BBMP budget 2024-25: Allocations and climate action plan in conflict

Over Rs 2,130 crore allocated for roads in BBMP Budget 2024-25 far surpasses the allocations for improving healthcare, education and welfare.

The BBMP budget 2024-25 seems to be full of measures that are contradictory, which also undermine the rule of law. It hopes to garner Rs. 1,000 crore by permitting additional floors on high-rises as ‘premium floor-area ratio (FAR)’, over and above what is permitted by law.  At the same time, the budget has reduced the penalty on property tax defaulters by which it will lose about Rs. 2,700 crore!  Both these measures modify existing laws in an arbitrary manner, conveying the impression that laws may exist on paper but can be allowed to be bypassed at the whims of the executive.

The other questions about the increase in FAR that need answers: How will these high-rises accommodate the additional cars that the new residents will bring?  And how will their water supply and sewerage systems bear this additional load? 

At the same time, “a complete IT-based transparent on-line system for creation and issuance of TDR will be rolled out”, which it is hoped will “revitalise the TDR/DRC market” and bring in lots of revenue.  Who will want to invest in TDRs, if one can build more floors anyway through the relaxed FAR?   

Bengaluru is already bursting at the seams and facing a deep water crisis. So, should not the proposed measures aid decongestion of Bengaluru and instead spread the investment to other tier-2 and tier-3 cities to make development more widespread across Karnataka?  Tellingly, these decisions are being taken at a time when the BBMP council is totally absent and officials are presenting the BBMP Budget for the fourth year in succession in a blatant violation of the Constitution. 

Notifications have also been issued making the guidance value the basis for calculating property tax, which is supposed to bring more revenue to BBMP. Whatever happened to the establishment of the “Karnataka Property Tax Board” under Section 102B of Chapter IX-A of the KMC Act, which appears to be still on the books?  It says that it is an “Act to override other laws” and “no municipality or corporation shall determine the rate of any zone, area or any nature or class of building for taxation without consultation of the Board?”  Is that one more law that has become a dead letter?   

Many more contradictions continue. Seed money of Rs. 200 crore is provided in the budget for a pilot project to construct tunnels in two places of heavy traffic congestion.  This project is likely to be extended to several other tunnel roads later.  When an underground Metro for Bengaluru was opposed as being too expensive, should one be incentivising private cars by creating tunnel roads for them?  

Overemphasis on road development

A sum of Rs.130 crore will be provided for sundry widening of roads. White-topping of about 145 km of roads will be undertaken with a Government of Karnataka grant of Rs. 800 crore and internal resources of BBMP of Rs. 900 crore. These roads are mostly in the Central Business District (CBD), which already has the best roads in the city. 

Digging up these roads to white-top them will create a lot of dust, which Bengaluru can ill afford, given its levels of air pollution causing high increase in respiratory diseases, especially among children. If the normal asphalted roads are laid as per specifications without 40% commission as alleged by contractors, they should be lasting 10 years too at one-tenth the cost! 

Further, Namma Metro, BBMP and K-RIDE will jointly plan to build “Integrated metro and road flyover (double decker road)”, for which a sum Rs.100 crore is being provided initially by the BBMP. Why a double-decker road for private cars underneath a Metro? The Metro is supposed to replace the private cars, right?    

Read more: Karnataka budget 2024-25: Focus on welfare programmes, Bengaluru infrastructure

So, a total of more than Rs. 2,130 crore are foreseen just for roads. These projects are being proposed despite opposition from knowledgeable circles and in contradiction to the already-proposed Climate Action Plan and Sustainable Development Goals. And has the BMLTA been involved in the decision-making for these projects?  The costs for the above projects far outweigh the budgets foreseen for improving health care, educational facilities and welfare activities, which total Rs. 1,527.71 crore. 

Waste management transfer stations; poorly implemented decentralised waste system  

Lands of 50 to 100 acres each are to be purchased in four directions outside Bengaluru at a cost of Rs. 100 crore for treatment of waste. It is proposed to establish scientifically-managed Waste Management Transfer Stations, one per division during the current year, to prevent black spots created during waste transfer within the BBMP. This is no doubt to ready the garbage for transfer to the distant processing centres away from Bengaluru. 

Meanwhile, merely four biomethanisation units with a capacity of five tonnes per day and one unit with a capacity of 50 tonnes per day are intended to be constructed. Just 250 households will be selected to convert raw waste into compost at their own houses for decentralised management of waste. This, when the High Court had ordered in 2012 itself that decentralised wet waste processing units should be set up in all 193 wards “within three months” and the order was repeated in 2018.  

The BBMP team after presenting the BBMP Budget 2024-25.
Presenting the BBMP Budget 2024-25 estimation. Pic: X/@bbmpcomm

It is being claimed in the budget that the 98 lakh tonne mountain of ‘heritage waste’ at Mandur, Mavallipura and Bellahalli is being bio-mined. But that is a claim being made before the court for more than a decade.  And appropriately, it is being called ‘heritage waste’ and not ‘legacy waste’ – which means that it is something to be preserved and not to be got rid of!” 

