Bengaluru’s Mayors: What they can do, what they have done

Bengaluru is gearing up for Mayor election yet again. Did you know that the Mayor of Bengaluru can do many things, despite all limitations that the post has?

Mayor is the ‘first citizen’ of a city. But in Bengaluru, as in most municipal corporations in India, the Mayor is more often a figurehead.

A ‘one-year wonder intended only for ceremonial purposes’ is how the 2008 Kasturirangan Committee Report ‘Governance in Bengaluru Metropolitan Region and BBMP’ describes the Bengaluru Mayor. This is because Mayor’s powers are restricted by the law itself. According to the KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporation) Act, 1976, Mayor only has a one-year term, and has no executive powers.

As per KMC Act, a Mayor can

  • Preside over BBMP Council meetings, and convene additional meetings. She can bar a councillor from voting on or discussing matters in which the councillor may have a financial interest. If vote on a resolution leads to a tie, Mayor can put a casting vote that would decide the matter.
  • Ask the Commissioner to attend meetings of Council or Standing Committees
  • Direct BBMP Commissioner to implement resolutions passed by Council, and to produce any record
  • Conduct inspections
  • Mayor is ex-officio the member of all standing committees, though they cannot vote or be the chairperson of any standing committee
  • The Government is supposed to appoint Commissioner and Council Secretary in consultation with the Mayor.

Mayor has no executive power

Current Mayor G Padmavathi is the 50th Mayor of Bengaluru. So far, the most common actions taken by mayors include holding inspections in public areas and at BBMP offices, asking BBMP Commissioners to take action against erring officers, meeting affected citizens during rains and disasters etc. Mayors are often seen in public, working alongside Bengaluru Development Ministers. Rather than mayors, it is often ministers/MLAs who head meetings or delegations on policy decisions in BBMP.

As per KMC Act, executive powers are vested with the BBMP Council, Standing Committees and the Commissioner; but the Mayor has no such authority. BBMP Council is more concerned with local administrative matters than policy, while the state government holds inordinate powers over BBMP, says the Kasturirangan Report. It is the state government that approves BBMP budget; government can also issue directions overriding the Council and can even dissolve the Council. State government also appoints the Commissioner and other senior BBMP officers, and approves staff strength. Hence Commissioners consider themselves agents of state governments, and view municipal issues from government’s perspective, says the report.

The actions of Bengaluru Mayors reflect their powerlessness. Even as they inspect areas and listen to public grievances, they can only recommend to the BBMP Commissioner to take necessary action. Mayors are often seen taking their complaints to MLAs and ministers about poor performance and non-cooperation of BBMP officers. Recently, Mayor Padmavathi approached the CM regarding glitches in performance of Indira canteens and non-cooperation of officials, and the CM in turn directed the Mayor to take action.

Mayor indirectly elected

Currently, Bengaluru mayors are indirectly elected; councillors elect one among themselves for a tenure of one year. Kasturirangan Committee Report recommends that Mayor should instead be elected directly by the people, for a fixed term of five years. It also recommended that Mayor should be made the Chief Executive of the corporation. Only this would make her politically accountable and answerable to the public, similar to politicians in higher levels of government.

The report also recommends a Mayoral Committee of at least eight members – similar to a cabinet – chosen by the Mayor, who will ratify major decisions taken by her. The report also recommended that the Mayor should be able to choose the Commissioner from among candidates shortlisted by a high powered Search Committee that is appointed by the state government in consultation with Mayor. These changes will also lead to serious candidates contesting for Mayor, says the report.

In its 2015 report to the government, BBMP Restructuring Committee had also recommended a directly elected Mayor for five years. BMRG (Bengaluru Metropolitan Regional Governance) Bill drafted by the ABIDe task force set up by the former BJP government had also recommended longer term and more powers to Mayor.

What did previous mayors do?

Here is a look at what the city’s mayors have done in recent years:

G Padmavathi (2016-17):

  • She has tried to get BBMP officers to work with councillors. Last October, she ordered officers to meet elected representatives every month to discuss public grievances and to submit reports.
  • After the death of 18-year-old Jayaprakash Arun upon falling into a drain, she said that strict action will be taken against erring BBMP engineers, and that local level engineers should hold surveys to find if footpaths are broken. She also coordinated with BBMP officers to clear trees that had fallen during rains.
  • She inspected Indira canteens, and instructed the kitchens to send sufficient food. During inspection, she ordered that the Subramanyanagar (ward 66) canteen, which had been closed by a senior health officer claiming shortage of water, be opened. She also recommended that the BBMP Commissioner suspend the concerned officer.
  • During the Council meeting in August, she directed BBMP Chief Health Officer (Public Health) to submit a detailed report on dengue cases. This was after the officer revealed rapid increase in dengue cases, and the opposition demanded action from BBMP.
  • In April, she along with Bengaluru Development Minister K G George, held talks with a Bulgarian infrastructure company on building tunnel roads in Bengaluru. She later said that she did not want public consultations on the project, as a section of people always opposed all the developmental work.

B N Manjunath Reddy (2015-16):

  • He instructed officers to take action against apartments and malls that encroached storm water drains (SWDs). One of the encroachment cases, related to Puravankara Skydale apartment, was reversed by the High Court of Karnataka later.
  • He instructed key BBMP zonal level officers to accept public grievances on Twitter.
  • He ordered an inquiry by the TVCC (Technical Vigilance Cell under the Commissioner) into the Rs 15.2 crore bill submitted for works done using Python 5000, an automated pothole filling machine. There were allegations that the work done was not quantified, and that the company had overbilled BBMP.
  • He held a meeting ahead of Ganesh festival to discuss strategies for handling the garbage that would be generated. At the time, BBMP had a huge backlog of garbage since the villagers around S Bingipura landfill had refused to allow garbage dumping for awhile.

N Shanthakumari (2014-15):

  • She led a delegation to the centre, seeking funding for a project to build five elevated corridors linking various parts of the city.
  • She held surprise inspections in BBMP ward-level revenue offices and checked attendance registers. Majority of the officers were absent from their seats; she said notices would be sent to them seeking explanation.
  • She instructed BWSSB to provide clean Cauvery water to residents in areas where BWSSB lines had been contaminated by sewage during heavy rains.
  • When a 9 year old girl was washed away after falling into a SWD, she said she would urge the CM to remove irresponsible officers, and would discuss the issue with city ministers and MLAs.

Katte Sathyanarayana (2013-14):

  • He focused on cleanliness and solid waste management. He held an intensive cleaning drive in KR Market once a week. College students used to support BBMP pourakarmikas in these cleaning drives at times.
  • He planned to rope in actor Rajnikanth for BBMP’s ‘Clean Bengaluru’ campaign.
  • Along with BBMP Commissioner, he supervised BBMP workers during a special drive to clean major roads in the city.
  • He was part of the delegation headed by Jayanagar MLA B N Vijayakumar that went to Israel to study garbage processing there and find a solution to Bengaluru’s garbage problem.

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