Core functions like water supply, urban planning, even the management of some lakes and parks, and others are not devolved to the BBMP and instead have been appropriated by the state government.

Bengaluru road with high-rises in the background
news Opinion Friday, December 18, 2020 - 18:21

Today several leading dailies featured full page advertisements from the Government of Karnataka announcing ‘Bengaluru Mission 2022’. This follows the Chief Minister’s press meet announcing a mission of ‘Revitalising Bengaluru’ through four urban development programmes under his direct leadership, namely, ‘Enabling Faster Commute’, ‘Swachcha Bengaluru’ (Cleaner Bengaluru), ‘Hasiru Bengaluru’ (Greener Bengaluru) and ‘Citizen Connect’.

Some of these programmes are unquestionably welcome and long overdue, such as the conversion of two large swathes of available land in the city – the Mysore Lamps Factory and NGEF areas – into tree parks and lung spaces, lakes rejuvenation, etc. The trouble begins, though, in letting content dictate ownership. 

Roads, signals, waste management, lakes, parks, citizen participation in the city, and in fact 18 specific functions of urban management are supposed to fall under the purview of the city government, aka, the municipal corporation or BBMP. Specifically, as per the 12th Schedule of the 74th Amendment to the Constitution, the state government is obligated to devolve to BBMP:

1. Urban planning, including town planning

2. Regulation of land use and construction of buildings

3. Planning for economic and social development

4. Roads and bridges

5. Water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes

6. Public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management

7. Fire services

8. Urban forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects

9. Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including those with physical and intellectual disabilities

10. Slum improvement and upgrade

11. Urban poverty alleviation

12. Provision of urban amenities and facilities such as parks, gardens, playgrounds

13. Promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects

14. Burials and burial grounds; cremations, cremation grounds and electric crematoriums

15. Cattle pounds; prevention of cruelty to animals

16. Vital statistics including registration of births and deaths

17. Public amenities, including street lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public conveniences

18. Regulation of slaughter houses and tanneries

Unfortunately, and in contravention to it, core functions like water supply (BWSSB), urban planning (BDA or other), slum improvement (KSCB), even the management of some lakes and parks, and other functions are not devolved to the BBMP and instead have been appropriated by the state government.

While the sole purpose of the 74th Amendment is the autonomy of local governments (their funds, functions and functionaries) with regard to state governments, we not only see intrusion by the Karnataka government, but even the Government of India! Programmes like Urban Renewal Missions, Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat and, most recently, the Prime Minister even mentioning piped water supply, all encroach into Hudson Circle’s self-rule from Vidhana Soudha and, even worse, Delhi.

It is tempting to conflate inefficiencies and even perhaps negligence (pavement deaths, pedestrian deaths, etc.) on the part of BBMP, with the appropriation of city functions by the state or the Union. This is especially the case with Mission Bengaluru 2022 when the content is seductive and public imagination drools over highway quality back alleys in Ramamurthy Nagar and Hulimavu, glossy lakes, and a fragrant, green city.

The delusion here is three-fold and manifestly endangers the republic:

First, the report card of the Karnataka government, when assessed on performance of its designated roles and obligatory functions, ranges from unimpressive to shocking.

A few examples from the recently published National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-5):

Public health: Infant Mortality Rate is over 3x the WHO recommended rate, as per NFHS-5 data. Sex Ratio of children born in the last 5 years is 910 for 1,000 males, as opposed to a number over to 950; that is tens of thousands of female babies eliminated. More than one-third of Karnataka’s children, its future, are stunted. Meanwhile, 44% of women experience spousal violence.

Public education: Women with 10+ years of schooling, that is till Class 5, is just 50%, while women with internet access is only 35%. It goes without saying that no one reading this article in English will ever send their children to a public school.

It bears mention here that underwhelming performance, even negligent performance is not unique to the Karnataka government, and pervades most state governments. The Government of India performance, in the meanwhile, on its own functions, like the national economy, speaks for itself.

Second, even in the ambit of infrastructure and amenities, where the Karnataka government has already usurped functions despite Constitutional directive, its record is sub-par. 

Bengaluru’s water & drainage (BWSSB), pollution control (KSPCB), and even select roads and flyovers under KRDCL or PWD are unfinished, unkempt or poorly done (Cauvery underpass to the infamous, once signalled Richmond Flyover.) The urban planning and transport/traffic management functions for Bengaluru are world renowned for all the wrong reasons.

Ditto for the Indian government with its urban renewal missions. Swachh Bharat planted the 100% Open Defecation Free flag for all of India in 2019. However, the 3rd Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in 2019 shows that close to one-fourth of schools do not have usable toilets (no water). The Centre for Policy Research in 2019 published that one-fourth of the rural population was still practising open defecation and certainly, a walk down Bengaluru’s roads for an hour has visible proof.

Finally, federalist laws, including the 74th Amendment, imbue exclusive powers to different governments for the crucial reason that diverse citizens get the best possible governance, services and redressal mechanisms. That is the very reason for subsidiarity, so the lowest possible functionary is responsible for that service. Elevation of any public service to a tier higher than obligatory creates insurmountable space between citizens are its delivery channel.

It’s hardly reasonable if the toilets promised by GoI are not delivered for citizens to camp out in Delhi, awaiting audience with the Prime Minister. Or to breach the Vidhana Soudha for clogged stormwater drains. Yes, local officers are available but they are unaccountable for failures. Only elected governments can be held accountable, and hence the need for local governments.

The three tiers of government are not hierarchical, they are parallel and devised to best serve the people’s diverse needs. It’s not the onus of the state government to reign in an errant corporation; it is the people’s, in the Indian state. Mayors do not “report to” Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister is no state’s boss.

Therefore, urbanites must ask ourselves why the Union Secretariat and the Vidhana Soudha concern themselves with Bengaluru’s day-to-day amenities, and why we abet that escape from their truly lofty jobs: making the right laws for the state or country, handling lakhs of crores of revenues and budgets, and delivering to national and state schemes and agenda.

Well, what is the worst that can happen? It already has. The people of Bengaluru have already lost much democracy – read accountability – with the stripping of several key essential functions from the BBMP. Now, more have been announced.

As wonderful as some of the measures in Revitalising Bengaluru: Mission 2022 are, they belong in a Bengaluru Mayor’s press meet. Just like the college professor gets no marks for teaching his neighbour’s daughter her elementary school geography, and none of us would want our accomplishments or plans or products to be handled by our peers, similarly, there is no report card for the Government of Karnataka or GoI as glorified Bengaluru councillors!

Tara Krishnaswamy is a co-founder of Citizens For Bengaluru, a grassroots citizen’s collective working on improving the quality of life with decentralised and citizen participatory local governance. Views are author’s own.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.