Grant for ward programme of works, 2011 Act not implemented

 For the Ward Programme of Works (POW), Rs. 75 lakhs each will be allocated to 225 wards of BBMP and a grant of Rs 1.25 crore will be given to each ward to undertake developmental works.

“Ward Committees have been given the authority to decide about the necessary works to be carried out in each ward.  Due to this type of action, the people of the city can actively participate in decision-making and to empower them in a democratic system,” says the budget. 

But there is no mention of notifying the Areas for the constitution of Area Sabhas with all voters, which are ultimately to plan and decide on the works for each of their Areas, as per the KMC (Amdt.) Act of 2011 and the Rules framed under it in 2016.  This law has remained unimplemented for eight years now. 

Further, in a regressive measure, the BBMP Act of 2020 says that ward committees will only be recommendatory or advisory bodies.  If so, how will they become part of the decision-making?

BBMP Advertisement Policy: How will it add to the city’s aesthetics? 

In a bid to increase the aesthetics of Bengaluru, a grant of Rs.100 crore is foreseen in the budget to “illuminate flyovers, underbridges, road junctions and parks in Bengaluru City with attractive coloured electric lights”. At the same time, “A new BBMP Advertisement Policy through BBMP Advertisement Rules, 2024, will be promulgated” says the budget, which will generate an advertisement revenue of about Rs. 500 crore  in a year. “This is expected to safeguard the aesthetics and visual spaces in the city,” claims the budget. 

How hoardings will improve aesthetics in the city is a moot point unless one enjoys seeing hoardings with the varied faces of politicians and their supporters wishing citizens on every possible festive occasion!  Hoardings are being rejuvenated, which were banned a few years ago through a decision taken by the BBMP Council and a High Court order.  And these will completely ruin the aesthetics hoped to be achieved by illuminating flyovers, etc!

Read more: CAG audit 2021-22: Revenue concerns, PSU returns hinder Karnataka’s fiscal efficiency

Is a sky-deck worth it? 

To develop the city of Bengaluru as an attractive and tourist destination under the Brand Bengaluru scheme, a 250-meter-high sky-deck is proposed to be built “in a design that will emerge as a landmark at the international level”. The total cost of the said project is estimated at Rs.350 crore. Do we really need such luxuries when basic needs are lacking?  And what will the tourists see from the sky-deck?  The totally built-up, unplanned, concretised area, the lack of greenery, the slums and the garbage lying all around?  The 8-10 acres of land proposed to be acquired for this project are better used for creating decent social rental housing for the temporary migrants flooding the city and living in squalid conditions.

Feasibility of environmental measures vis-a-vis infrastructure projects 

Many well-meaning and high-sounding initiatives for preserving the environment, “to build resilience against climate change hazards such as flooding, urban heat, water scarcity and air pollution” have been proposed. Measures for planting more greenery, rejuvenating lakes, recharging borewells, digging recharge pits for rainwater collection, etc. have been delineated. 

However, the amounts allocated appear to be too minuscule when compared to the amounts being spent on roads, etc., and when compared to the size of the problem. Also, while welcome, a lot of dependence is being placed on voluntary takeover of responsibilities for climate action and resilience building by stakeholders, that is, citizens, corporates, RWAs, educational institutions, etc. So, is this a means of abdicating the government’s duty?  

Also, unless the environmental impact is made a mandatory part of the feasibility studies and cost-benefit analysis for all the road and other infrastructure projects being proposed, one hand may be undoing what the other hand is trying to achieve. 

Allocations for health care, education and welfare 

BBMP taking over all the primary health care facilities and the secondary and tertiary health care facilities being handed over to the Department of Health and Family Welfare is a good measure.  An expenditure of around Rs. 200 crore is proposed to be spent over two years to upgrade the health care services under ‘Brand Bengaluru’. But budgetary allocation of only Rs. 20 crore is made in the current year. So, how will Rs. 200 crore be spent in two years?

It is difficult to gauge whether the amounts for health care, education and welfare being allocated by BBMP are adequate as the amounts being spent by the state government line departments, such as the Women & Child Development, Education, Health and Social Welfare departments within BBMP’s area are not available. 

However, to improve the quality of education for the 24,089 students studying in 167 educational institutions run by BBMP for the under-privileged, well-equipped computer labs, digital labs, IT labs and e-libraries are being proposed for which Rs.10 crore is being allocated.

A neglected area that BBMP needs to focus on is on providing day-care centres in every ward for the zero to six-year-olds of the marginalised for whom these facilities are currently unavailable even by the line departments of the state, considering that there are a lot of women working as domestic workers, construction workers, self-employed vendors, etc., whose young are often left unattended or are looked after by older girl siblings, foregoing school.  

A good move: Sub-registrar office transactions as per e-khata

The initiative that provides some ray of “light amid the encircling gloom” is that the transactions in the sub-registrar offices shall be based on the e-Khata with tight integration of Namma Swathu’ with KAVERI-2. The transactions in the sub-registrar offices will electronically flow to ‘Namma Swathu’ System of BBMP and the process of mutations will get automatically started electronically, where the Aadhaar of the owner has been seeded in the BBMP property. Hopefully, this will end the possibility of someone registering a sale deed for having sold the Vidhana Soudha to a gullible buyer, which was possible earlier!

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