Till the High Court of Karnataka order, citizens didn’t know BBMP was mandated to constitute ward committees
It has been a full 21 years since the Constitution mandated the setting up of Ward Committees (WCs) as a part of institutionalising community participation in civic administration. Yet, the community and the city corporation in Bangalore remain delinked from each other.
After the concept of WCs became part of the Constitution in 1992, the State government, in 1994, amended the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (KMC) Act 1976, making a provision for WCs in every city municipal corporation. In Bangalore city, such committees existed every 3 or 4 four wards between 1996 and 2006, but they largely remained ineffective.
Sadly, the government did not bother to constitute WCs during 2006-10 when it directly controlled the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) through an administrator in the absence of an elected council, though it was its duty to do so. Ditto was the case with the elected council, which came into existence in April 2010, though in 2011 the government transferred power to constitute WCs to city corporations.
The BBMP was jolted into action when the Karnataka High Court, dealing with a batch of petitions related to Bangalore’s garbage crisis, castigated it after observing that one of the functions of councillor-led WCs was solid waste management.
In 2005, the Union government mandated the setting up of Area Sabhas for every one or more polling stations within a ward, to be headed by a people’s representative (other than the elected councillor) to ensure better community participation in civic administration.
The Union government then asked the States to incorporate the Area Sabhas in their municipal laws within four years of receiving funds through Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
But Karnataka included the Area Sabhas, along with more democratic composition of WCs, in the KMC Act only in 2011.
Shockingly, it emerged that none of the government or BBMP officials was aware of these changes made in the composition of WCs in 2011, and the High Court was provided with obsolete information in the ongoing PILs last fortnight.
Moreover, even though it’s been one-and-a-half-years since the new format came into existence, the State Urban Development Department has not yet formulated rules for WCs’ effective functioning although the Department of Parliamentary Affairs prepared the draft rules long ago.
“This sequence of events since 1992 clearly shows that neither the elected representatives nor the bureaucrats want to implement these community participation laws (CPLs) for obvious reasons,” said Ramesh, an advocate.
A study, conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development Department through TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in 2009-10 on public participation laws, makes references to a rudimentary form of WCs that once existed in Bangalore and Mysore, and points out that “it is unlikely that community participation takes off in the absence of political will.”
“No procedure was prescribed on how to enable the WCs to perform all their functions… Nominations made to ward committees were done by the party in power purely on political lines…,” the study observed.
K.N. Phaninda, an advocate, said that the norms prescribed to constitute WCs and Area Sabhas in the KMC Act lack clarity and are confusing, causing practical difficulties in their implementation, and contributing to blame game.
Mathew Thomas, a civic activist, is sceptical about councillors tolerating local bodies such as WCs and Area Sabhas where they have to listen to people, when a good many of them (councillors) are not above grabbing work contracts from the BBMP under false names. Though he points to various loopholes in the existing law to ensure effective functioning of these bodies, he believes the WCs’ time has come. The priority is to make them functional immediately and subsequently plug the loopholes to make the process transparent.
“Many of us were not aware of KMC Act amendment that made provision for RWAs’ representation in WCs and formation of Area Sabhas till we read about the High Court order,” said Sumana S., a residents’ welfare association member, expressing impatience with vested interests that keep pro-people laws under wraps.