Bengaluru is barely overcome the spike in COVID-19 cases, with the city still reporting 985 cases on 15 June, but a power tussle is ongoing within its biggest administrative body – the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The fight, within the city’s municipal corporation, is among Chief Minister of Karnataka BS Yediyurappa, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs, and former corporators of the BBMP council.
Reason? Elections to the BBMP’s political administrative body – the BBMP council – has been kept in abeyance since September 2020. While the former council’s term ended in 2020, elections were not held as the government, through two amendments in the Karnataka Municipal Act, 1976, decided to increase the number of wards in the BBMP from 198 to 250.
Bengaluru’s pandemic woes are mainly being dealt by the BBMP which controls the allocation of hospital beds, ambulance costs, and crematoriums in the city.
What is the Power Play About?
For starters, Yediyurappa has total control over the BBMP ever since the council stopped functioning. The BBMP falls under the purview of the Bengaluru Development department which is one portfolio among the many held by the CM. The CM directly deals with the administration of the municipal corporation which now has two IAS officers – Rakesh Singh and Gaurav Gupta as administrator and chief commissioner, respectively.
“Any criticism against the BBMP is also a criticism against the CM. An affront to the BBMP is also an affront to the CM as he is at the helm of the corporation,” a political leader in the know told The Quint.
To the CM’s discomfort, two BJP leaders had earlier criticised the BBMP head on. In May, BJP’s youth leader and Bengaluru South MP, Tejasvi Surya, accused BBMP officials of bulk booking hospital beds for high paying customers. The alleged BBMP bed scam had taken a communal turn soon after, forcing Yediyurappa to respond to Surya’s allegations.
Earlier in February, BJP MLA Araga Jnanendra had accused the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) of being clandestine about its land transactions. The BDA did not transparently reveal the extent of government land in Bengaluru, he alleged.
Even at that time, the CM had to chide BBMP officials to communicate that he is tough on the corporation.
Meanwhile, the former corporators of the council have been hoping for elections. “Corporators of various political parties used to have enormous power in the BBMP earlier. In the absence of council, some MLAs of the ruling government who are close to the CM have more say in the corporation,” the leader said. Moreover, contractors who are assigned various projects too have been calling the shots.
How is the Tussle Affecting BBMP?
“Work is happening at snail’s pace. The bureaucracy is paralysed,” a senior officer in the corporation told The Quint. While the bureaucracy is in complete support of the government, even senior bureaucrats cannot stand up to contractors who are close to the Chief Minister’s Office, he added.
“Some of the big contractors have been slowing down the tendering process and this was most felt during the COVID-19 surge in May this year. The BBMP was unable to get health infrastructure in order. The delays affected the public,” the officer said.
Since Bengaluru had witnessed the shortage of hospital beds in May and June, the BBMP could not at first control the pricing of ambulances, he revealed.
The CM’s displeasure is also selective and does not deal with pressing issues, the Congress leadership in the state alleged. “The CM’s anger towards the BBMP is only an eyewash,” a Congress leader accused.
While the CM has chided the BBMP officials over the smart city project and land assessments, he has been reluctant to take stalk of health infrastructure, he said. The state’s COVID-19 task force and the health department are still blamed for such shortcomings.
The corporation, however, has been trying to recuperate under the leadership of Gaurav Gupta, chief commissioner.
When Will the BBMP Buck Up?
Gupta is more of a crisis manager, a senior official of the BBMP said. He is roped in to deal with the tough situation the BBMP has found itself in.
“Now the BBMP and the CM are on the same page. There is complete understanding between the BBMP officials and the chief minister. This irks others who have lost power in the BBMP,” the senior official said.
If the BBMP council starts functioning, then there will be leaders whose wishes the BBMP officials will have to consider over that of the CM. “The officers of BBMP are happy with the new arrangement where they have only one boss, the CM,” the officer added.
The only way to reach a power balance will be to elect a council, he added. However, even political parties in the Opposition, the Congress and the JD(S), have not been batting for council elections.
The High Court of Karnataka in its 2020 ruling had asked the government not to delay elections. The government, however, approached the Supreme Court. “The government has been arguing that the elections can be held only after the new wards are created and reservation is implemented in these wards. The delimitation process is now before the Supreme Court, the orders of which the government will have to follow,” the BBMP official said.
Leaders of the Opposition, however, said that delimitation of wards is a political poly for the BJP to gain control over the council. If elections are held after delimitation, more number of BJP corporators could be elected to the administrative body.
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