Bengaluru

Namma Bengaluru: A year when citizens got a say in governance

The number of MEMU services from the city to Whitefield, Bangarpet, and Mysuru has gone up in the recent past.

The number of MEMU services from the city to Whitefield, Bangarpet, and Mysuru has gone up in the recent past.   | Photo Credit: K_MURALI_KUMAR

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Among other things, citizens’ participation in governance of the city was institutionalised in the form of ward committees

Bengaluru has been able to boast of one of the best citizen participation in governance over the years, and 2019 saw some landmarks in increasing people’s roles beyond voting and paying taxes. From claiming their right to officially being part of the administration of their wards through ward committees to pressurising the government into giving the traffic-choked city another mass transport option, this year will be remembered for many successes in citizen movements. The Hindu looks at some of them.

Ward committees institutionalised citizens’ participation

This year was a landmark year for citizens’ participation in governance of the city, which was institutionalised in the form of ward committees for the first time.

Though ward committees, mandated by the 74th amendment of the constitution, were formed in the latter half of 2018, regular meetings meetings on the first Saturday of every month began only by February 2019. Though it has been a slow start, almost all wards hold meetings regularly now.

“The system may not be perfect yet, but it has been a good start,” said Srinivas Alavilli of Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), which is at the forefront of the ward committee movement.

The BBMP and CfB organised workshops about the workings of ward committees for councillors, civic officials and citizens.

“People have taken interest and have begun participating in ward committee meetings. For instance, more than 4,000 people participated in a meeting in Hennur ward,” said Mr. Alavilli, adding several people who protested over local civic problems are now part of the ward committee mechanism and have gotten their problems redressed.

“Ward committees have definitely helped in grievance redressal at the ward level, which ensures that not all complaints are escalated to the corporation level. The civic body has also benefited from the ground level feedback from ward committees,” said a senior civic official.

The publishing of ward-wise details of all the works taken up and property tax collected by the BBMP has helped citizens be more informed and hold the administration to account in ward committee meetings.

But the system is not perfect. Allegations continue that the composition of ward committees tilts the balance of power in favour of the councillor. A case in point was how Kathyayini Chamaraj, an activist who fought for ward committees for over two decades and was a member of the Shantinagar ward committee, was unceremoniously dropped from the committee in October this year, allegedly for being too vocal in her criticism of the councillor.

“The rules are strongly loaded in favour of the councillor. There is a need to reform that. We need to bring in a system where a majority of the ward committee members are elected and not nominated,” said N.S. Mukunda, Citizen Action Forum (CAF).

Fight for better public transport yields positive results

The push for a sound mass transit system from citizens’ groups and activists yielded some positive results in 2019.

Some major successes included the government’s decision not to hike the bus fare and promise to reduce the existing fare, the launch of ‘Nim Bus’ services on priority lane on Outer Ring Road (ORR) from Silk Board to Tin Factory, approval from the Extended Railway Board (ERB) for the suburban rail project, and South Western Railway (SWR) introducing more MEMU services from the city to Whitefield, Bangarpet, and Mysuru.

Sanjeev Dyamannavar of Praja, an advocate for a robust suburban rail network in the city, said, “This year, we saw some visible changes when it comes improving rail services. The SWR provided additional services to important destinations like Whitefield, Hosur, Tumakuru, and Kolar. Commissioning of automatic signalling from KSR Bengaluru to Whitefield, work on a station near Kempegowda International Airport, completing tender process for quadrupling of the Cantonment to Whitefield line are some of the promising developments.”

He said that civic groups pursued the matter with not only MPs from the city, but also of other districts such as Kolar and Tumakuru seeking a better network from Bengaluru to suburban areas.

Groups such as Bengaluru Suburban Rail Users and Modalu Sub-urban Rail Beku have taken up the the long-pending demand for a suburban rail network with the authorities concerned.

The campaign to improve bus services also saw success. Vinay Sreenivasa from Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) said, “When there was a proposal to increase the bus fare, we opposed it strongly and conducted a public opinion as well. The government had announced that it will support the BMTC in reducing the fare. We are hoping that the required budget would be made available to reduce the fare for the benefit of commuters.”

Recently, Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), along with BBPV, Whitefield Rising (WR), and Bellandur Jothege (BJ), had organised NimbusExpress Bus Yatra involving heads of various government agencies to promote the Bus Priority Lane (BPL) on ORR.

In the absence of a good mass transport system, people continue to rely on private modes of transport to commute in the city. As of now, the city’s vehicle population has crossed 83 lakh.

Protests push elevated corridor on back burner

In a replay of the anti-steel flyover protests of 2016, thousands of citizens held multiple protests against the proposed 102-km-long elevated corridor network in March. The protests have been partly successful as the project has been put on the backburner, though it is not entirely off the table.

