A proposal by Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, head of the state COVID-19 Task Force, to divest healthcare functions from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has not been taken well by the active citizenry of the city. The Dy CM has been quoted in the media stating that a new health specific parastatal agency like the Bangalore Development Authority be brought in place citing inadequacies experienced in the peak of the second wave of the pandemic. Not only Bengaluru, all districts have been ordered to decentralise the pandemic management forming hyperlocal multi-agency committees.
Speaking to TNM, a staff of his office said that a committee of senior IAS officers including the Health Commissioner, BBMP Commissioner and other senior officers of Health and Medical Education Department have been asked to deliberate the matter. Incidentally this proposal comes at a time when the BBMP has opened up many decentralized triage centres across the city and is in the process of making ward level pandemic management functional.
Janagraha, a non-governmental organisation based in Bengaluru advocating civic engagement in urban local governance, said they strongly urge the Government of Karnataka to withdraw such proposals that are in direct contradiction to the letter and spirit of decentralization enshrined in our Constitution via the 74th Constitutional Amendment.
“Experience from Kerala over the last two decades clearly points to the benefits of devolution of public health functions, powers, staff and finances to local governments. Involvement of elected councilors at a ward and sub-ward level and extensive citizen participation facilitated by the same, have brought tangible benefits to the state in its Covid response. Besides Kerala, involvement of self-help groups at scale in Odisha, decentralized systems in Bhilwara, Rajasthan and most recently in Mumbai all point to the same lessons,” their statement said.
“What we need is far greater powers and capacities in the BBMP, integrating primary healthcare with water and sanitation and climate change functions, far greater involvement of elected councilors and functioning ward area sabhas and ward committees. It is a pity that the Government of Karnataka which pioneered Panchayati Raj in India is moving several steps backwards in respect to Nagara Raj,” they added.
Similarly, Vinay Sreenivasa, a Bengaluru-based lawyer-activist said, “Across the entire world, governments are moving to decentralise COVID-19 management. In India we are centralising it. But this kind of centralising is beyond shocking. It goes fundamentally against the 74th amendment to the constitution which empowered local governments.”
He added, “It looks like the government is keen on finishing off BBMP as previously solid waste management functions too were proposed to be taken off.”
He further said that parastatals are unaccountable to people or elected representatives like in the case of BDA and the BMRCL. He opined that the BBMP should be strengthened further, weakening it will eventually weaken the health system.