Ward Committees in name alone

Ward Committees are empowered to form an action plan for their respective wards, oversee decentralisation of processing of municipal waste, help maintain public spaces, and also oversee spending of funds granted to the ward. They have to do all this and more, as mandated under the 74th Constitutional Amendment 25 years ago. The amendment, also known as Nagarpalika Act, came into force on June 1, 1993.

Constituted after orders were issued by the High Court of Karnataka, the 198 ward committees in the city, however, have not been meeting regularly and exist in name alone, allege several civil society members. According to Section 13 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Act and orders of the High Court, the committees have to meet once a month.

Rules that were framed and gazetted by the Urban Development Department state that notice for the meeting has to be sent to all the members a week in advance. They should be displayed in all public spaces in the ward to inform the general public.

“Rules also state that an agenda has to be set for the meeting, minutes put up on a public platform, such as the BBMP website, but they are not being followed,” said Narendra Kumar, president of Nagarika Shakthi.

He also alleged that in many wards, the local councillor, who is the chairperson of the committee, instructs BBMP officials to get the signatures of the members, without convening any meeting. “All these were submitted before the High Court,” he said.

Kathyayini Chamaraj, member of Shanthinagar ward committee, said that though she sent a letter to the secretary of the committee, no meeting had been conducted since March this year. “We have now urged the court to ask the BBMP to submit a report on how many meetings have been held,” she said.

There is much resistance to hold the meetings as councillors lack the political will to do so, claimed Srinivas Alavilli from Citizens for Bengaluru. He said that the BBMP commissioner should issue an order mandating that the meetings be held on the third Saturday of every month. “The public should be encouraged to attend them. It is a serious crime that such a blatant violation of the Constitution is being allowed,” said Mr. Alavilli.

BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad said that it was the responsibility of the secretary of the ward committee to fix a date for the meeting every month after consulting the local councillor. “If allegations of meetings not being held are true, I will instruct officials to adhere to the law and convene meetings every month,” he said.

Rules don't specify any penalty

A major complaint of many civil society members about the rules for the Ward Committees — finalised in June 2016 — is that there is no clause for levying a fine or any penalty on the chairperson (local councillor) if meetings aren’t held.

Kathyayini Chamaraj from the Shanthinagar Residents' Welfare Association, who is part of the Shanthinagar Ward Committee, said that CIVIC, a non-profit charitable trust she is part of, had submitted several suggestions to be included in the rules.

CIVIC had suggested that the ward committees draft a five-year ward vision plan, and if the chairperson failed to convene a meeting in a month, a third of the committee’s members could requisition the chairperson in writing to do so. “However, the rules have no mention of what is to happen when the meetings are not constituted even after this,” she said.

Narendra Kumar, president of Nagarika Shakthi, said that he and Ms. Chamaraj were contemplating turning to the courts. “The case that is currently being heard in court relates to the garbage crisis. So, during the hearing, ward committees and the lack of meetings don't get the focus,” he said.

Mahendra Jain, Additional Chief Secretary, UDD, added that several representations have been submitted with regard to inclusion of a penalty clause in the rules from various civic groups. “We will convene a meeting shortly with officials to discuss the issue. We will examine the representations and, if need be, we will meet civil society members,” he said.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 11:30:20 AM |

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