BBMP budget: Activists welcome decentralisation, but concerned on low social spends

The activists pointed out that the budget has allocated less towards improving infrastructure like healthcare centres and cut down on welfare schemes.
Three seated BBMP officials announcing the 2021-22 budget
Three seated BBMP officials announcing the 2021-22 budget
Bengaluru’s civic body, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) presented their annual budget for the financial year 2021-22 on Saturday. The civic body said that the allocation of funds and work will be decentralised to zone and ward-level in accordance with the BBMP Act, 2020. They also expect that the new decentralised budget will increase the scope for citizen participation. However, activists in the city point out that the budget presented lacks people’s opinion.
The officials have yet again said that they will fulfil all the assurances made in the past two years. 
Kshitij Urs, professor of public policy at the National Law School of India remarked that the budget seems very directionless. Speaking to TNM, Urs said, “The BBMP budget is quite directionless. The lack of suggestions, questioning from people and their representatives reflects throughout the budget. It fails at explaining its vision of a decentralised system. Will there be more governance bodies like BBMP at the ward or zone level? If yes, it should not be termed as decentralization, it's just replication of a dysfunctional body into smaller sections.”
The professor pointed out that the budget also failed to look at the subcultures of the Bengaluru city. He observed that there are a “disproportionately high” number of people dwelling in slums or those who are homeless. Their welfare, he said, is not being taken into consideration. How will the governance bodies reach out to the masses is missing, he questioned.
He alleged that, “The budget speaks of structures and not the people. How will the BBMP reach out to the communities that, unlike English-speaking, socially mobile communities don’t have resources like slum-dwellers or homeless people. In addition, the budget is not based on any principle except Decentralisation. For good governance, it is pivotal to have the five principles: adaptive governance, deepening democracy, social justice, economic vibrancy and decentralised system, which is amiss in the budget.”
Tara Krishnaswamy of CFB voiced that the officials have done good work by announcing programmes for pourakarmikas but the welfare schemes are not enough. She said every ward should have separate toilets and changing rooms for them. Commenting on the welfare programmes for the urban poor she said, “The urban poor has been adversely hit by the pandemic and one would expect that the government would at such time support them. Instead, the welfare schemes for them have been cut by half. Moreover, allocations for Indira canteens have also gone down. It’s a question if the budget is urban poor friendly at all.”
She told TNM that the BBMP is turning to an agency with no property of their own and expressed her concern over the establishment of another agency to handle solid waste management which is an issue in the city. She opined that the lack of coordination amongst the agencies and BBMP is already “inconvenient” for the citizens. 
“The allocation of funds for building new roads and footpaths are moot unless the agencies do not coordinate. There is not a single window a citizen can approach with their grievances. Many newly built roads across the city have been dug by other agencies like BESCOM that the civic body has no idea about. If a separate agency for SWM is established, it will further aggravate the issue. CFB has been pressing for the need for zonal Coordination committees but in vain. Moreover, the infrastructure of healthcare centres has not been emphasized. It shows that despite the pandemic, the lesson has not been learned,” she said.
Tara also pointed out the allocation for lakes and parks are not up to the mark since many parks and lakes need an extensive amount of work which is cost-extensive.
However, members of Janaagraha, a Bengaluru-based non-profit working on urban governance issues, expressed that the budget was more realistic and showed progress, however, the insufficiency in staff and funds was affecting the city.
Srinivas Alavilli of Janagraha welcomed the allocations made for the improvement of the toilets and footpaths in the city under My City My Budget. Janagraha had collaborated with the civic body for the project and collated information from residents of Bengaluru to identify the problem areas.
“Relative to the last few years, we seem to have a more realistic budget - the new BBMP act introduced zonal councils and the budget allocations strengthened that system. Success depends on ward committees and zonal councils taking ownership. Giving a share of property tax to ward committees is a small but very progressive step forward. The allocations per ward for footpath maintenance also shows clear intent to give funds and functions to the ward committee,” said Alavilli.
Meanwhile, the CEO of Janaagraha Srikanth Viswanathan, said, “The elements of citizen participation and decentralisation of funds to zones and wards are most welcome. However, the present situation of meagre funds and staff in the BBMP is adversely impacting Bengaluru.  BMC manages half the area of BBMP, possibly one third the road length and has more than 3 times its budget.  BBMP will need a budget size of at least Rs 30,000 crores and capacities and systems to utilize funds well, to break away from the current situation.”

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