Heavy rain, flooding and waterlogging of Bengaluru (in 2014 foolish parochial politicians mindlessly surrendered its global brand identity as Bangalore, the IT capital of India) in early September caused substantial damage to business and industry variously estimated at Rs.500-700 crore by way of loss of material, stock-in-trade and production. The tragedy is that such water-logging and flooding is becoming normative in this over expanded metropolis sprawled over a diameter of 741 sq. km.
The standard explanation for the slide of this once garden city into functional anarchy is that business and industry — especially the peopleintensive ICT (information communication technologies) industry — has grown too fast and prompted a numbers explosion with the city’s population having risen from 6 million in 1999 to 10 million currently. This has made it impossible for civic management authorities to cope. Moreover much of the debate is centred on technical problems such as blockage of storm water drains and draining of lake beds to build homes and offices. Undoubtedly there is some substance in these explanations, but they sidestep deep-rooted issues that require resolution to stem the rot.
The first great act of omission that has resulted in pervasive mal-administration of Bengaluru (and all major cities countrywide) is the failure of the intelligentsia and middle class to press for enforcement of Part IXA of the Constitution as rewritten by the 74th Amendment (1993). The amendment mandates devolution of civic administration power to municipal governments and further down to citizens’ ward committees. Although municipal corporations are extant in most cities, property tax is determined, levied and collected by state governments and trickled down to municipal corporations. To give effect to the 74th Amendment, property tax should be determined by committees elected by registered property owners in every ward, and distributed upwards to municipal and state governments as per a negotiated formula.
This is the essence of the 74th Amendment which has been ignored by greedy state governments. Under this schema committees of richer/ upscale wards would not be averse to levying high property taxes to build superior infrastructure which would enhance property prices. The basic rationale of 73rd (for rural areas) and 74th amendments is that if citizens carefully tended their wards, the whole city would become beautiful.
But commissions-skimming and bribe-hungry politicians and bureaucrats are reluctant to devolve tax and spend power to ward committees with direct interest in increasing property values in their backyards. Therefore, the focus of civic reformers and planners should be on devising ways and means to enforce the 74th Amendment of the Constitution. This is the necessary first step towards meaningful civic administration reform.