Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dysfunctional Local Administration and the Change We Seek



Yesterday, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the municipal body of Bengaluru, uploaded a document that was submitted by an expert committee to the Honourable Karnataka High Court on the issue of garbage (mis)management in the city. A good look at the document shows all that is wrong with the manner in which local governance takes place in India. It is ironic that at the very beginning of this document the committee notes that the garbage disposal issue has in recent times become an issue of grave concern. What it conveniently ignores (though it is not their mandate) that while this issue was growing in menacing proportions, the councillors of BBMP, cutting across party lines, were busy fighting with Vijay Mallya, Anil Kumble, Karnataka Cricket Association (KCA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for free passes for IPL matches taking place in Bengaluru. Even as you scan across the document, you see how confused and muddled the issue is, with the expert committee also giving contradictory statements on making Bengaluru a ‘zero waste’ city. But this is just a symptom of the real issues that governance at the local level fails.
The 73rd Amendment of India’s Constitution has enabled the provision for participatory governance at the rural and urban levels in India. Even as the rural areas have seen some sort of governance reform with the partial strengthening of gram sabhas and panchayats, urban areas have been unable to do so. Major cities of India have the opportunity to access funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), the funding cum urban governance reform scheme launched with much fanfare in 2004. However, a look at the level of funds utilized clearly highlights the underwhelming response that the scheme has received even in its Phase II. A lot of talk has been put forward about the various ‘administrative hurdles’ in accessing funds and ‘lack of capacity to spend these funds’; however, the real reason is a simple, powerful yet clear one. Amongst the conditions laid out for accessing the funds for various purposes, the government of the concerned state has to enact a Community Participation Law under which urban conglomerations within cities will have access to JNNURM funds via a Community Participation Fund. With the help of the Community Participation Fund’s initiation, the people can directly participate in the daily affairs of the government, and even enact locality level urban improvement projects by accessing funds separately mandated under the Community Participation Fund.
So far, hardly any funding has been accessed in the second phase of the scheme, where this particular administrative reform has been made a necessary condition. It is clear that the Barring Mysore, no other city in India so far has enacted this law. Even the state government of Delhi rejected efforts of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to enact the law citing multiplicity of agencies, when a simple solution to this problem could have been delivered by incorporating the various Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) under the Bhagidari scheme could have been made the representatives for representation and allocation. Even as the government of Karnataka and BBMP put forward the document and talked left right and centre about the various manners of waste segregation, management, charging bulk vendors or even putting forward money on processing facilities assembly constituency-wise, the document conveniently ignores the Community Participation Law. While the BBMP has already mandated the source management of waste especially for housing societies and localities, enacting the Law can provide funds for the management of waste at local levels so desperately needed, cutting down the overall expenses of the municipal body on everyday issues to a large extent.
While this was just about waste, there are several other issues in the urban domain that such a law could have easily dealt with before it gains monumental proportions. Urban areas can undergo major uplift to remove the ugliness of the cities and managing the urban design issues in a localized manner while also helping motivated communities preserve the heritage zones within cities. There are several Urgent enactment of the law is necessary for several reasons. More than 30% of India lives in urban spaces and produces 65% of India’s total GDP output. Also, the transition to urban spaces is an unstoppable phenomenon, and redeveloping cities for this transition can be facilitated through the participation of the residents of the city. However, this would entail weakening the grip of the elected representatives at all levels of the urban sphere as it would translate into greater accountability and would mean direct access, thus diminishing chances of swindling funds. Sample this: Mumbai, Bengaluru and Ludhiana are amongst the richest municipal bodies in India and even in Asia, and yet the state of infrastructure in these cities is worse than pathetic. Curiously, in these cities renowned for local body corruption, placing this law into the picture would change the discourse in an irreversible manner. The political economy of not transitioning power is skewed right now in the favour of vested interests within the several constituents of the state and city administrations, with local government being under their purview through the Indian Constitution, and there is an urgent need to rescue city administration from them in order to revive Indian cities.

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