The then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had announced that public consultation will be held before going ahead with the project, but proceeded with the tenders for the first phase. Citizens later questioned the tenders in the High Court, arguing that the project was neither part of the Draft RMP – 2031 nor discussed in the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Committee (BMPC). The High Court gave an interim stay order, essentially stalling the project for now.

In the same case, the Draft RMP-2031, which received much flak from citizens, has also been put on hold. The State government is yet to reconstitute the BMPC.

Since then, there has been a change of government and the BJP, that opposed the elevated corridor project, is now in power.

However, the BJP government has not scrapped the elevated corridor project. Deputy Chief Minister Dr. C.N. Ashwath Narayan told The Hindu in November this year: “We are open to the idea. We are working on various solutions to improve mobility in the city – metro, suburban rail, road infrastructure and even elevated corridors.”

“We are not completely against elevated corridors. But the city that has been providing infrastructure for private transport and failed to solve the congestion issue. We should try public transport solutions, which is something we are seeing now – bus priority lanes, metro and suburban rail. If this doesn't solve the congestion issue, we can re-examine infrastructure for private vehicles,” said Srinivas Alavilli, Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB).

Changing the face of lakes

The city’s lakes, which have been making news for all the wrong reasons in recent years, have been witnessing a glimmer of hope. Now that all the lakes (except three) are under the BBMP, their revival rests as much on community participation and CSR, as they do on the civic body’s measures.

For example, Doddakallasandra lake was in a pathetic condition in 2017. ActionAid, in association with NTT Data, a Japanese tech firm, took up the responsibility of maintaining the lake, and with the help of locals. They have managed to bring the lake back to life.

A biodiversity survey between December 2018 and October 2019 revealed that the 21-acre lake has a total of 344 trees of 41 different species. The lake is also a habitat for 37 different species of butterflies, with one of the largest species being the Blue Mormon, and one of the smallest species being the Tiny Grass Blue.

In another part of the city, a rejuvenated Jakkur lake saw a reversal in fortunes due to poor maintenance. The BBMP later carried major infrastructure development work such as construction of walking paths and anti-encroachment drives. But the lake was still in a bad condition.

In 2014, Jal Poshan, a citizen group, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the BBMP for maintenance of the 160-acre lake. Jal Poshan believed that collaboration is the key for restoration, rejuvenation and conservation of lakes in the city. They initially started with weekly clean-ups and plantation drives. Now, through CSR funds and crowd funding, they have changed the face of the lake.

Annapurna Kamat of Jal Poshan said that they won the second prize this year in the ‘promotion of citizen and State action for water conservation’ category by National Water Mission for the revival of Jakkur lake.

Gubalala and Thalaghattapura lakes

Many residents around Gubalala and Thalaghattapura hardly knew about the lakes in their neighbourhood. Due to decades of neglect, encroachment, constant inflow of untreated sewage, dumping of debris, industrial and domestic effluents, the lakes had shrunk and deteriorated.

United Federation of Residents Welfare Associations (UFERWAS), Mission Disha and other citizens’ groups are now working hard to reclaim the dying lakes with the help of United Bengaluru and citizen activists. In a collaborative effort, they filed a police complaint and have taken the matter to the Lokayukta as well.

“With sustained efforts and continuous support by citizen activists and groups, we have been able to bring small changes. No new encroachment has taken place recently. We have been able to grab the attention of all the agencies concerned, including the BBMP and BWSSB,” said Chaithanya Subrahmanya, who has been involved in lake restoration.

Citizens strive for policy course correction in SWM

It has been a mixed year for citizens striving to drive change in solid waste management. While there seems to be little change on the ground, civic participation has been able to push the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to draft a SWM policy and a road map towards adopting best practices.

The Directorate of Municipal Administration had come up with a draft SWM Policy for the State this year, but drew sharp criticism for ignoring many sustainable SWM practices that have evolved over the last few years in Bengaluru.

“Public consultation in the city led to BBMP submitting inputs for the draft policy. This is now being redrafted to include the best practices,” said Sandya Narayanan from SWM Round Table.

Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner (SWM), BBMP, said citizen participation at the ward level had driven segregation levels in the city up to 40% from below 30% last year. “Some ward committees are very proactive on SWM. Their work from the ground up has helped BBMP improve waste management in these wards, right from clearing black spots to improving collection and transportation,” he said.

The year saw several residential localities taking to decentralised composting solutions – lane composters and composting in parks – with Sanjay Nagar, HSR Layout and Koramangala taking the lead.

The civic body has finalised garbage tenders for door-to-door collection of segregated waste, and is in the process of issuing work orders. However, the mayor has announced that the city is keen on adopting the Indore model of SWM, where a single vehicle will collect both wet and dry waste.

“We are pushing back against this change in policy, which may effectively derail the garbage tenders that are finally ready after two years of work. Next year, the big challenge will be to ensure continuity of best practices in the city and ensure tenders take off,” said Ms. Narayanan.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 7:48:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/namma-bengaluru-a-year-when-citizens-got-a-say-in-governance/article30398439.ece

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