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ET by invite: BBMP elections an opportunity to change Bengaluru city's governance

If elections happen, it is a great occasion for citizens to demand candidates to demonstrate political leadership and support for governance reforms.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Jul 09, 2015, 10.44 AM IST
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If BBMPelections happen, it is a great occasion for citizens to demand candidates to demonstrate political leadership and support for governance reforms.
If BBMPelections happen, it is a great occasion for citizens to demand candidates to demonstrate political leadership and support for governance reforms.
By Srikanth Viswanathan

The current uncertainty is more than whether elections to the BBMP will be held or not. It is really about whether a definitive choice will be made between reforms and a new way of doing things on hand, and status quo on the other.

The BBMP restructuring process actually offers the state government an opportunity to decide between status quo and transformative change. While the motivations for the original trifurcation proposal are not known, it appears that the BBMP restructuring committee will recommend five municipal corporations in a three-tier metropolitan-municipalzoneward model along with certain administrative reforms.

The committee report provides the state government a golden opportunity to bite the bullet on re-architecting the governance of Bengaluru in a comprehensive, systematic manner. There have been similar opportunities in the past for state governments including the present one, which were allowed to pass. Another such instance would prolong the status quo.

Surely , nothing dramatic or sudden will happen in Bengaluru in the near term if there are no governance reforms. However, poor quality of governance plus status quo equals steady worsening of quality of life. From poor spatial planning to emaciated institutional capacities, from lack of legitimate political leadership at the city level to lack of enforceable accountability for performance, Bengaluru overall has weak governance systems. These existing systems can never produce improved results.They need to be transformed and that requires political leadership.

If elections finally happen, it is a great occasion for citizens to demand and parties and candidates to demonstrate political leadership and support for governance reforms. It is time to demand a new promise of surgical reforms that will fix root causes, rather than just projects and schemes that provide cosmetic relief. If elections do not happen and the BBMP restructuring process continues, it continues to be a significant opportunity to ensure BBMP restructuring dovetails into comprehensive, systemic governance reforms.

It is hard to believe that elections to the BBMP necessarily close all doors to governance reforms in Bengaluru (albeit the legal and constitutional questions that arise from the court cases on BBMP elections and what they mean for urban governance reforms in general still merit a separate discussion).

The state government, political parties and citizens of Bengaluru can go down in history as the architects of a new deal for Indian cities by making urban governance reforms a political, and therefore relevant issue, elections or otherwise. The question really is whether this is an idea whose time has come.

(The writer is Coordinator Advocacy, Research and Capacity Building, at Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy)

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