Civic Issues
BDA has no business preparing and pushing any RMP even if it calls itself the secretariat of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Committee.

Predictably after four-and-a-half years of neglect and exploitation of namma Bengaluru, the Government of Karnataka, through its favourite organization – Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA), has issued a proposed Regional Master Plan 2031 for our city.

What is the Regional Master Plan?

Bengaluru’s growth in the last few years has gone from chaos to a sharp trajectory of unlivability. The city has seen health and wellness fall with outbreaks and deaths due to vector borne diseases. Traffic continues to menace the city, basic public service standards like health, garbage, sewage, water and Electricity are declining.

The challenges face by the poor are even worse as all of these factors sharply impact their lives and families more than the middle class.

It is in this context that the government of Karnataka, through BDA, has proposed a Regional Master Plan (RMP) – adopting an approach to a Bengaluru region planning that I had proposed in 2010. The RMP is supposed plan the development of our city and the adjoining region for the next 15 years – anticipating its growth requirements and planning the city’s requirements in terms of infrastructure, public services and many other aspects of what citizens require to live in a city including its heritage and environment.

As someone who has been consistently pleading, arguing and fighting for a planned approach to our city’s development, an RMP should be a welcome move. That is true except that this RMP is not a document that’s aimed at development or improving our city but one which serves as a cover for something more ominous and devious.

Why should we oppose this RMP?

Firstly, BDA is one of the most corrupt and non-transparent organizations in the Karnataka government’s stable. It is among many things the architect of the proposed Steel Flyover, countless land denotification scams, shady use of public money, contracting etc.

I have repeatedly argued that this organization must be dissolved and replaced with a cleaner and more capable planning and development authority. While we wait for that miracle to happen, it is clear that the RMP can only be developed and decided by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning committee (BMPC).

This has been prescribed by the 74th amendment of the constitution – the amendment that created urban local bodies and city governance. BMPC is a constitutional body that is mandated to do city planning. It is chaired by the Chief Minister and has hardly ever met. Even its meetings were forced on it by citizens and people like me approaching courts.

So, BDA has no business preparing and pushing any RMP even if it calls itself the secretariat of the BMPC. Just like CM’s secretary cannot take decisions for the state merely because he or she is secretary and only the CM can. Similarly, it is BMPC, which has to develop and finalize the RMP.

There is an understandable reluctance for the government of Karnataka to convene the BMPC. It has MPs, MLAs and Corporators from various parties and must have experts nominated to it. All of which would make the process of planning more transparent and with more questions than the BDA route. But the law is the law and political inconvenience is no excuse for subverting a constitutional body or process.

Secondly, it is now clear that the RMP is a document, whose primary intention is to ensure large scale land use conversions that will help builders with windfall gains. Of course, as a cover, the RMP also talks about many ideas in it - many of them good ideas and some not so good.

Many of these ideas are borrowed by earlier reports like Abides Plan Bengaluru 2020. But that’s not the point – there is nothing in the RMP that points to any commitment or legal compulsion to implement these ideas.

There is no mention of financing all these fancy ideas. For a government that is struggling to fix potholes on city roads despite spending 1000s of crores of public money, talking about these large scale infrastructure projects and additions to Bengaluru, starting from its favourite Tender Sure roads and a myriad of “projects”, is simply to divert and distract citizens away from last 5 years of neglect and exploitation of Bengaluru to these shiny new projects in the RMP.

It is clear that the Karnataka government would like to hastily approve an RMP (at the fag end of its term) so that it can execute the land use changes before the elections, which requires just a signature from the CM and can be implemented immediately (just before the elections and reader is free to guess and speculate about the reason for this largesse) and the other dreams/ideas will remain just that – dreams and ideas in a document of the Government.

So, here’s the proposition – the approval of RMP 2031 gives the citizens and residents of this city nothing before April 2018 and possibly not anything anytime soon but the builders will surely get what they want!

For those who think I am allowing my imagination to run wild, they have only to note this – the government’s conduct in the case of RERA where they played with rules to dilute the impact of a law to protect homebuyers at the behest of the builders.

Thirdly, our city’s main problem is the corrupt administration, lack of transparency and accountability. This points to a need to reform the way the city is governed. The many PILs and citizens groups protesting all the time point to a governance where citizens are shut out and must resort to confrontation or legal challenges to be involved in decisions that impact the future of their city and their families. RMP is totally silent on this issue.

There is ample evidence of the political class wanting to rule and exploit Bengaluru every five years with no accountability or scrutiny to or of the citizens who are the taxpayers and the most important stakeholders in a city democracy.

The way the Ward committees were stuffed with political cronies and the way projects like the Steel Flyover were sought to be thrust on Bengaluru and its people are just not acceptable propositions anymore.

So, any RMP that doesn’t talk about institutionalized involvement of citizens in city wide and ward wide planning through ward committees and mandatory public consultations should be outright rejected. The door that shuts the citizen out of deciding Bengaluru’s future must be opened or broken down.

I urge all well-meaning and responsible citizens of namma Bengaluru and the media who are committed to reclaiming Bengaluru to be careful about being mislead regarding the real reasons for this RMP and to come together and remind the Government again that the city is for citizens and not for builders and contractors by firmly saying BDA-RMPBeda, Say No To BDA-RMP.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own