The constitution of the Bengaluru Blue Print Action Group (BBPAG) by the Chief Minister of Karnataka may be a well-meaning, belated waking up of our Chief Minister.
To many, this may be a continuing tradition of CMs having high profile groups for 'vision' for Bengaluru. SM Krishna had his BATF, BS Yedyurappa had his ABIDE (of which I was Convenor), and now CM Siddaramaiah has his BBPAG. But despite all these visions and visionaries, Bengaluru continues its downward spiral of mal-governance, negligence and rampant corruption. Lakes die, water tables disappear, garbage piles up, public health suffers, land gets encroached/given away, tax revenue leaks etc. continue unabated.
So if forming of this Vision Group is an indication that our CM has woken up to Bengaluru's decline, malgovernance and corruption - then I welcome it.
But even then, it's a flawed decision and is violative of law. The Constitution's 74th Amendment mandates cities to create a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) - a statutory body that is responsible for the planning function in a transparent, consultative manner. The GoK under pressure from many, including me, and also the Government of India, created the MPC in 2014- 2015 - and despite my requests that MPC be independent and have outside experts also - has filled it with corporators from BBMP and some officers. MPC should have outside citizen participation, and that has been given the go-by. The MPC has not met even once in all these months!
All of this would be laughable if it wasn't so outrageous.
So now comes this Vision Group. What is its role vis-a-vis MPC? Is it undermining and making redundant a constitutional institution? It's an interesting irony for a CM of a political party that has cried itself hoarse on constitutional propriety in recent days. As it is now, this Vision Group undermines the constitutional sanction of the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) which is authorised to create the Master Plan for the city and lead the implementation of projects.
So whilst I am not opposed to bringing eminent citizens into serving the city, we must be clear that this part-time philanthropy by the leading lights is not a substitute to MPC's institutional responsibility and responsibility to the planning function. Planning must be transparent and in full view of public. Planning must address the same refrain of roads, but an overall focus on all elements that our growing and declining city and all residents face. The MPC envisages a specific role for ward committees, citizens, RWAs and NGOs. Article 243ZE of the Constitution explicitly mandates the MPC as the constitutional body for drafting development plans for the city.
What's the way forward? Now that it has woken up and signalled an interest in Bengaluru, the Government must make it a priority to build up the MPC and its capacity.
The members of this Vision Group can be nominated to MPC or the Vision Group can be made an Advisory Group to the MPC. That is the right way to build up a permanent solution to our city's planning woes. If this isn't done, this decision, and indeed the functioning of the group, would violate the 74th Amendment.
In addition, the Government must broadbase the citizen representation, and not restrict it only to 'big' names and businesses. Bengaluru has an active civil society, NGOs and RWAs. They must be well represented in MPC or this new MPC's Advisory Group.
Bengaluru is confronted with a serious crisis and is well on its path to becoming an unlivable city. Every year, promises are made and broken by governments and those in charge of the city. Corruption has gone from being rampant to being all-pervasive with flouting of laws being the norm, rather than the exception. All, creating a culture where negligence and apathy to public lives and service and misuse of public money and assets are the general rule.
Everyone is aware of the political and bureaucratic class' desire to either not have planning or to control the planning because of the enormous discretionary powers they can exercise and the corruption that generates. So for me and many others, this issue of protecting and building MPC is an article of faith for our city. The creation of MPC by a reluctant government was made possible after several letters and interventions with Chief Minister through 2013 to 2015 expressing my concern regarding the severe governance deficit in Bengaluru.
The government needs to build a new comprehensive, multi-year plan formed through a process of genuine public consultation. The plan must address fundamental issues of statutory planning for the city and include the voice of citizens through representative groups and RWAs.
Our city's decline needs to be stopped and a new period of urban renewal kick-started which our city and its hardworking citizens deserve. That is the only way to reverse the many years of exploitation and to reposition our city as a gateway to investments for our state and the country.
I welcome our CM's belated waking up and inviting a group of some illustrious citizens of Bengaluru to serve our Bengaluru. But I caution him not to do so at the cost of undermining or weakening a constitutional body. Citizens of Bengaluru have learnt to fight against what's wrong, and they will.
This article appeared in Bangalore Mirror on May 12, 2016