The Siddaramaiah government’s superseding of Bangalore’s civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), in order to trifurcate the city’s administration has erupted into a full-blown controversy. The klutzy 11th-hour manoeuvre has unwittingly pitted Chief Minister Siddaramaiah against the political opposition in and outside the state assembly. After backing himself into a corner, the chief minister and his government have found it hard to explain this move in the Karnataka High Court. The court has now ruled that the government must hold civic polls within six months. But the legal battle itself may not end there.
Last week, the government overrode the BJP-controlled BBMP council mere days before its term was to end. The haste was ascribed to civic body rules that mandate that an election be held immediately (in this case, by May 30) if the council completes its term. But the rules allow for a six-month delay if the council is dissolved.
The government’s rationale for the sudden overriding was this: it was examining ways to improve the BBMP’s functioning by carving it into three portions to better manage Bangalore’s vast area and huge population. By displacing the elected body and announcing a trifurcation, Siddaramaiah has also managed to wrest control of the state’s biggest and richest civic body. So, while the BJP’s own government had proposed a trifurcation of the civic body when it was in power, it nevertheless cried hoarse and accused the Congress of trying to manipulate future elections by fiddling with the boundaries of constituencies to favour its own support bases.
For the chief minister, the move hinted at a more-immediate political import. By putting off the BBMP polls, he has bought himself a breather from facing a city election. The chief minister is on shaky ground on the poll front as his last outing did not go well at all. In the Lok Sabha election last year, the ruling Congress managed to win just nine seats out of a total of 28 in Karnataka. The BJP got 17, including all three seats in Bangalore city. Realistically, the Congress, which has gathered quite a reputation for meticulously ignoring and even neglecting Bangalore, could not have pulled off a victory in the BBMP election. Any defeat of his Congress party, even a BBMP poll defeat, would have diminished Siddaramaiah’s standing with the party’s central leadership and would have had his in-party rivals crying for his scalp.
The irony is that not all the flak for a dysfunctional city administration ought to go to the Congress. After all, the BJP has had a majority in the city corporation for the past five years. In that period, the 709 sq km,
10 million-plus city with a Rs 6,800 crore annual budget has become an even bigger mess with deterioration of basics like roads and drinking water supply. The city grappled with additional catastrophes from time to time. In the last couple of years, for instance, it has faced a garbage crisis — sans a proper disposal system, it cannot cope with ever-growing mountains of waste. Another example: over 100 villages in the city outskirts that came into the corporation fold seven years ago are yet to be given an underground sewage system by the city corporation. Even bigger swathes of the city do not have water supply and have to rely on privately run tankers. The city is like a full-grown teenager trying to squeeze into an infant’s clothing.
A hurried city trifurcation, without attention to requisite details like governance and administrative structure, is not going to help improve Bangalore’s livability. A 2011 trifurcation of Delhi’s municipal authorities has flopped and the city is now contemplating merging its three administrative bodies.
For Bangalore, though, the expert view is that trifurcation may itself not be a bad idea but it has to be preceded by putting zonal and municipal structures in place. A government-appointed expert committee on the BBMP’s restructuring has, in an interim report, suggested a three-tier governance architecture for the city, comprising ward-level administration topped by multiple city corporations and, at the apex, a regional government similar to the London model where several boroughs comprise the Greater London Authority overseen by an elected mayor.
Those who know the inner workings of the corporation say that just a third of the city’s budget is spent on itself. The rest is siphoned off in a variety of ways by politicians, bureaucrats and contractors. Trifurcating a bulky, unwieldy civic body may not be a bad idea per se. But without the right preparation and getting the required apparatus in place, it could well triple the corruption and leakages while multiplying its inefficiency.
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