The current model, where the Commissioner wields all the power at the BBMP even when a mayor is in office, has often been criticised.

Govt panel wants to administer Bengaluru like London but will their plan work
news Civic Issues Sunday, July 01, 2018 - 16:29

The three-member Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Restructuring Committee recommended that the government decentralise the civic agency into five corporations, based on the governance of cities like London and SĂŁo Paulo.

Based on the proposals of the committee, the city may soon see a directly-elected mayor and five new corporations which will govern 400 wards. This is in contrast to the current model, where 198 elected corporators elect mayors with limited powers for a one-year term.

The three-tier London model (mayor, corporations, wards) has been proposed earlier as well. In 2015, the then-Congress government passed the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill, which recommended the decentralisation of Bengaluru's governance, despite strong opposition from the BJP and the JD(S). The bill was not approved by the Governor.

The new proposal may also face opposition. Deputy Chief Minister and Bengaluru Development Minister Dr G Parameshwara promised to study the London model before reaching a conclusion. “We will not slice Bengaluru up like a cake,” he said last week, responding to the proposals.  

However, former Chief Secretary and Chairperson of the Restructuring Committee BS Patil defended the proposal.

“We are not dividing Bengaluru. We are only restructuring the existing structure. When the government gave us the mandate to study, we came to the conclusion that Bengaluru cannot be governed in its current state,” he said.

What is the current model?

Presently, the BBMP is the only local government for Bengaluru’s 1.2 crore citizens. It consists of 198 corporators who represent different wards in the city. The 198 corporators indirectly elect a Mayor and Deputy Mayor for a one-year term. The city’s current mayor is R Sampath Raj.

The mayor has restricted powers, does not get any time to implement policies due to the short tenure, and is often considered to only have ceremonial powers. Without a mayor, the BBMP is run by an Administrator and a Commissioner.

Even when a mayor is in office, the Commissioner wields all the power at the BBMP. The Commissioner is an unelected official, often an IAS officer. He holds full executive power over the BBMP’s various functions and heads the vital Revenue and Administrative departments. The current Commissioner is Manjunath Prasad.

This model has often been criticised.

“Today the mayors don’t have power, the elected body doesn’t have power. The powers are concentrated in the Commissioner and the Administrator. How do they, in any way, represent the people?” asks BS Patil.

The new plans rectify that by introducing an elected mayor, who they hope will be the face of 'Brand Bengaluru’.

Moreover, Parameshwara is Bengaluru’s Development Minister, a position that is unique to Karnataka. In other states of the country, there is no specific minister for a particular city.

What is the new plan?

The proposal recommends a three-tier system and a complete change in the manner in which ward-level management takes place. The proposal introduces a directly elected mayor of a Greater Bengaluru Authority (GBA). This is similar to the currently elected mayor of London, officially of the Greater London Authority (GLA).

According to Patil, the Chief Minister of Karnataka will assume the post of mayor for the first five years. “Let the CM be the head of this authority for the first five years because it is tough to change the way institutions work after 40-50 years,” he said.

Under the new system, the mayor will be responsible for the city’s image and will introduce broad policies regarding economic and cultural development. He will wield power over different agencies which serve the city – including the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA).

Since Bengaluru’s water and electricity are also delivered by other agencies, the mayor will ultimately be responsible for the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) too.

The mayor’s powers will be checked by the Greater City Authority Assembly. In London, the Assembly consists of 25 members with different responsibilities. Bengaluru, in comparison, will have representatives of each civic agency and other experts in the Assembly.

In the second layer of government, London is divided into 32 boroughs with many wards within them. In Bengaluru’s case, the current proposal recommends creating five different corporations (North, South, East, West, and Central) and increase the number of wards to 400 (from 198 currently). These, too, will have executive mayors.

The five corporations will manage two zones each (around 35-45 wards) and have Corporation Mayors who will work with Zonal Commissioners. This authority will look to effectively deliver services such as waste management, street cleaning, etc. in conjunction with wards. The Corporation Mayor will be indirectly elected by corporators.

The third level of governance are the wards, which will have many responsibilities under the proposal. The Ward Committees will be directly accountable to the people and will also have more money to improve their wards under the proposal.

In London’s case, elected ward councillors elect a Council Leader and a non-executive Mayor. The Council Leader acts like the Corporation Mayor and is ultimately responsible for the Council’s performance.

Will this really improve governance?

The members of the Restructuring Committee believe that decentralisation will make more civic workers accountable to the people. “The smaller the unit, the better the participation of people. Understanding is greater, accountability is greater. There will be more focus,” said Patil.

He added that the committee realised that Bengaluru’s wards were unscientifically structured. “The zones and wards are unscientifically made. How can there be one ward with 20,000 people and another with one lakh population?” Patil questioned.

He further stated that the mayor needs to be given a longer term to produce results. “Currently, the powers are concentrated in the Commissioner. Once the powers are with the mayor, the administration will work under the mayor’s guidance. A minimum five-year tenure should be given to the mayor to understand the job and show results,” he said.

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