By Vasanthkumar Mysoremath, Social Activist
With the passing of orders of High Court of Karnataka on 24.4.2017 directing the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to set up Ward Committees within one month, a long fight by civil society groups, networks and individuals across Karnataka over 25 years, has finally ended.
This direction by the HC was made after the NGO ‘Environment Support Group’ submitted in Writ Petition that the BBMP is in violation of repeated directions from HC over several years (2012-16), to constitute Ward Committees as mandated in the Constitution of India (Article 243S).
This direction now ensures statutory support for citizen monitoring in all civic matters and decisions and time has come for citizens to reclaim their long-denied statutory right to participate in civic decision-making, particularly on matters listed in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution and in all functions of Ward Committees as mandated in the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act (Ch. III A, Sec. 13). This is an opportunity for citizens and NGOs to voice societal concerns and ensure bottom-up approach through participatory democracy and in a transparent and accountable manner.
What are Ward Committees?
Ward Committees are meant to encourage participation by the community — their job is to make Municipal Council aware of the needs and concerns of residents and keep people informed of the activities of Municipal Council.
Ward Committees are made up of a Ward Councillor and no more than ten people who are elected from the Ward and who serve voluntarily for terms prescribed. Municipal Council must follow rules and regulations prescribed for selection of committee members in a transparent and accountable manner.
The Ward Councillor is responsible for organising meetings and setting agenda for the Ward Committee. If the Ward Councillor does not attend the meeting, the Ward Committee may set the agenda by itself. The Ward Committee is an advisory body, meaning that it can make recommendations to the Council but does not have the power to make decisions on its own. Every Member of the Ward Committee must act as an effective conduit for disseminating information about the community wants and what the Council is executing.
With Ward Committees in place, from now onwards, authorities will not be in a position to impose ‘top down’ method of plans and projects but will take cognisance of ‘bottom up’ method execution of community works.
This HC order will have implications for all urban civic bodies across Karnataka and Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) may ensure that necessary action to create Ward Committees is initiated according to the rules and regulations scrupulously and selection of members of Ward Committees are done in a transparent and accountable manner.
Ward Committees should not end up like School Development Management Committees (SDMCs) where a peon or a staff member will act as President (a parent by the dint of their children studying in the school) and other members nominated by the local bigwigs. Such dummy Committees will only defeat the very purpose of inclusive growth of the community.
Now, citizens must become proactive, evince interest, volunteer to become members, participate in Ward Committee meetings, take action to seek better facilities and amenities for their wards for ensuring creation of better roads, better drainage and water supply, rain water harvesting, protecting and conserving lakes and water bodies in their areas, better solid waste and sanitation management, parks management and take up such other matters as may be finalised in consultation with the local community members.