Let BMRDA be the admin for city planning

Former IAS officer critiques new Planning Authority bill: Where is the Mayor in this committee?

The Department of Urban Development of the Government of Karnataka has published the draft rules for the Constitution of the Metropolitan Planning Committee for the Bangalore Metropolitan Region and invited comments from the general public on these rules. These are my comments, following a detailed consideration of the provisions of these rules.

Overview of the proposed MPC structure

Draft rule 3 speaks of the constitution of the Committee. The State government nominees are:

  • The Chief Minister
  • Minister for urban development
  • Chairperson, BDA
  • Principal secretary to government Urban Development
  • One representative of the Government of India (National Capital Region and Planning Board)
  • Commissioner, BMRDA
  • Chairperson, BWSSB
  • Chairperperson, BESCOM
  • Secretary to Government
  • Finance Department
  • Commissioner, BDA.

1.2.  According to the rules, 20 members are also to be elected. 18 members of the Committee are to be elected by and from among the elected members of the Urban Local Authorities in the Bangalore Metropolitan area (BBMP and Municipalities) and 2 members are to be elected by and from among the Adhyakshas and Upadhyakshas of the ZPs, TPs and GPs within the Metropolitan areas. Thus, the committee makes provision for 30 members in total.

1.3. In addition there are also provisions for invitees to the Committee, as follows:

(a) Special Invitees: Two persons out of eminent Economists and professionals having experience in town planning, to be nominated by the State Government

(b) Permanent invitees: All MLAs whose constituencies lie within the Bangalore Metropolitian area and MLCs who are registered as electors in such areas.

The Chairperson of the committee shall be chosen from amongst its members. The BDA commissioner is entrusted with the responsibility of convening meetings of the committee.

Comments on these provisions

1. Overall proportions between elected and non-elected representatives in the MPC:

(a) The earmarking of the 20 seats for elected representatives chosen by and from the elected representatives of the BBMP and the ZPs, TPs and GPs falling within the metropolitan area and the earmarking of 10 nominees, to make the total composition to 30 is compliant with the provisions of Article 243ZE (2) (b) of the Constitution.

(b) Similarly, the earmarking of 18 seats for elected representatives of the BBMP and municipalities on the one hand, and 2 seats for of ZPs, TPs and GPs looks at first sight to be compliant with the provision of Article 243ZE (2) (b). Since the majority of the population in the Metropolitan region live in the jurisdiction of the BBMP and the Municipalities, the allocation of 90% of the seats for urban representatives and 2% for rural representatives, seems reasonable.

Comments on the pattern of representation of local government elected reps:

A. Representation of Municipalities other than BBMP

The proposed rule clubs together the members of municipalities and BBMP for the purposes of election and representation, within the 18 seats earmarked for them. The risk in such an arrangement could be that all the MPC members elected from this category might be from BBMP alone, as BBMP corporators outnumber the members of other municipalities and would vote only for members of their tribe to be represented. In this case, there is a risk that other smaller municipalities falling within the Bangalore metropolitan might be under-represented in the MPC. Therefore, there is a case for further earmarking of seats from within the urban quota for representatives of Municipalities other than the BBMP falling within the MPC area.

B. Election of rural representatives to the MPC:

The rule providing for the election of rural representatives from amongst Adhyakshas and Upadhyakshas violates the Constitution. Article 243ZE (2) (b) restricts the election of rural members of the MPC by and from amongst the Chairpersons of the Panchayats in the Metropolitan area. The word ‘Chairperson’ does not include ‘Deputy Chairperson’ and so Upadhyakshas are ineligible to stand for election or vote for choosing who will represent rural areas in the MPC. Only Panchayat Adhyakshas are eligible. Therefore the rule permitting Upadhyakshas to be eligible for being elected as members of the MPC may be deleted.

1.3.3.  Comments on the nominated members

A.   Desirability of the CM and the Minister for UD being nominated as members of the MPC:

(a)    It is undesirable that the Chief Minister and the Minister for urban development are nominated as members of the MPC. Both of them are high ranking members of the political executive of the State and for them to serve as members in this committee, which is a recommendatory body that prepares a draft development plan for the metropolitan area, would amount to positioning them at a much lower level than is desirable. This would lower the standing of the Chief Minister and the Minister for Urban development, rather than enhance it.

