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Ward panels make a sluggish start despite directives

What was perceived as the first, big step towards better governance — holding ward committee meetings on the first Saturday of every month — turned out to be a damp squib.

Despite Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad, after directions from Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun, issuing an order on holding the meetings, members of only 21 of the 198 wards convened. For the most part, no agenda was set, and many committees took on the role of grievance redressal forums as citizens listed out their problems.

Kathyayini Chamaraj, a member of the Shanthinagar ward committee, said it was a “tragedy of our electoral system” that even 25 years after the 74th Constitutional Amendment, councillors were hesitant to hold ward committee meetings, despite an order from the High Court of Karnataka, and the BBMP Commissioner’s circular.

“Councillors are trying to derail the initiative by offering trivial excuses. After the Commissioner issued a circular, they tried to buy time and said the meetings would be held regularly from January. They later argued that the term of the members should be only one year and not five years, as mentioned in the rules,” she said. “It is about time councillors realised that the citizens who have chosen them will have to be involved in the planning and monitoring of programmes and schemes in the ward.”

D Randeep, BBMP Special Commissioner (Administration), said that according to Prasad’s instructions, the proceedings at the meetings would be uploaded on the public domain. “We will make a note of the wards where meetings were not held. We will have to take it up seriously,” he said.

The BBMP Commissioner is currently accompanying Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara and Additional Chief Secretary of Urban Development Mahendra Jain on a study tour in France.

According to volunteers of Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), which started the campaign #NammaSamitiNamagaagi, the meetings saw good participation from residents. Discussions centred around garbage, upkeep and maintenance of roads, footpaths and street lights, stray dog menace, plastic ban, and trees that need to be brought down or trimmed.

The CfB expressed gratitude to all the councillors who held the ward committee meetings on Saturday. “We applaud the leadership shown by Ms. Mallikarjun. She walked the talk by holding a meeting in her ward and [this] will inspire many others to follow,” the CfB said.

Srinivas Alavilli, co-founder of CfB, said: “A quiet start has been made to move governance closer to the people… the 198 ward offices will have to play a key role in transforming our city. That process began today, and it can only get better from here, provided we the citizens continue to participate as we did today.”

A not-so-green meeting

At the ward committee meeting in Jayanagar, which is represented by the Mayor, single-use, disposable water bottles, paper plates and paper cups were used.

The BBMP frowns upon usage of disposables and has even issued orders on switching to eco-friendly options such as steel cutlery. Asked about this, Ms. Mallikarjun conceded that it was an oversight. She said steel cutlery would be used at the next meeting. “The people’s perception also has to change. Many don’t accept coffee or tea served in steel tumblers, but are okay with using paper cups,” she said.

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