City Plights

Indian states’ tight leash on urban governance

01 November 2018
Indian cities are facing fundamental challenges in addressing basic civic issues. Each time a city such as Mumbai is inundated with floods triggered by average amounts of rainfall, we realise how ill-equipped our cities are.
Vijayanand Gupta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

On 1 June, HD Kumaraswamy, newly sworn in as the chief minister of Karnataka, met the former Infosys chief Narayana Murthy at the latter’s residence in Jayanagar, a plush neighbourhood in southern Bengaluru. Before Kumaraswamy even had a cabinet in place, he was at Murthy’s door, seeking guidance on constituting an expert committee to solve Bengaluru’s civic problems, particularly those related to infrastructure and waste management.

Kumaraswamy was aping the many similar state initiatives that have sought to address problems of Bengaluru’s governance by creating “expert bodies” headed by information-technology czars. This trend started in 1999 when the then chief minister SM Krishna constituted the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, headed by the Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and continued with BS Yeddyurappa constituting another expert body—the Agenda for Bengaluru’s Infrastructural Development.

While the Siddaramaiah government also constituted a body called the Bangalore Blueprint Action Group, with many of Bengaluru’s corporate elite, it was opposed by several civil-society groups and never really took off. On 7 June, the Karnataka High Court struck down the constitution of Siddaramaiah’s group, stating that such a body was “illogical and unwarranted.” A division bench of the high court questioned the need for creating such parallel groups when statutory bodies have already been assigned civic responsibilities. Given this legal precedent, if Kumaraswamy constitutes another expert body for Bengaluru, it is likely to be similarly challenged and struck down by the courts.

Mathew Idiculla is a lawyer, researcher and writer whose work focusses on issues around Indian cities and their governance systems. He is a research consultant with the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bengaluru.