Urban planners have long since decried the tendency of successive state governments to form 'expert' committees. The Bangalore Blueprint Action Group, formed by CM Kumaraswamy, met with immediate opposition leading to the dissolution of the former Congress government's Bengaluru Vision Group. These groups are powerless and ineffective, argue experts and exist mainly to push suspect projects by bypassing the only Constitutionally-approved body, Metropolitan Planning Committee.
In a victory for civic activists , who have for long opposed the forming of so-called expert committees by successive governments in the state to help them plan for the city, the high court was informed on Monday that the Bengaluru Vision Group formed by the last government has been scrapped.
The petition challenging the constitution of the group, also called the Bangalore Blueprint Action Group, was filed by Member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrashekar, and the Namma Bengaluru Foundation. In his plea Mr Chandrashekar had accused the then Congress government, which had set up the committee, of making a brazen effort to push expensive and suspect projects through and violating the Constitution by trying to bypass the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), which was legally mandated to plan for the city. The high court too observed that while experts from various fields could be called in to share their expertise with planning authorities, there was no need to set up separate groups that hardly met.
Mr Chandrashekar recalls that the Siddaramaiah government had only two meetings of the MPC during its tenure and even these were held only because of high court intervention based on another petition filed by citizens. "There was an attempt to bring in a Regional Master Plan through the corrupt BDA and not MPC, but that too was stalled only because of the courts," he says.
Arguing that the root cause of almost everything wrong with Bengaluru is lack of planning, Mr Srinivas Alavilli, co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru stresses that the need of the hour is to have a fully functioning MPC, which could draft experts in water, roads, garbage and so on to advise it, but finally do the planning itself. “The MPC is supposed to be the planning body, not just for the city but the metropolitan region,” he notes.
Headed by the Chief Minister , the MPC has nine other nominated members from the government including the urban development minister. It also has 18 elected members from the BBMP, and two members elected by the presidents and vice-presidents of zilla panchayats, taluk panchayats and village panchayats that fall under the Bengaluru Metropolitan Area.
While the elected members can continue until their term ends on the body constituted by the last administration, the Kumaraswamy government will have to nominate fresh members to it. But the question is will the Chief Minister activate it and let it plan for the city like it should?
Nobody wants to share power, especially the state government, says Ashwin Mahesh
Why did the state government set up an expert committee in the first place and then scrap it when there is a Constitutional body like the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee already in place, ask civic activists.
Urban expert ,Ashwin Mahesh believes it all boils down to reluctance in accepting the need for devolution of powers. Says he, "We have often seen the state government arguing that it doesn't have any powers and that everything is decided by the Union government, urban local bodies blaming the state government for not allowing them to function freely and the municipal corporator complaining that he is not allowed to decide anything. But in reality the state is not ready to share its powers with urban local bodies and the corporators are not ready to set up ward committees. If you ask a corporator why a ward committee is not set up in his ward, his reply would be what is the purpose of a ward committee, when we are ready to do everything needed for the ward, clearly indicating that he is in no mood to share his powers. This applies to the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee as well.”
While he acknowledges that some good suggestions were made by expert committees of the past like self- assessment of property tax, reforms in BMTC, introduction of the Big 10 buses, the BBMP One offices, digitalisation of police work and so on, Mr Mahesh insists that after the MPC was set up in 2013 , the government can only make experts a part of it and not constitute a separate committee.
“The state government needs experts for planning. But the expert committee is neither empowered to decide nor is accountable to the people. So I am insisting that the experts are made part of MPC,” he adds, .
“It is just the fear that the MPC will become more powerful in deciding the fate of the city that is stopping politicians from giving any importance to it,” Mr Mahesh maintains, warning that if the Kumaraswamy government tries to set up another expert committee, he will be again dragged to court....