Governance
For nearly 20 years, the same individuals have attempted to influence policy in Bengaluru, they allege

In a possibly historic development, Bengaluru’s activists and academics are protesting in the front of the BBMP’s head office not to criticize it, but to support its democratic role in local governance which they allege is being undermined by an elitist vision group.

Two days ago the media reported that the Karnataka government was setting up Bengaluru Vision Group, comprising ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and private residents (several of whom are industry members), to formulate a plan for the city’s development.

Read: Bengaluru's X-MEN: Will they be able to save the city?

A number of people have criticized the move, calling it not just undemocratic, but also unconstitutional as it is against the 74th Amendment to the Constitution concerning local governance.

It has been pointed out several times that some of the non-governmental members of this group are some of Bengaluru’s most elite residents with the clout to influence policy.

In previous avatars of such a policy-making body (BATF, ABIDe), activists who worked for urban poor were also included (Bangalore Vision Group in 2014), but they are conspicuously missing this time. This has prompted allegations that Bengaluru’s governance and development policies are being influenced by a select few – many of whom have been part of organizations which have in the past been formed for the same purpose – for their self-interest.

Here's how Bengalureans are responding:

Kshitij Urs, head of Action Aid Karnataka:

In a recent television show, K Jairaj (vision group member) had said that the Vision Group was a “breath of fresh air”. It is not a breath of fresh air. This whole thing is stinking. The same group of people have been attempting (to decide) Bengaluru’s development for nearly 20 years. First it was with BATF, then ABIDe, and now this.

The Karnataka government’s notification for the Vision Group says it was formed to implement Janaagraha’s blueprint for Bengaluru. Is this democratic? This sounds like a banana republic! It can be challenged in the courts, but the number of loopholes in the notification just indicate shamelessness (on the part of the government).

We have never shied away from engaging with elected representatives. We have never said the BBMP should be done away with, or attempted to supercede the BMMP in any way. This group’s formation is like saying wisdom flows only from some people; who will decide for one crore people.

Let the ward committees and the Metropolitan Planning Committee (as mandated by the 74th Amendment) work. Let the BBMP’s priorities and policies for Bengaluru’s development come from the aspirations of these ward committees.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar,  MP:

Planning for the city is not a part time job. This is a city with millions of people with real-time problems. These are deep structural and systemic challenges.

Solving the city's problems should not be done by people who see it as a hobby. Committed, qualified, honest people must do it. If you are in the corporate sector there will be problems and I would not like to comment on the recent expose. (Bangalore Mirror report)

The 74th Amendment mandated an MPC. The government should create space and capability for the MPC. These billionnaires and social activists could be put in the MPC but RWAs and citizen activists should also be included in the dialogue. 

Kathyayini Chamaraj, Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC):

​It could have been a recommendatory body but from the looks of it, it looks more like a decision making body. There is a blueprint for the city has already been made and nobody has seen it. How is that right?

This is more like lobbying. Members are the decision makers and they could be accused of serving their own self-interest. 

The state government must devolve powers to local bodies like BBMP and BDA, it can't make decisions for the city. The civic bodies must engage with resident associations to address issues. But with crores of investment being pumped into Bengaluru’s development, MLAs want to have a strangle hold on the city to have a control over the money that is going into infrastructure and other things. 

 

When the MPC was formed, we recommended that RWAs, representatives of the urban poor, womens’ groups, children’s groups be given a space in the body. But for years, the government has only been delaying it. 

Rashmi Munikempanna, researcher and member of Venkatappa Art Gallery Forum:

​The problem with the vision group per se is that it is outside of the constitutional body. The question that arises is: how can a citizen hold them accountable. 

Karnataka Tourism Vision Group, which was formed earlier, has no documentation of what happened in their meetings. They refuse to divulge information and that is how the government becomes unaccountable to people. The process is very opaque. The government must clarify on this. 

Before setting up such a group the question that the government must ask is who are these people who represent Bengaluru’s people?

Instead, we should make the system of public hearings more robust, so that anybody can walk in and participate in policy making. 

The controversy

On Thursday, Bangalore Mirror in a report titled “Siddaramaiah’s Vision Group has good I-sight”, the newspaper alleged that some of the group’s non-government members such as Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, TV Mohandas Pai, Sachin Bansal and Vivek Menon don’t have a “clean record” when it comes to the city.

 

 

 

This report added to the growing criticism on social media, with Facebook and Twitter users sharing them with comments. On Twitter, several people tagged the members. Responding to this on Twitter, Mazumdar Shaw called the newspaper a “tabloid” whose journalists functioned on “hearsay”. Other members of the vision group who are active on Twitter have not responded to the Mirror report.

While such debates often degenerate into questions of local vs outsider, the more important question of such bodies bypassing Constitutional provisions on local governance have not been answered, either by the state government or by the members of these bodies and their supporters. Several people including activists have raised questions about this.

Following backlash on the first day, the state government hurriedly announced that the Mayor too would be part of the committee. However, it has still not given a satisfactory answer on why it refuses to allow the Metropolitan Planning Committee, mandated by the 74th Amendment to function, along with ward committees. Activists say that the private members maintain a studied silence on this question.