(b)   The draft rules permit that the Committee can elect its leader. With the looming presence of the Chief Minister in the Committee as a member, it is highly unlikely that anyone else is elected as the Chairperson, other than the CM himself. If that happens, it will result in a contradiction in terms. Article 243ZE (4) of the Constitution provides that the Chairperson of the MPC shall forward the development plan, as recommended by such Committee, to the Government of the State. Thus, we would witness the incongruous spectacle of a Chief Minister, as Chairperson of the MPC, forwards a draft person to the same government that he heads. There is a clear conflict of interest here. Will the Chief Minister reject the plan at the government level? Or is he obliged to accept his own recommendation, while wearing his original hat as Chief Minister?

On the other hand, if the Chief Minister or the Minister of Urban Development are not elected as the chair of the MPC (which is an unlikely circumstance), then they are really in positions that are far below those that they occupy in the government. In addition, the contradictions explained earlier get accentuated. Will the CM as the executive head of the government, reject a consolidated plan recommended by a committee of which he is a member?

The idea that one individual should occupy several ex-officio positions, while frequently practiced in India, is an undesirable one. It dilutes a system’s checks and balances. It also dilutes accountability for ones’ actions, because it will not be possible to hold the Chief Minister accountable for his actions, as he is occupying two positions of responsibility and one will not know in what role he is accountable for what he does.

It is best that such eventualities are avoided. In order to avoid such complications, it is better that the Chief Minister and the Minister of Urban Development are not amongst the government nominees to the MPC.

B.  Preponderance of Government of Karnataka representatives amongst the nominees:

(a)    Among the nominated members, there is a pre-ponderance of government of Karnataka nominees and not enough representation given to the Government of India, experts in town planning, or representatives of the public and civil society.

(b)   The position of nominated members to the MPC is a precious one and there should not be any duplication or double representation. In this regard, the BDA is represented by both the Chairperson and the Commissioner, which is unnecessary. It is suggested that there is no need for the Chairperson of the BDA to be represented in the Committee.

(c)    Only one individual has been nominated to represent the Government of India. In Bangalore, there is a large presence of Government of India institutions. The two largest owners of public land in Bangalore are the defence establishments and the railways. However, these important GOI stakeholders are not represented in the MPC. It will be most useful for them to be represented, so that they gain a sense of ownership for the city’s development plan, which in turn, impacts their own sector-specific strategies. It is an open fact that many of Bangalore’s traffic bottlenecks are caused because of a lack of coordination between central and state agencies. Thus, six lane highways are built, but they end at bottlenecks where no railway over-bridges are built, or where defence owned land is not made available for widening the roads. Similarly, the railways have a critical role to play in the transportation network in Bangalore, through the ring railway and its participation in the Metro. Given these factors, there is a compelling case for the Railways and the Defence Establishments to be represented in the MPC.

(d)   Article 243ZE(2)(c) of the Constitution provides for the representation in the MPC for such organisations and Institutions as may be deemed necessary for carrying out the functions assigned to such Committees. However in the current proposed rules, there are no such organisations represented, except for the public utilities of BESCOM, BDA and BWSSB. For instance, there is no place in the MPC composition for experts in town planning and other organisations representing technical, business, social and expert interests. Making a provision for 2 experts as special invitees does not meet this purpose, because they will continue to be invitees. Moreover, the Constitution does not permit for invitees to be formally nominated to the Committee.

C.   Absence of the Mayor and the BBMP Commissioner as members:

The task of the MPC is to prepare a draft development plan for the metropolitan area of Bangalore. Yet, curiously, there is no place for the Mayor of the BBMP or for the Commissioner, both of whom are critical players in the Metropolitan area and serve the largest proportion of the population. It is undesirable for the Mayor to be considered as one amongst several elected aspirants for being elected as a member of the MPC. Similarly it is undesirable that the BBMP Commissioner is not nominated as a member, when the Chairpersons of sector specific utilities such as BWSSB and BESCOM are nominated. It is suggested that both the BBMP Mayor and Commissioner are nominated as members of the MPC.

