To-do list for the new Bengaluru Mayor

Ward Committees for citizen participation in governance, a working waste management policy and measures to check pollution in the city — these three can set right most of the problems in the city.

Clause 60 of The Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act of 1976 (KMCA) lists down the power and functions of the Mayor. The powers include:

  • presiding over BBMP council meetings;
  • conducting inspections and directing BBMP Commissioner to implement any resolution passed by the Corporation or the Standing Committees and produce records.

Other sections of the Act also delegate more powers to the Mayor like barring a councillor from voting and casting a vote in case of tie while passing a resolution.

However, the interesting aspect to note here is that the Mayor does not enjoy any executive powers and is mostly a ceremonial head. In fact, all the executive powers have been vested in three bodies, namely the Commissioner of the Corporation, the Standing Committees and the elected councillors. In addition to this, the Mayor has a tenure of only one year which makes it impossible for her to take long-term decisions. Thus, the Mayor is left powerless and there is very little that she can do in terms of taking substantive decisions which would have some bearing.

Given this context, if I were to become the Mayor of Bengaluru, I would address three main issues. First is the formation of Ward Committees which has been embroiled in controversies for a long time now. The idea behind setting up ward committees was to facilitate a bottom-up approach to urban governance through direct participation of citizens and increasing transparency and accountability of the elected councillors.

However, many controversies have arisen in the formation of ward committees. Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) has raised concerns over the process and composition of the ward committees in the recently released ward committee list by BBMP accusing them of nepotism. The list does not even take into account the recommendation of the High Court to select names from citizens’ nominations and applications.

The composition and process of formation of ward committees will play a crucial part in their effective functioning. If ward committees are perceived to be encouraging nepotism where a coterie of people close to the councillors occupy the seats of the different ward committees then they will only be accountable to the councillors and severely impinge the autonomy of the committees. Moreover, non inclusion of citizen nominations in the released list could be challenged in the Court.

As a Mayor of Bengaluru, I would suggest the state government to look into the concerns that have been raised. For this, I would recommend the State Government to set up a committee comprising of the Commissioner, urban secretary to the government of

Karnataka, two organisations/concerned citizens who have worked on ward committees and at least one legal expert in the field of urban governance to investigate the existing rules and identify gaps in the selection of ward committee members followed by recommendations.

The mandate of the committee will be to design rules which takes into account the High Court judgement recommendations; ensure fair, meritorious and democratic selection process; clearly lay down the guidelines for the nomination process,selection/ rejection criteria and format of the application process and increase the transparency of the selection and nomination process. Following this, the existing list should be scrapped and a new list should be made based on the recommendations of the committee.

The second issue I would address is the menace of garbage dumping and garbage fire which has been plaguing Bengaluru for a long time and denting its image as the “Garden City” of India. The corrupt contractors and the inept attitude of BBMP councillors in dealing with them along with the failure of the latter to come up with a robust solid waste management (SWM) policy has aggravated the problem even more. This problem needs to be tackled immediately to restore the beauty of Bangalore.

As a Mayor, I would first order an inquiry by the Technical Vigilance Cell under the Commissioner (TVCC) to enquire into the current contract based model of SWM and the corrupt practices of the garbage contractors with a special emphasis on the contact given in the Bellandur ward which has been particularly controversial. TVCC will also be mandated to identify non-performing garbage contractors and blacklist them.

I will also ask the chairpersons of different wards to submit a report on the creation and usage of a Dry Waste Collection Centre (DWCC) in their respective wards and instruct the SWM department of BBMP to come with a new SWM policy which minimizes the role of the contractors and looks into the possibility of reworking the performance based contracts. All this will help documenting the existing problems which can be used as a tool to push the councillors into taking action. In addition to all this I will encourage the initiatives already taken by citizens to clean up their areas and organize and participate in cleanliness campaigns which would sensitize people about the role they can play.

The next issue that I would look into is an issue that is part of the legacy of Bangalore and gives it a distinctive appeal. I am talking about the pollution and encroachment of different lakes in Bangalore. The rapid urbanization of the city has had a negative impact on the lakes in the city with encroachments by private developers shrinking the size of the lake. The developers have also encroached Rajakaluves causing flooding and groundwater depletion.

Other issues causing deterioration of water quality in the lakes are increasing discharge of untreated wastewater, oil and grease from industrial activity. The missing sewage system has also caused a lot of damage to lake water as they contaminate the lakes with raw sewage and makes the groundwater unfit for consumption. A notification by the Karnataka government has identified the foaming and ignition phenomenon observed in the Bellandur and Varthur lakes as a manifestation of the severity of the above listed problems.

As a Mayor, I would encourage more citizen participation in the process of rejuvenation of lakes in Bangalore because it has led to successful rejuvenation of several lakes. Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust partnered with BBMP to carry out rejuvenation of the Puttenahalli lake which has resulted in it becoming a lake free of sewage and waste.

I would ask the Commissioner to look into this citizen-led model of rejuvenation of lakes because in my opinion citizens who live around the lake have a high stake in making lakes in their area clean which in turn can make it a successful model. I will also instruct the lake department of BBMP to design a plan of action around this model.

This can prove to be beneficial for Bellandur and Varthur lakes where citizens have already started taking initiatives. In addition to this government of Karnataka has mandated the construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) for certain housing projects/apartments, commercial projects, educational institutions and townships. I will ask the Storm Water Drains department and Commissioner of BBMP to provide a report on the progress made by the different projects.

The above identified issues are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed immediately and if I were to become the Mayor of Bengaluru then I would give them priority.

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