At present, Bengaluru has 198 wards each having councillors who indirectly elect a Mayor and Deputy Mayor for a one-year term.

 Ex-Mayor Goutham Kumar taking the baton from Ganambike MallikarjunFile imaage: Ex-Mayor Goutham Kumar taking charge as Bengaluru Mayor
Delve Governance Thursday, October 01, 2020 - 10:52

An all-party committee appointed by the Karnataka government, headed by BJP MLA S Raghu, is proposing to increase the term of the Bengaluru Mayor from one year to two-and-a-half  years. This committee has been tasked with finalising a new law to govern the Bengaluru metropolis by amending the Karnataka Municipal Act, 1956 and bringing in the new Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Bill. 

At present, Bengaluru has 198 wards, with each having councillors who indirectly elect a Mayor and Deputy Mayor for a one-year term. Other than the corporators themselves, all Members of Parliament, Members of Legislative Assembly and Members of Legislative Council have a vote in the mayoral elections. The short duration of the term means that the Mayor only enjoys ceremonial power, as opposed to the Chief Minister who is in-charge of the state for five years. Moreover, the State Election Commission has a quota system where General, Other Backward Class (OBC), Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) and women candidates are eligible for election to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor posts.

As part of the ongoing discussions, among other proposed changes is the number of wards being increased to 225 while the number of zones will be increased to 15 from the present eight zones headed by an IAS officer.

Speaking in favour of the proposed increase in tenure, outgoing Mayor Goutham Kumar of the BJP, said, “To be frank, one year is very less time. Two-and-a-half years is the ideal time and the government is planning this. Mumbai Mayors also get two-and-a-half years’ time. This longer tenure will allow Mayors to implement their own visions as all initiatives (take) some time to get planned and executed. If I had more time, we would think about storm-water drain, traffic, and garbage disposal.” 

The ex-mayor was speaking at an event held by Janaagraha, a non-profit organisation on the occasion of the termination of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike council of 2015-20 on September 10.

At the same event, Gangambike Mallikarjun, Goutham’s predecessor from the Congress, said, “Plastic ban was something we enforced in our time. We got some places to strictly implement it, but it did not sustain for long. This is something that needs long term planning and follow up; and if we had had a longer tenure, we could have managed it better.

While the former Mayors have welcomed the proposal to extend the tenure, critics have slammed the move as a mere cosmetic change.

The idea of a longer tenure for the Mayor and the creation of more zones is a dialled down version of the changes proposed by the BS Patil Committee appointed by former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. 

Patil is a retired IAS officer who served as the Chief Secretary of the state in the early 2000s. In 2015, the Siddaramaiah government passed the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill, which recommended the decentralisation of Bengaluru's governance. However, the Bill was not approved by Governor Vajubhai Vala. 

Since then, the proposed sweeping changes to the governance of Bengaluru have remained on the backburner until recently.

Speaking with TNM, BS Patil criticised the current discourse stating that the selective implementation of the committee’s recommendations will not bring any transformative changes.

He said, “Basically, they (the political class) don’t want a proper solution as they don’t want to change the current power structure of MLA-corporators. All over the world, all megacities of our scale have a directly-elected Mayors having a term of five years which gives some continuity. So this not only gives power to the Mayor, but also makes him absolutely responsible and accountable to the people.”

“In our proposal, we had clearly stated this and also suggested that we break up the city administration into five smaller corporations or administrative units like (boroughs) in London, so that there is less leakage of revenues and efficiency in administrative functions. We had also suggested we should go for a larger number of wards, something like around 400 wards as opposed to the proposed 225 wards. So in our proposed plan, there would have been around 80 corporators in each of these councils with much smaller wards which are easier to maintain,” explained the former bureaucrat. 

Patil said that the Committee’s suggestions were in tune with the 74th Amendment of the Constitution, which focussed on decentralization and citizen participation in local self-governance. He said that in their recommendations, the ward committees were empowered and had greater independence from the corporators. 

Apart from the present ambit of various BBMP departments, the BS Patil Committee recommended that agencies like the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM), Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) also come under the Mayor’s authority.

“But what the present government is trying to do is go back to the same old method of electing the Mayor, but only making a cosmetic change of increasing the Mayor’s term to two-and-a-half years without doing any restructuring. This is a time-tested thing and this has failed, we all know that. If you don’t centralise or make the system more accountable, this (tenure extension) is just a cosmetic change. This is just bound to fail as the current system is. Thousands of crores of rupees are being wasted, but they are just not bothered,” Patil added.

The current delimitation proposed as part of the new legislation suggests as many as 225 wards in the city, up from the present 198 wards. 

Patil pointed out that the Committee headed by him had suggested an overarching body to look after these five smaller corporations so that all large-scale projects can be developed in synergy. This overarching body will have a directly-elected Mayor (the Bengaluru Mayor) who is the head of the council of all the mayors of the five smaller councils. 

Similarly, Harish Kumar, general manager, Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF), an NGO working in the civic space of the city, also demanded further deep-rooted changes while welcoming the move. NBF was co-founded by Bengaluru-based BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Harish said, “Ideally, the tenure should run concurrent to the council term as is the practice with any elected body and its leader. Full term may provide the Mayor (the chance) to implement the vision in a five-year plan mode. On the flip side, if the Mayor is not proactive and imaginative, the city may stagnate. Two-and-a-half years’ term may be the best-compromised position at this point in time considering the system we have in place. It is a different matter if the Mayor is directly elected.”

Harish called for a clear demarcation between the powers and functions of the Mayor and the Commissioner. “The executive powers of the Commissioner and legislative powers of the Mayor must be clearly defined and differentiated. At present, there is a very thin line dividing this and therefore, at times, we observe friction. These powers and duties must be articulated in detail in the proposed legislation. This also builds accountability and enhances respectability. The Mayor, being the collective voice of Bengalureans, must be in a position to articulate the wants of people in a practical way in consultation with the council members. He should be able to get the policies implemented in consultation with the Commissioner.” 

Harish further said that he expects more transparency and accountability built into the new system. He demanded that the Metropolitan Planning Committees function as mandated in the Constitutional Amendment for the overall plan of the city as should the Ward Committees and Area Sabhas, as mentioned in the 74th Amendment. 

Sandeep Anirudhan, Citizens Agenda for Bengaluru, and an advocate of decentralized governance, said that talk of extending the tenure is meaningless, unless the BBMP itself is empowered given that currently, it is often the state government and MLAs remotely running the city.

He also emphasised that Bengaluru's governance is a mess due to the multiplicity of agencies like BESCOM, BWSSB and BMTC, etc which are not accountable to the BBMP. “This is why we need to not only bring them under the BBMP’s purview, but also make all of the planning, legislative and executive powers relating to Bengaluru fall under the BBMP's purview,” said Sandeep. 

The Bill will be finalised and tabled in March 2021 after the Committee is decided on the details of the proposed amendments and legislations. The Bill will be tabled in the Assembly after a round of public consultation, said Congress MLC PR Ramesh, to speed up the discussion process. Shankar is part of the sub-committee formed to expedite the discussion process for these amendments.

The changes will come into place only when the Assembly passes the Bill and it becomes law.

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