With the corporation elections slated this weekend, DNA interacted with experts and contestants on their take on polls, civic governance and RWA candidates. They shared ideas with us on what is required from the mayor and the municipal council, which is as big as the state legislative assembly.
Do we need structural changes for effective governance of Bangalore?
V Ravichandar: This is just another election. If the city architecture is broken like a bottle, it’s good to have an elected mandate. It is better than administrators but I doubt whether it will fix the problem. I am for elections as the present architecture is a broken mandate. But on whether it will change the present architecture, I am doubtful.
Dr Meenakshi Bharath: Problems are huge. The idea is to solve then ward wise. Three-and-half years ago, there was no corporator. So MLAs were doing the entire job which was an added burden and responsibility for them. Now the corporator will take up the job and simplify it to some extent. We hope that the 198 corporators coordinate as 198 divisions of the city will be a catastrophic event. If there is one layer missing, it is difficult to operate. But many a time, adding a layer is a difficult exercise. But it is a requirement all the same.
Prithvi Reddy: I disagree with layers. Fair elections are needed to choose eligible representatives. We need someone who is accountable. If you want a clean system, you have to start at the bottom. For every 30,000 people, we soon will have someone responsible. This is the only solution to solve larger issues. Whether it will change for the better, I do not know. But we are definitely moving towards dissemination of power.
M Pari: It is peculiar and historic that elections are taking place after a long battle. According to the 74th Amendment, the local body should get more powers, but in Karnataka, the BBMP is treated like a slave. The power of the council to sanction funds is up to Rs5 crore only. The final authority is the commissioner.
According to the Karnataka Municipal Act 1976, there is no power with the mayor or members of council. But in Mumbai and Kolkota, they have their own acts and there is power to the elected body. The mayor is leading the council and answers questions. But here, the mayor does not go to the council.
Dr Shivaprasad: In any given system, there has to be one stop solutions and it has to start somewhere. People’s representatives have to be there in a democracy. This not only keeps the process of finding solutions active, but also acts as a watchdog. It also functions as a forum to voice. This voice has made the government to set up a commission to look into it and restructure it. This was mentioned in the Kasturiranagan committee report. The committee has given them powers. So when he or she gets powers as a corporator, they can bring in their vision. On why the powers are not with the commissioner, it’s due to lack of understanding, knowledge and communication skills, which prevent an elected member from communicating with officers. You are thus not heard. So you do not know what the problems are and do not plan things. Thus the whole system has to be restructured to provide better administration.
What changes do you suggest to make it the real vehicle for the city’s overall development?
Ravichandar: There is need for a directly elected mayor. Today the ministers are in-charge of the city. Corporators have to be accountable to citizens. We should have elected ward committee within a ward with the corporator sitting on top so that there are inputs from the ground level which are part of a larger plan. Most important, there is need to set up a metropolitan planning committee (MPC). This should have various bodies, representatives, experts, and advisers to take care of the larger visionary area and look into various problems.
The reason to get a corporator is because there are no incentives for good people to come in. It is a structural flaw. Normally, municipal elections should be a footboard into state and national politics for people to stand. In the US, the highest turnout is in council elections, then in state polls and the lowest in central. But here the maximum turnout is for parliamentary elections, then for assembly and the lowest is for city polls which means people have realised that it is a waste of time.
As far as funds are concerned, if there is a city which can stand on its own feet, it is Bangalore. There is access to funds, provided the lenders know that there is a model by which this money can be made to grow. Today, we have to think of a different concept and not remain confined to the notion that the state will give money. If Bangalore is given freedom to create architecture, funds will come. The non-political governance should manage funds in corporate style.
Meenakshi: As a corporator aspirant, I doubt anything will happen. There is need to incentivise people. The corporator gets an honorarium of Rs2,000. But what are you going to live on? If you do not have a back up, then one starts looking at other means to earn the money. The honorarium amount and the salaries should be increased.
Prithvi: Having a directly elected ward committee is important from the way it is described in the Constitution. I feel that in the present structure where you have 198 corporators and 27 MLAs sitting in, the corporators may not have a say. Corporators need to be an independent body and work as a council. They should have a role in the city government. The MPC should have executive powers over every civic body in the city. It should be insulated and should be like the city government if you want architectural changes.
