‘Dear Deputy CM, nice thought, but an elite task force is not what Bengaluru needs’

While some say such a group is bound to be not representative of the City’s diverse population, others say big ideas need expert groups

June 09, 2023 04:20 pm | Updated June 12, 2023 05:50 pm IST - Bengaluru

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar flanked by Energy Minister K.J. George and Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy.

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar flanked by Energy Minister K.J. George and Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy. | Photo Credit: File photo

Deputy Chief Minister and Bengaluru Development Minister D.K. Shivakumar’s proposal to constitute an elite advisory committee to invigorate the tech city’s infrastructure has kicked off a debate on the need for such a task force. 

The idea has its genesis in 1999, when the then Chief Minister S.M. Krisha (who happens to be Mr. Shivakumar’s political mentor) formed the Bengaluru Agenda Task Force (BATF) headed by Nandan Nilekani, Former CEO, Infosys. In 2010, the then Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa formed a similar team, Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development (ABIDe). However, the team never convened a single meeting, and it ceased to exist when Mr. Yediyurappa stepped down. But when Mr. Yediyurappa returned as Chief Minister again in 2019, he did not reconstitute the committee. Previous Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai also did not set up the committee. 

Mr. Shivakumar, after holding a review meeting on Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) developmental activities on June 5, told reporters at Vidhana Soudha, “I have decided to form an advisory group that existed when Mr. Krishna was the Chief Minister. Individuals like N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder, Infosys, contributed immensely through investments and generating employment accelerating the growth. The committee will have people alike Mr. Murthy.”

Apprehensions of activists

However, not all are thrilled with the idea of a special elite team to steer the development of Bengaluru.

Srinivas Alavilli, a citizen activist, talking to The Hindu, said citizen participation in urban local governance has been enshrined in our Constitution for 30 years now in the form of area sabhas, ward committees with the passing of the 74th Constitutional amendment. However, it has not been realized anywhere due to a lack of political will and disempowered of local governance structures. 

Mr. Alavilli said city councillors and Mayors are not empowered due to a multitude of agencies running our city with no clear accountability mechanisms. Local problems can only be addressed locally and ward-level governance is extremely important especially in a mega city like Bengaluru with 1.5 crore population. Citizen participation ensures transparency, enables monitoring of public spend and most importantly, helps plan development work bottom up, he argued.

A task force at a city level is useful, but it needs to be inclusive and within the legal framework available for everyone. The MPC (Metropolitan Planning Committee) and the BMLTA both have the ability to involve citizens in policy-making. Earlier task forces did make good contributions, but they are ad-hoc in nature and tend to be exclusive, Mr. Alavilli said. “Our biggest challenge is the climate crisis as unseasonal heavy rains in May cause flooding, potholes and diseases. Government must enlist support of domain experts as well as eminent individuals to collectively find practical solutions keeping the future in mind.” Mr. Alivilli opined. 

Within the framework of law

Sandeep Anirudhan, Convener, Citizens’ Agenda for Bengaluru, said while BATF did bring a few positive changes, ABIde failed. ABIde never held a single meeting before it ceased to exist. Mr. Anirudhan, stressing the need for constitutional validity of such committees, said as long as task forces or committees are not institutionalised under the law, the members, however influential they may be, cannot bring any changes. The changes made by these groups through their suggestions to ministers can be reversed when the new government takes over. The Congress government has to focus on implementing the 74th amendment to the Constitution that mandates the formation of a planning authority for the local and city governing bodies, he argued.

The Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Authority (BMPA) is the need of the hour, Mr. Anirudhan said, contending that any other elite group would tend to push its own agenda and push its own consultants. “The group would not represent the interests of all sections of society. The task forces will have a top-down approach, while BMPA’s approach will be the opposite,” he argued.

Wise move by govt.

Taking a different view, T.V. Mohandas Pai, former CFO and Ex-director of Infosys, said the BATF had contributed immensely to the growth of the City and proposal of similar committee is a welcome move.

Mr. Pai said the city now has to focus on future improvements — to make Bengaluru a global high-tech city. Besides tackling infrastructural woes, the city needs better governance which is close to citizens. For this, the city planners need to move in different strategic directions, and an advisory group will come in handy, he argued.

Responding to the critics who argue that the ideas presented by this elite group does not represent entire population, he suggested that the government, after seeking suggestions and ideas from this committee, should hold consultation with legislators, citizen groups and ward committees.

Essential for big ideas

The government should consult this high-power team for big improvements, and the same can be discussed with other stakeholders later. “Not all have the ability to come up with big ideas, and hence such teams are formed due to their expertise,” he said, adding that Bengaluru should be divided into five corporations to move governance closer to citizens.

Rahul Kadri, Partner and Principal Architect at IMK Architects, an architecture and urban design practice founded in 1957, lauded the move of the Deputy Chief Minister. “In metro cities, the government has to enhance the quality of life of citizens. With this move, the advisory committee would facilitate the state to enhance tech city’ global image,” he argued.

Mr. Kadri further said the committee should comprise of urban planners, landscape designers and architects. The scope for improving mobility infrastructure in Bengaluru is large, and government can use their expertise. For instance, interlinking multi-mode transportation to ease commute can be achieved through coordination between different agencies. Enhancement of metro travel can be done by laying underground metro lines as infrastructure will not be needing land acquisition and many more, he said.

No arm-twisting  of officers

A senior IAS officer serving in key posts in BBMP said, in a meeting with Mr Shivakumar, he has assured that decision-making powers of bureaucracy will not be diluted and he will not allow the committee to arm-twist IAS officials. Mr Shivakumar, in the meeting, also opined that such teams in the past made attempts to dominate decision-making spaces and pushed agendas to serve their interests. The committee, however, will be restricted to seek suggestions and feedback for the projects planned by the State.

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