When the country was formed after Independence we had a Central government, and the state governments were formed quickly after that. However, much of ‘local’ administration was not in a third tier, but simply controlled by the Centre and State itself. The ‘collector’ system that we have in the districts even today is a legacy of this start. It was only in the early 1990s that the Centre passed laws to devolve power and responsibility to the local bodies. First the panchayati raj amendment, and then the urban governance amendment (73 and 74) were passed.
Broadly, the 74th Amendment mandates three kinds of changes. One, to set up a planning body for each metro area, with members drawn from municipal councils and corporations, and those with expertise in urban issues. Second, that more and more services provided by the state government should be devolved to local bodies, along with funding for this. And third, that citizen participation through ward committees and sabhas should be put in place.
By and large, state governments around the country have ignored this amendment, and so has the KA government. If you notice, bus transport, water supply, fire services, and other things that are steered by city governments around the world are state-run in Bangalore. The ward committees exist on paper, but there is no commitment to making them work as they should. And the planning of the city has remained chaotic, without a proper planning body (the Metropolitan Planning Committee) in place.
That does not mean that no one tried to plan. The State government has realised that without a plan for the city region, nothing much can be done. However, it has been reluctant to transfer the power for planning (including land use, where the money is) away from itself. Therefore, the tendency has been to set up planning groups at the state government level itself, rather than an MPC that mostly includes city councillors.
S M Krishna’s government set up the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, and the BJP government set up the Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force. Both BATF and ABIDe comprised of members from civil society who worked with the government to set a course for the city. The recommendations of these groups, as well as those of the Kasturirangan Committee on urban issues were broadly the same – they reminded the government of the 74th Amendment’s mandate, and urged the government to set up the MPC, empower citizens, and improve municipal finances.
None of this worked. What did work, in the end, was something else. To some extent, the JNURM scheme pushed governments to implement the 74th amendment, threatening not to release Central funds unless reforms were carried out. In response, state government did so, but mostly in a ‘wink-wink’ manner. For example, although there is a community participation law in Karnataka, the law gives local councillors the right to decide who the ward committee members should be, and even veto power over anything they decide. The Centre seemed ‘satisfied’ with such dodgy laws, and released its funds.
The other thing that worked was a lawsuit. C N Kumar’s plea before the High Court on violations of land use ended up with the court noting the absence of the MPC, and questioning the government about it. The government gave some flaky answers for a while, but in the end the court orded the state government to set up the MPC. And therefore, recently the Congress government notified the creation of the MPC (for Bangalore alone – the Mysore and Hubli-Dharwad MPCs were not established, and that battle remains to be fought).
Even after creating the MPC, the state government is reluctant to let this body work properly. No members of the MPC have been appointed, nor has the selection of BBMP councillors to be represented in this body been carried out. In the CM’s Budget speech, he made zero allocation for the functioning of the MPC. In short, the order to ‘create’ the MPC has been met in letter, but the spirit behind it – locally led planning for city development – is being defeated.
Which brings us to the latest Vision Group, with the CM as chairman, 4 MLAs as vice-chairs, and 5 members from private society. I have no problem with any such group – if the CM wants advice from people, let him appoint any number of advisory groups and individuals, and call them what they like. My objection is that this group cannot be an alternate to the law’s mandate to staff the MPC with local representatives and give it certain planning powers.
What is galling about the new group is the continuing exclusion of local representatives. What kind of city planning is possible without the Mayor or the councillors’ involvement? The usual answer to this question has been that ‘the Mayor has no powers anyway’. But that too is the fault of the state government. First they disempower local government, and then they use the argument of disempowerment to deny empowerment !!
If not today, there will be a day when we will have to do the right things, for the simple reason that the economy of the city and the solutions to various pressing problems, depends on that. The tragedy of India, always, is that we refuse to do what is right until it is late, and in delaying so, we condemn ourselves to under-development.
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