Author : Ramanath Jha

Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Jan 30, 2021 Updated 3 Days ago
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act, 2020: A critical appreciation

On 10 December 2020, the Karnataka Assembly passed a new municipal bill for the governance of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) or Bengaluru Municipal Corporation. The bill received the assent of the governor on 19 December 2020 and was notified in the Official Gazette two days later, thereby, converting it into an act. This law would be exclusively for the state’s capital city, Bengaluru, and will remove it from the purview of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (KMC) Act 1976, which was till now applicable to all municipal corporations of the state.

The new Act lists several objectives that it intends to achieve. Firstly, as cited above, it provides for an independent act for BBMP. It believes the common KMC Act, 1976, applicable to nine other municipal corporations of the state, constrains BBMP’s flexibility. In its estimation, a very large city with its own peculiarities and scale should have an independent act. Secondly, the Act seeks to improve on decentralisation. It feels that the current Act deals inadequately with this vital governance principle. In the context of Bengaluru with an area of 714 square kilometres and with an estimated population of more than 10 million, having a highly decentralised governmental architecture is vital. Thirdly, the Act provides for public participation. The citizens of Bengaluru have been some of the most vocal in civic affairs of the city. Their participation in civic affairs, the Act hopes, will bring fresh energy and ideas in running BBMP and democratise governance in the true spirit of local empowerment. Fourthly, for similar reasons as stated above, the common act limits the efficiency of the city. A separate act is most likely to enhance the quality of decision-making. Lastly, the existing Act has been found “inadequate in administrative and structural matters”. The Act seeks to fix such inadequacies.

It is somewhat curious that the new Act argues for “an independent legislation” for Bengaluru on grounds of “improving decentralisation, integration of public participation…….and ensuring efficient decision making.” However, the KMC Act in its Statements of Objects and Reasons was of exactly the opposite view. It stated, “It is considered necessary that there should be a single enactment governing municipal corporations in the state. This will also enable the establishment of municipal corporations in other cities”. One would have believed that since all Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have a similar set of functions, a single act with some customisation for a mega city ought to have sufficed. The reasons behind this sudden change of opinion are unclear.

It is to the credit of the present Act that it has made a sincere attempt to provide statutory space to citizens’ voice. In the wake of the Nagar Raj Bill recommended to states by the Government of India under the flagship programme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), the concept of ‘area sabha’ was introduced in the KMC Act. This has been retained in the statutory framework of the present Act. The ‘area sabha’ has been defined as “a body of all the persons who are registered as voters in the electoral rolls pertaining to any polling station of that area”. The ‘resident welfare association’, that is “a voluntary association of residents registered under any law in force”, the ‘self-help group’ or “a group of twenty or more people from a homogeneous class who come together for addressing their common problems” and the ‘slum-level federation’ or “an association of twenty or more self-help groups formed by residents of urban slum areas”—all find a place in the Act. With a view to decentralise, ward development plans are introduced along with zones and the institution of zonal commissioners. To further the concept, the city would be divided into 225-250 wards and 15 zones.

Despite these salutary features of the new Act, it falls short on several significant counts. The foremost drawback is that it does nothing substantial to further the concept of the ULB as a self-empowered institution that the 74th Constitution Amendment so eloquently talked about. The state government still continues to be in the driver’s seat and the arbiter of municipal fate. While decentralisation within the BBMP is the subject of focus, the decentralisation from the state to the city has been completely side-stepped. The independence of the ULB is further weakened by the inclusion of members of the House of People and members of the Legislative Assembly whose constituencies fall within ULB limits as members of the local corporation. This has  resulted in turf wars between the three levels of public representatives seeking to nourish their own voter base in the same geographical area.

In regard to functions, while the Act lists all the eighteen constitutionally suggested functions as core municipal functions along with a whole series of other functions, there is no clarity provided about what would happen to the several parastatals that are performing municipal jobs. For instance, the very first municipal function that the Act enumerates is ‘urban planning including town planning”. However, this is currently the domain of the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA). Will this parastatal continue to exist or be taken over by the BBMP? The Karnataka Slum Development Board (KSBD) is in charge of rehabilitation of all declared slum areas in the city. However, “slum improvement and upgradation including providing basic facilities” has been listed as the tenth core municipal function by the Act. What then would be the fate of KSBD? If “water supply for domestic, industrial, and commercial purposes” is listed as the fifth core municipal function, what would happen to the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB)? The Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services Department provides fire services in the city of Bengaluru, but fire services are listed as the seventh core municipal function.

While eighteen core municipal functions, fifteen general functions, and about four core sectoral municipal functions are listed for the BBMP to perform, the financial basket of the ULB continues to be seriously constrained. Property tax, profession tax, entertainment tax, additional stamp duty, infrastructure cess, solid waste management cess, and urban transport cess are listed as taxes available to BBMP. This entire basket of taxes put together will still leave a huge unfunded mandate for the ULB. Quite clearly, no serious effort has been made to ensure that the BBMP will have enough resources to discharge all its functions. This must be one of the very fundamental weaknesses of the new Act.

In regard to the performance of the executive functions of the Corporation, a whole new set of confusing provisions have been inserted. The chief commissioner is to be “appointed by the Government in consultation with the Mayor”. His transfer will happen “only after due consultation of the Corporation and reasons shall be recorded for such transfer”. While consultations with the local body may be a welcome move, the term of the chief commissioner has been fixed at a mere “two years subject to the pleasure of the Government….” It is quite clear that the local consultations would be procedural and the state government will ultimately call the shots. Furthermore, by keeping the mayor’s term of office at two and half years and the chief commissioner’s term at two years, the position of the chief commissioner has been undermined.

The powers and functions of the chief commissioner have sown further confusion. He is to “supervise and direct the zonal commissioner”. He is to “coordinate between the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Council and the Zonal Committee for all matters necessary”. He shall decide on certain inter-zonal matters referred to him and undertake such other functions “upon the direction of the Mayor or the Government.” In the case of the zonal commissioner, he “shall undertake functions as directed by the Chief Commissioner or Mayor from time to time”. In either case, the introduction of multiple bosses is a sure recipe for constant conflict and squabbles. The Act introduces the mayor into executive functions without making him the chief executive. On the other hand, the Act intends to make the chief commissioner the chief executive but asks him to take orders from the government as well as the mayor. This is a strange arrangement that will destroy the chain of command and invite frequent stalemate.

Sadly, the Act’s design compels it to fall between two stools.

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Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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