news Saturday, May 02, 2015 - 05:30
A BRUHAT ISSUE – V: The Karnataka HC has asked the state government to hold elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) within six months. This directive comes in the backdrop of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s ambitious plan to split the existing BBMP into three smaller municipal corporations. We dissect the entire issue at hand in this five-part series. Read the previous story: Bruhat Bengaluru: A BBMP split may not help, but devolution of power certainly will The issue of splitting up the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) into smaller corporations has cropped up on a number of occasions in recent times. Only that, this time it's more than an academic exercise – a split definitely seems quite on the cards. What is, however, ironic in the ongoing babble over the pros and cons of a possible trifurcation of the BBMP is that many have changed opinions as times have changed.  In a January 2013 seminar on “Reorganising Bangalore municipal area into two or more municipal corporations” organised by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, then Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar had favoured bifurcation / trifurcation for “better administration”, saying, “Unfortunately, when the BBMP was formed, there was no public debate as such.” His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is tooth and nail against the move of Shettar's successor, Siddaramaiah of the Congress, to split the BBMP. During Shettar’s stint, the idea had reportedly come from former BBMP Commissioner MK Shankarlinge Gowda, who had written to the government emphasising on the need to bifurcate the BBMP. S Suresh Kumar, the then minister for law and urban development, assigned the responsibility of working out the pros and cons to A Ravindra, urban affairs advisor to the chief minister. Ravindra and others were said to have favoured bifurcating the BBMP in two units comprising 100 wards each. One division would be the original erstwhile Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP). The other would be a conglomeration of one town municipal council and seven city municipal councils and 110 villages. When the BJP's tenure ended, the agenda was taken over by the Congress. The BJP had promised a "restructuring" of the BBMP in its 2013 poll manifesto. The Congress committed to a "review” of the BBMP’s jurisdiction and “organise it into administratively viable units.” So, when state minister for law and parliamentary affairs TB Jayachandra, while moving the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2015, said that this had already been promised by his party two years ago, he was not wrong.  But there was little progress for a year till the state government constituted a three-member expert committee to look into a possible restructuring of the BBMP in September 2014. Around the same time, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) formed its own 10-member committee. Headed by KPCC general secretary BL Shankar, the panel delivered its verdict in two months, favouring trifurcation – the old Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) region (core Bengaluru) to be considered Bengaluru Central, while zones added in 2007 would be split into two – Bengaluru South and Bengaluru North. The expert committee, comprising former Chief Secretary BS Patil, former BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah, and member of the now-defunct Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) V Ravichandar, made relatively slow progress. In a preliminary report in December 2014, it remarked, “While the original GO (government order) spoke about a BBMP division… the committee decided to keep an open mind on all possibilities… initial meetings with stakeholders indicated that most were in favour of multiple corporations with political devolution and administrative decentralisation…. However, the committee felt that we should hear all stakeholder viewpoints… before arriving at a decision.” The expert committee has not exceeded its brief, which had been clearly laid out by the state government, which said that the government had appointed an expert committee to solicit public opinion on the government’s decision “to divide BBMP in order to improve the ease of administration and to provide basic amenities / facilities to the people”. In its second report, hurriedly stitched together in view of the High Court’s directives pertaining to the BBMP elections, the committee was more emphatic. It said it could “consider” eight municipalities (16-20 lakhs; 120-140 sq kms), each municipality having two zonal councils (8-10 lakh population; 60-70 sq kms each). The exact number of municipalities and zonal councils would be set out by June 2015 based on a spatial analysis of multiple parameters including revenue potential, infrastructure indices, population demographics.  Within three months, the panel seemed to have made up its mind: “One thing is certain… the BBMP in its current form has no place in the revised structure. In its place, there should be a new set of municipalities in the second tier to be governed by incorporating modifications in the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Act, 2011.” The committee is now working on a three-tier city design. At the Tier-III level would be ward-level governance and administration systems, while Tier-II would be the 5-8 multiple municipal structures. The Tier-II and Tier-III arrangements will work only if there is a regional layer that integrates all the civic activities and takes responsibility for planning and administration of the region’s activities. The panel invoked the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 which mandates a Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) that plans for the regional area to be specified by the state government. Two thirds of the MPC needs to be drawn from elected representatives in the region which is possible from the Tier-II municipalities. The committee is working towards a Greater Bengaluru Authority possibly headed by the Chief Minister, and whose functions would be “planning, plan enforcement and administration”. It also said that initially, the state could continue to “oversee proper utilisation of grants for designated purposes”. When the system “matures”, a “metropolitan mayor” could be directly elected for the Greater Bengaluru Authority, and this person could head the MPC. The committee also notes, that currently, there is “no legal arrangement at the state level for managing a Metropolitan region” and that a new Bengaluru region Act would be necessary to enable these functions. An Act is on the anvil. Time will tell whether it will split hairs. Subir Ghosh (www.subirghosh.in) is a Bengaluru-based writer and journalist.

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