1.   The dubious position of special and permanent invitees:

There is no provision in Article 243ZE of the Constitution for the nomination of invitees to the MPC. This draft rule seems to be a strategy to appease legislators, who vociferously seek to be represented in each and every committee, possibly because they discern opportunities for patronage and power. It is undesirable that MLAs and MLCs should be given the status of permanent invitees. It will make the meetings of the body unwieldy. There are more than 35 legislators, both MLAs and MLCs, who are going to be made permanent invitees. In fact, the number of permanent invitees will exceed the numbers of formal members. It will be very likely that all their collective voices will drown out the voices of the formal members. Yet, the MLAs and MLCs will have no voting rights, which are restricted to formal members alone. It is meaningless and inefficient to have a large number of permanent invitees, without giving the interest category that they represent any voting right. With this kind of arrangement, apart from smoothening the feathers that might get ruffled if Legislators are totally kept out, no useful purpose is served.

Legislators do have a legitimate voice in the development and planning process in Bangalore. However, for all of them to be represented in their individual capacities would be a travesty of the constitutional provisions. It is a much better option to provide for positions for legislators in the formal membership of the MPC, by allowing the MLAs and MLCs to choose from amongst themselves, who will be represent their collective interest as legislators in the MPC.

1.4.    Suggestions on the composition of the MPC:

Keeping in mind the inconsistencies and shortcomings described above, the following changes are proposed in the composition of the MPC.

1.4.1.   The number of nominated members may be modified and enlarged as follows:

  1. Mayor, Bangalore,
  2. Principal Secretary to government Urban Development
  3. One representative of the Government of India to represent the Ministry of Urban Development
  4. A representative of the defence establishments and defence related public sector institutions located in Bangalore
  5. One representative of the Railway establishment in Bangalore
  6. Commissioner BMRDA
  7. Chairperson BWSSB or Chairperson BESCOM, to represent the interests of both  institutions,
  8. Secretary to government finance department
  9. Commissioner BBMP,
  10. Expert in town planning and urban affairs
  11. Expert and representative of Scientific and technical interests
  12. Expert to represent Business
  13. Social scientist and civil society representative
  14. Commissioner BDA.

1.4.2.   Since 14 members will represent one third of the committee, the numbers of elected representatives may be raised to 28, in the following manner.

(a)    24 representatives to be elected by and from against the BBMP and Municipalities’ elected representatives,

(b)   4 representatives to be elected from and by the ZP, TP and GP Adhyakshas, to represent the Panchayats in the MPC area.

1.4.3.   This will raise the formal membership of the MPC to 42 members as against the current 30, but it will make the body more inclusive and representative of a wider range of stakeholders as compared to its current proposed composition.

2.     Comments on the secretariat of the MPC:

There is a reference to a Member-secretary of the committee in Section 10(4) of the draft rules. However, nowhere do the rules specify who will be the member secretary of the committee. Rule 7 states that the BDA shall provide secretariat assistant (probably a typographical error; this must mean secretariat assistance) to the MPC, but it is still does not make explicitly clear who is the actual member secretary.

3.     Comments on the forwarding of the draft development plan:

3.1.  Draft Rule 10(4) says that the Member Secretary will forward the draft development plan to the Government. This contradicts the Constitution, which says in Article 243ZE (4) that the Chairperson (and not the Member Secretary) shall forward the draft development plan of the metropolitan area to the Government. The provision may be modified to say that the Chairperson of the MPC will forward the draft development plan to the government.

3.2.  Draft Rule 11(3) enjoins upon the MPC to forward the draft plan to the BMRDA, along with sending it to the government. This is not as per the constitutional pattern, which is that the plan ought to be sent to the government. The BMRDA is already represented by its chairperson in the Committee and again making it obligatory for the draft plan to be forwarded for examination to the Town Planner in the BMRDA is a contradiction. It would be sufficient for the MPC to forward the draft development plan to the Government alone, as enjoined in the Constitution.

4.     Comments on the role and functions of the MPC:

4.1. The Constitution mandates that the MPC shall prepare a draft development plan (Article 243ZE (1)) and the Chairperson shall forward this draft as recommended by the MPC to the government (Article 243ZE (4)). In the performance of this task, certain ancillary functions may also be performed. Draft Rule 10 lists out several ancillary functions and some of them amount to stepping beyond the constitutional role of the MPC.

4.2.   Undesirable expansion of the MPC’s role:

4.2.1.     Draft rule 10(f) says that the MPC will resolve conflicts. Similarly, Draft rule 10(h) states that the MPC will ‘sort out’ matters relating to sharing of water and other physical and natural resources.

4.2.2.      First, it is difficult to envisage how the MPC will resolve conflicts if its powers are drawn from the rules and the conflicts arise because of the lack of harmonization of the current provisions of the law in Karnataka relating to local planning, with the intent of the 74th and 73rd constitutional amendment. How will the MPC enforce its resolution of conflicts, if they arise out of conflict of law?

