- Ashwin Mahesh
Keep it local, keep it accountable
Who should run the government schools in the city - the Education department of the state government, or the BBMP? Who should run the public health centres and the government hospitals - the Health department of the state government or the BBMP? Usually when these questions are asked, the answer is, "the BBMP has no capacity to run anything, and it is already a broken system. If we ask them to run the schools and hospitals also, they will ruin those too". But this is the wrong way to think about the city. BBMP should have more responsibilities, not less. And it is only by giving BBMP more responsibilities that we can improve its performance.
When the country became independent, first the Central government was created and it began to perform certain functions. Then the states were created and reorganized over a period of years, and they began to do other functions. Local government was not even properly created until the 1990s, when the panchayati raj amendment (the 73rd) and the urban governance amendment (74th) to the Constitution were passed by Parliament.
Even today, 23 years after the 74th amendment became law, most of the local bodies in the country remain weak and un-empowered. State governments throughout the country have refused to transfer their power to local municipalities. Mostly, the reasons for this are political. MLAs and ministers like the powers that they enjoy in the current arrangement, and they do not want this power to be transferred to city corporators and mayors. But this is not the way cities are run everywhere else in the world. In most parts of the planet, city mayors control not only roads and drains and garbage like BBMP does, they are also responsible for local schools, health facilities, public transport, economic development, and much more. In many cities, local governments even have their own police forces, to tackle local crimes. The reason our cities are not on par with the rest of the world is that we have not allowed their governance to be similar to other cities. In Bengaluru, the BBMP runs a few schools (less than 20) whereas the state government runs nearly 1800 schools. The majority of the health facilities are also run by the state government, with BBMP running only the less important centres and overseeing matters related to diseases and food safety. The trouble with this arrangement is that no one knows who to turn to when things turn bad. The city has been experiencing a massive outbreak of dengue for months now, but no one acknowledges this. And the state government schools graduate only 1 out of 3 children in the state, while the other two are left to fail. No one is working to improve this either. The public has no way of holding anyone responsible for these failures. The city officials and corporators claim that 'this is not in our jurisdiction", the MLAs have very little influence over the ministry, and the babus in the Health department do not report to anyone from the city. As a result, rather than demand better performance from the government, the public has turned to private health and education. The way to fix this is to bring these sectors under the local bodies, not only in Bengaluru, but in every city in the state. Of course there will be challenges in making this transfer happen, but there will also be accountability for not meeting those challenges. Our cities need to grow up and accept their responsibility for governance in many sectors, and of these the most important are health and education. For a very long time we have allowed our systems of governance to collapse, and now we find ourselves wondering if they can ever be revived. The answer is certainly 'yes', but first we must make up our minds that we want our cities to be truly independent third tiers of government, with their own set of important responsibilities to citizens.