Doomed to repeat past mistakes? Bengaluru Vision Group runs into trouble over absentees

The Bengaluru Vision Group (BVG) also called the Bengaluru Blue Print Action Group (BBPAG), set up by the Karnataka government has already run into trouble with activists questioning its formation with notable absentees. The mayor was absent and so is representation from the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Committee (BMPC), corporators, many civic bodies, activists and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs).

On Tuesday, the Siddaramaiah government quickly added the mayor, BN Manjunath Reddy and architect and urban planner Vivek Menon. The Hindu reports that Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George said the other concern about the exclusion of representatives from various civic bodies and agencies too would be addressed.

So for now, the City police commissioner, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESC) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) who were all absent from the BVG, would be made permanent invitees to meetings of BVG.

Representational image. Twitter @AratiKumarRao

Representational image. Twitter @AratiKumarRao

The Karnataka government set up the new BVG,aimed at breathing fresh life into the dying city and to find solutions to resolve its infrastructure and civic bottlenecks. Members included, NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Azim Premji of Wipro, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart, Ramesh Ramanathan and Swati Ramanathan of Janaagraha. The group also had Kalpana Kar, Mohandas Pai, Ramakanth, K Jairaj, RK Misra and BS Patil. Many of these elite Bengalureans have been members of earlier vision groups set up by successive Karnataka governments.

The BVG's other members are the Bengaluru Development Minister, ministers representing Bengaluru, the chief secretary and additional chief secretary (urban development department). The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) commissioners and the metropolitan commissioner of Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) were to be permanent invitees.

Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, has designed a Bengaluru blueprint for the new BVG, which aims to improve life of Bengalureans by ushering in reforms in infrastructure and systems, resource mobilization, transparent governance, especially e-governance solutions, and increased participation of citizens, organizations and industry members.

Conspicuous by their absence in the BVG was the mayor of Bengaluru, and several other civic bodies like the BMRTC and BMRCL, BWSSB, BESC and the City Police commissioner. These anomalies have since been corrected.

However, the absence of representation from the BMPC and RWAs in the new BVG is still glaring.

The BMPC was mandated by the 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 and the Karnataka government notified the BMPC in January 2014, after the High Court gave the government a 48-hour deadline on a petition filed by activist CN Kumar. The BMPC is supposed to be the nodal authority for all development and planning in the Bangalore metropolitan area. Headed by the Chief Minister, the BMPC has representation from municipal councilors, who have voting rights. The BMPC has the mandate to formulate a five year development plan for the city. The earlier Master Plan for Bengaluru expires in 2017.

Corporators are directly in the line of fire of angry residents, who approach them when things don’t work in their area, whether they be street lights, potholes, garbage or overflowing drains. Many active RWAs, like those in Malleswaram, HSR layout, Indira Nagar, Basavanagudi, Shantinagar, Langford Town, Richmond Town and Koramangala are working with their corporators, BBMP, BWSSB, local police stations and their local MLAs to bring about a change in their areas. So any vision group cannot function without RWAs and other civic activists who work on the ground being part of it.

One of the other major problems in Bengaluru is its traffic congestion, but representatives of both the BMRTC and the BMRCL were not present in the earlier formation of the group. Isn’t mass transport solutions a must to decongest Bengaluru traffic? The BMRCL has through the opening of the East West corridor and the purple line, increased its footfalls in just a matter of one week to one lakh passengers a day. So has the BMRTC, with its Big Ten buses, which have provided end to end speedy commute. The BMRTC also has major plans to run feeder services from the metro stations. Working together with several civic bodies is a must for any solution to the myriad problems the city faces.

Reacting to concerns about the BVG “sidestepping the elected BBMP council and the BMPC”, Mr George told reporters on Tuesday, that the BVG would at best be a recommendatory body and would only give suggestions to develop the city. This, in itself, has reduced the power of the BVG and it doesn’t look like anything much will be achieved by this new formation.

So, it’s okay to feel a sense of déjà vu, for after all, there have been several attempts to form just such vision groups for Bengaluru. This is just a new vision group with a brand new name. There was the earlier Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) set up in 1999 by the then Chief Minister, SM Krishna. The BATF died a natural death along with the end of Krishna’s reign.

At the time of the formation of the BATF, the BMPC had not been notified. The BATF did start out right and came up with several grand ideas for traffic management, signages for BBMP (then BCC), public toilet design, private-public partnerships through sponsorships of parks, roundabouts, amongst others. The BATF was headed by the then Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani and members included Naresh Venkataramanan, Kalpana Kar, Ramesh Ramanathan, Ravichander, Suresh Heblikar, Anuradha Hegde, Late H Narasimhaiah, Sunil Shelar among others.

But, the BATF soon ran into rough weather, several projects proposed by the BATF was shelved for one reason or other. Out of 12 corporate commitments worth Rs 35 crore, according to a Times of India report in 2002, only half of these saw the light of day and works amounting to Rs 20 crore were only taken up. Promised development of roads and parks were dropped, although some work on Swachha Bangalore like Nirmal toilets, bus shelters and signages took off.

Then, it was the turn of Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa to form his own task force. This was called the Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure Development (ABIDe) task force. ABIDe members included Convenor and MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, R K Mishra, A Ravindra among others. In 2010, it released a grandiose 160 page Plan Bengaluru 2020 document. This contained a blue print for the city’s development, including governance, traffic management, heritage, environment and sustainability, public health, education among other issues. However nothing much came of it.

Then in March 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections, the Siddaramaiah government hurriedly set up a Vision Group on the lines of the earlier BATF. Activists cried foul, calling it a gimmick to win votes in the Lok Sabha polls. The group did not have the mayor, or MLAs or corporators as members. The formation of this Vision group was stayed by a High Court order, following a writ petition filed by CN Kumar for not formulating the BMPC. In 2015, the HC vacated the stay as the BMPC was notified by then, thus paving way for formation of the new BVG.

Any vision group that is formed, should necessarily having staying power and the longevity to survive successive governments, regardless of which political party is ruling at the Vidhana Soudha. Vision groups should also study earlier blue prints formulated by the other vision groups and see what worked and what didn’t. The members should also fight for inclusion of the BMPC, which has been formulated after a long and hard legal battle fought by civic activists.

DNA reported in February this year, that 18 corporators — 9 from BJP; 7 from Congress; and 2 from JD(S) were elected to the BMPC, amidst protests from some political leaders, who said the election made no sense, as the corporators elected to the last BMPC had failed to meet even once during their tenure.

Perhaps, instead of forming yet another vison group, the Karnataka government should arm the BMPC and give it teeth and allow it to function.

CN Kumar told Firstpost, “The BMPC is defunct, it has been constituted and reconstituted, but not met even once. We have to work with what is constitutionally mandated, otherwise the whole system of governance will collapse. In a democracy, we have to work with democratic institutions. The vision group can act as an adjunct to the BMPC.”

So, as a first step, the Chief Minister who heads the BMPC, should call a meeting of the BMPC.

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Updated Date: May 11, 2016 13:00 PM

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