4.2.3.      Second, the use of language such as ‘sort out’ in a piece of delegated legislation is undesirable. A rule or law cannot be expressed in vague and casual language. More precise terms should be used. However, if one uses the word ‘adjudicate’ it implies that the MPC has quasi-judicial functions. How will such functions operate, and what will be the outcomes and enforceability of the ‘sorting out’ of a problem by the MPC?

4.2.4.      Rule 10 (i) states that the MPC will formulate policies and identify projects for integrated development of metropolitan area level infrastructure and facilitate their implementation through public or private agencies. Rule 10(j) states that the MPC will serve as a nodal agency for disbursement of such funds as the Government may determine, to the local planning and development authorities. Read together, these Rules are fraught with risks for misuse. It is not inconceivable that ‘facilitation’ will stretch to include direct implementation. Moreover, Rule 10(i) gives an opening to the MPC to directly implement projects through private agencies. Similarly, Rule 10(j) gives scope for the MPC to be another layer of patronage, with scope of disbursing funds through it to planning authorities. Since Municipalities and BBMP have not been devolved planning powers, it is not inconceivable that the MPC will become another cozy arrangement between State agencies. The BDA is likely to concentrate more powers into its hands through this arrangement and all checks and balances will be weakened. The BDA is positioned both as the secretariat for the MPC as also a potential recipient of the funds disbursed by the MPC. In other words, the BDA becomes a judge in its own cause, which is a cardinal feature of a bad institutional design.

4.2.5.      Many of the sub rules of Rule 10 go far beyond the constitutional intent of the role of the MPC. The constitution merely says that the MPC shall prepare a draft metropolitan plan and recommend it to the Government. The effect of the draft rules is to further promote centralization. By giving the MPC powers to resolve conflicts, ‘sort out’ problems, facilitate projects including with the private sector, and by becoming a nodal authority for disbursal of funds, it is being set up as another power centre, rivaling and competing with the BBMP, Municipalities and Panchayats in local planning. With a clear channel of control by providing secretariat support, the BDA will now become even more powerful and the MPC will not serve its purpose as an institution that ought to consider plans prepared by the BBMP, Municipalities and Panchayats.

4.3.         Local government plans and the MPC:

4.3.1.      Rule 9(2) (a) of the draft rules is a verbatim reproduction of the provisions of Article 243ZE (3) (a) (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv), with one vital and far reaching difference. Article 243ZE (3) (i) speaks of plans prepared by Municipalities and Panchayats in the Metropolitan areas. Article 243ZE (3) (ii) refers to ‘matters of common interest between the Municipalities and the Panchayats’. However, rule 9(2) (a) (i) and (ii) makes no reference to Municipalities and Panchayats, but refers to ‘Local Authorities’. This is a huge deviance from the constitutional pattern. Its implications are far reaching; indeed with one stroke of the pen, the entire constitutional spirit and purpose of the MPC is totally lost.

4.3.2.      The constitution envisages through the 73rd and 74th amendments that Municipalities and Panchayats will prepare plans for economic and social development for their areas. (Article 243W (a) (i) for Municipalities and Article 243G (a) for Panchayats). In Karnataka, while there has been entrustment of powers to prepare economic and social development plans with the Panchayats, no such planning powers have yet been devolved to Municipalities.

4.3.3.      It is this failing of Karnataka that finds reflection in the draft MPC rules also, which therefore reproduces the provisions of the Constitution verbatim in draft rules 9(2)(a), except for removing the vital references to Panchayats and Municipalities.

4.3.4.      The implications of this glaring inconsistency, is that the MPC’s purpose is diverted from considering Panchayat and Municipality plans and focused on examination of para-statal plans. We will thus have a body with 2/3rds of the representation comprising of the elected representatives of the Municipalities and Panchayats, but they will not be discussing the integration of their plans into the draft development plan. Instead, they will be deliberating upon the spatial plans prepared by the BDA and the BMRDA, authorities in which they have no say.

4.3.5.      So the question is; who will prepare plans for economic and social development? On the one hand, the BDA and BMRDA do not have the authority to do so. On the other, the Panchayat and Municipality prepared plans can be marginalized because the reference is to local authorities and not to Panchayats and Municipalities, in the rules.  

