committee will be headed by the local MLA. Its members will be councillors from the constituency, and five resident association representatives nominated by the MLA. The committee can advise and review the performance of zonal committees, monitor project implementation, advise ward committees.
  • Powers of MLAs: The constituency consultative committees as well as ward delimitation based on assembly constituency boundaries, entrench MLA’s powers in the corporation. Further, MPs, MLAs and MLCs from Bengaluru will continue to be part of the corporation.
  • Government’s powers over BBMP:
    • Commissioner and zonal commissioners will be appointed by government, not corporation. The powers of Mayor are not well-defined. Mayor is not the executive head of the corporation; rather the Mayor as well as the chief/zonal commissioners have executive powers.
    • BBMP can make bye-laws on specific matters, which should be approved by the government. But if government finds these bye-laws inadequate, it can make Rules to replace the bye-laws. 
    • Government can suspend the execution of any resolution/order of the BBMP. It can also dissolve the corporation if it’s of the opinion that the corporation is incompetent, exceeds its powers, doesn’t carry out government’s directions, or acts prejudicial to the corporation’s own interests.
  • Weak MPC (Metropolitan Planning Committee): Government will form an MPC to prepare a development plan for the entire Bangalore Metropolitan Area. A strong MPC with a permanent secretariat, with parastatals under it, is supposed to solve many of Bengaluru’s civic problems, but the BBMP Act lacks such provisions.
  • Taxes: Professional tax will now go to BBMP. Corporation can also collect entertainment tax and an urban transport cess.
  • Better fiscal management: Annual financial statements should be audited, a medium-term fiscal plan and debt limitation policy should be framed.
  • Introduction of a performance management system and grievance redressal authority are seen as positive measures

“Local bodies can’t be completely autonomous”

Explaining the rationale behind provisions in BBMP Bill, K Dwarakanath Babu, Secretary at the Department of Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation, says the state government needs some control over BBMP. The officer attended the meetings of the joint select committee for drafting the final version of the Bill.

“Government is giving aid to the corporation, so wouldn’t the government check the corporation’s functioning and use of funds? Local bodies can’t be completely autonomous and make whatever resolutions they want.”

K Dwarakanath Babu, Secretary, Dept of Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation, GOK.

Thippeswamy is not surprised that this was the reasoning of the committee. He adds, “Regarding MLAs’ powers too, the idea was that they bring several state schemes and funds, as well as MLA grants to the wards; hence they need some say; also coordination would be required.”

Kathyayini says this logic is flawed. “Government should not be deciding on projects and allocating funds at all, it should be the other way around. It should be the corporation that decides on the works to be done and the budgets required. How can the state government implement the Rs 37,000-crore elevated corridor project, or schemes like Nagarothana without the city corporation having any say?”

She points out that the state government is yet to give thousands of crores to city corporations as required by SFC (State Finance Commission) recommendations, a fact revealed in a CAG audit report of 2020 on the implementation of 74th Constitutional Amendment in Karnataka.

The CAG report had pointed out that not getting predictable fiscal transfers from the State and Centre as per Finance Commission recommendations has been hampering the independence of Karnataka’s urban local bodies (ULBs). The report also noted that the power of state government to frame rules and approve corporation bye-laws, restricts ULBs’ autonomy.

Regarding parastatals not being included under the MPC, Dwarkanath says they have representation in the zonal committees and that would allow coordination in works. Kathyayini points out that being excluded from the MPC means parastatals would be excluded from the overall vision plan for Bengaluru, and hence key municipal functions would remain outside the corporation’s ambit.

On ward committees being given only advisory powers, Dwarkanath says the ward councillor is the chairperson of the committee and he/she can speak up in the zonal committees and the BBMP Council. Kathyayini says there is no guarantee that the councillor would do so. “It would then depend on one individual. Whereas if the committees’ decisions on budget, works, etc become mandatory, it will have to be implemented,” she says. The functioning of ward committees is already weak in Bengaluru.

MLC Thippeswamy says, “The 74th Constitutional Amendment does talk about more powers to the corporation. With time, may be there can be amendments to the BBMP Act that give more financial powers to BBMP.”

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  1. cherian joseph says:

    At present lot of hand bills are being distributed by various agencies for marketing their products Much of them are thrown to the premises making the area dirty. If proper control is implemented it will be helpful for the citizens to maintain cleanliness as also it can generate more income to BBMP.

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