Pari: After including six CMC and one TMC and 110 villages for 800 sq km area, the budget of Bangalore is Rs4,438.41 crore. But for Mumbai, which has 480.24 sq km, the budget is Rs16,793 crore. Here there is no coordination between the civic agencies. The mayor should be given cabinet status. Then only we can take independent decisions. The government should allow the BBMP council to function independently. There should be an exclusive planning body in BBMP.
Dr Shivaprasad: Giving incentives to get elected is no big incentive when compared with motivation. We are all part of the system and whom should one ask for incentives for running our house? It has to be based on strong motivation in term of intentions. The financial part of it is important. So they will have to fund elections. The funding has to be rationalised. For transport, food and housing, the government has to give money. Whatever salary they get should be contributed to pension. With regard to planning, the city has to be restructured. Sit and make small units. Each unit should have small ring roads. This will help. It requires application and will power.
This time, there is lot of enthusiasm in RWA (residents’ welfare associations) and NGOs (non-government organisations). What is the cause of it and what difference will it bring in the political
parties and the system?
Ravichandar: RWA and others are a part of maturing system. It is a sign that people do no want to sit anymore. They want to play an important role and bring in changes that are coming from non-traditional sources. If the city is to be taken over by citizens, it requires RWA to make it happen. If you want to really take charge, candidates have to stand for the city, stand for the idea. In the next elections, no political party can ignore this idea.
Prithvi: The impact of RWA will be more if they win. Good candidates should be called based on the work. Winning elections on money is not all. Now people are maturing. It is important that youth and middle class should vote. Do not look at party and vote.
Meenakshi: Performance-based remuneration should be the rule. If you want the office to run and need all the work to be done, you cannot pay from your own pocket. The money has to come from somewhere. In case of RWAs and NGOs, they know the problems they face and have found that it is difficult to get them solved. They have decided to take politics into their own hands rather than beg for it and achieve solutions.
Pari: From 1996, RWAs have been playing an important role in politics. Residents have contested independently and money cannot be the deciding factor. Political parties should understand it. If a candidate is purchasing ticket from a party, how can you expect a good job? He should be made accountable.
Dr Shivaprasad: It is the attitude of the people which makes the difference. One cannot expect people to be unbiased. There are advantages and disadvantages for RWAs. The advantages are that they have a common goal which unites them to solve the problems better. There is direct involvement and scope for direct feedback. The disadvantages are that they are biased and there are chances of problems cropping up. RWAs are young organisations and are relatively less corrupt. When there is success, all sorts of people will interfere. Thus, it is important to know how to control infiltration. There is need for rules and to maintain a balance. We should follow the system and look after the welfare of the people.
Do you think anti-defection law needs to be enforced at municipal or city corporation levels as defections make mockery of elections?
Ravichandar: I am in favour of right of recall. I should have the ability to recall my corporator if he or she is not doing what is he or she is supposed to do. Most corporators do not care for middle class as they feel that it is not their vote bank. So how can one deal with the corporator if you have little chance to get things done? The right to recall is worth considering. As far as people are concerned, they should drop the idea that representatives are in public service. It’s an investment and there is need for return and this is how the system works. We need to realise that. If a person spends Rs100 crore in elections, he will do something to get it back.
Prithvi: It is a wrong to assume that all elected representatives have to be public servants without a decent remuneration. They should be treated as professionals. If they are doing a good job, pay them well. Keep a small portion of the budget as incentive. They should make money honestly by doing good job. The defection law is dangerous. As a first step, they should work without joining any party. They should formulate plans and give issue-based support to policies and schemes.
Pari: There is no need for anti-defection law. It is important to give more powers to the public and there should also be a system of public audit before the amount is paid to the engineer and contractor connected with the project. In 1996, 11 independents were elected of which eight formed a group and headed the council for three years. Voters are the masters. I cannot expect unity after results.
Meenakshi: I do not agree with horse trading. We have to break the system. Let the peoples’ verdict come out. Then we will formulate a plan to check this practice.
Compered by: Hemanth Kumar
Reported by: Bosky Khanna