4.3.6.   Given these glaring inconsistencies, the language in Draft rule 9(2)(a) should strictly follow word by word, the provisions of Article 243ZE(3) (a) (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) of the Constitution.

5.     Drafting comments:
There is inconsistency in the numbering of the various clauses in Rule 10. The first three clauses are numbered (i), (ii) and (iii). The next 9 clauses are labeled from (c) to (k). Then, the last 3 clauses are again numbered as (4) (5) and (6). These mistakes may be rectified.

6.     Summing up and recommendations on connected larger issues:

6.1.  In its current form of composition and scope of work, the MPC is not designed to perform its constitutional function as an integral part of a democratic decentralization structure of multi-level government. Instead, it is nothing more than another layer of centralized control, which will manifest in its proposed composition with predominance of State entities represented, and clauses that permit it to expand its role into that of an implementing and disbursing agency.

6.2. As stated earlier, these distortions in the MPC rules is the downstream result of Karnataka’s weak urban decentralization structure. The resistance of Karnataka to implement the provisions of the Constitution with respect to the devolution of planning powers to Municipalities, has meant that planning responsibilities have been centralised in the hands of para statals, the BDA and the BMRDA which were created prior to the 74th amendment. The Town and Country Planning Act itself is derived from a pre-independence pattern of spatial planning. There has been no attempt to align the pre-constitutional amendment system in Karnataka with the new paradigm after the constitutional amendment.

6.3. This means that we are living in a system with huge contradictions, where planning powers vest in para-statals. It is this dysfunctionality which has led to the provisions in draft rule 9(2) (a) referring to Local Authorities, instead of Municipalities and Panchayats, as mandated in the constitution.

6.4. Therefore, the current MPC rules are symptomatic of a much deeper dysfunctionality. There is need for larger process of harmonization of the law with the constitutional intent. The following long term suggestions are made in this regard. These are not directly related to the MPC rules, but need to be acted upon in an integrated fashion.

6.4.1.  Need for a single Integrated Planning legislation in Karnataka:

Current responsibilities for spatial and socio economic planning are fragmented over several laws, such as the BDA Act, the Karnataka Municipalities Act, the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, the BBMP law, and the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act. There is a need to cull out the provisions relating to planning contained in these and other similar laws into a single integrated legislation for planning. ‘Economic and Social Planning’ is a subject listed in Item 20 of List 3 (the Concurrent list) of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and it is within the State’s legislative competence to do so.

6.4.2.  Suggested pattern for realignment:

A suggested pattern for the realignment and harmonization of these provisions to create a new paradigm for spatial planning which is keeping with the spirit of the constitution is as follows:

  1. The BMRDA becomes the secretariat for the MPC.
  2. The responsibility of spatial and socio economic planning is devolved to the BBMP, the Municipalities and the Panchayats,
  3. The BDA is transformed from an independent parastatal into the technical Secretariat of the BBMP, so that it works under the control and superintendence of the latter and prepared spatial and socio economic plans.
  4. The BDA also continues to perform its role as a land development agency, but working as an integrated part of the BBMP. This would be similar to the Singapore model, where the Singapore municipality owns several companies, to perform specialized functions. This way, the BDA can also source the best talent from the market for performing its functions.
  5. Because GPs and smaller municipalities may not be able to afford to keep full time town planners, the BMRDA, as the technical secretariat of the MPC, could also help in building the capacity of the GPs and Municipalities for planning. It can do this by maintaining a pool of town planners and other experts, who are available on call from smaller Municipalities and GPs to assist them to prepare plans.

These larger reforms are required to be enacted in parallel, along with modifications in the draft rules as suggested, in order to ensure that the urban planning institutional design conforms with the letter and spirit of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.

T R Raghunandan is an ex-IAS officer. The comments above have been filed by him on behalf of Accountability Initiative, India.

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  1. George Abraham says:

    No offences Mr T R Raghunandan. But this article just resembles another government document prepared by a bureaucrat for reading purposes. It will finally gather dust in various offices. We need IAS officers like S.R. Rao who could get on the field, take politicians and people into confidence, demolish encroachments and rebuild cities like Surat.

  2. Shree D N says:

    ‘@George: Raghunandan is not officially on IAS right now, he resigned years ago. This is essentially a government document – that was submitted to the government – when the government asked views of public on MPC. We published as a matter of documentation. I guess retired IAS officers don’t have an official say in such matters.

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