Mangaluru: A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed with Karnataka High Court, Bengaluru, by civic groups comprising lead petitioner CIVIC Bengaluru with Mangaluru Civic Group (MCG) as a co-petitioner seeking uniform and more effective guidelines for constituting Ward Committees and Area Sabhas state-wide. The PIL was filed before the High Court of Karnataka, Bengaluru on September 24, 2021, by a consortium comprising civic organisations and individuals from seven of the eleven cities across Karnataka.
The lead petitioner is Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC Bengaluru, with co-petitioners from Nagarika Shakti, Bengaluru, led by Narendra Kumar, MCG, Mangaluru led by Nigel Albuquerque and Ajoy D’Silva, Jagruta Nagarikara Vedike, Mysuru, Janapara Seva Sansthe, Belagavi, and Karnataka Ward Samiti Vedike members from Kalaburagi, Ballari, and Hubballi-Dharwad.
After preliminary scrutiny, the Karnataka High Court has subsequently accepted the petition and served notices to all the Respondents — the Karnataka State Government, the Urban Development Department, the Principal Secretary, Urban Development Department, the Director, Directorate of Municipal Administration, and the Commissioners of the eleven Municipal Corporations (inclusive of BBMP) of the State of Karnataka. The court has also issued notice to the respondents to hand over the complete set of documents to the learned Government Advocate to enable him to seek instructions and to file a statement of objections.
Nigel Albuquerque said that the first hearing was held on October 1 and the next hearing will happen on November 25. The first hearing was serving of notices to the 15 respondents. There are no specific guidelines about how the selection process has to be conducted. “The Commissioner invited application for the public and later a selection panel was set up which comprised top four officials of the corporation headed by him. There was no role for the ward corporator in the formation process. The sole authority for the constitution of Area Sabha and Ward Committee in Mangaluru City Corporation Committee is the Commissioner alone. Once the official functioning commences, the ward corporator will chair the ward committee,” he added.
The 74th Indian Constitutional Amendment Act of 1993 and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) of 2005 have mandated ‘institutionalising citizen participation’ in Urban Local Bodies.
The PIL was necessitated because it has been found that each Municipal Corporation in Karnataka is following its own manner of nominating them. Such nominations were being done arbitrarily, citing different laws. The current practice is inconsistent, illogical, and defeats the purpose of having Ward Committees and Area Sabhas.
He further spoke about the process to be followed. Both 2011 Amendment Act and 2016 rule are silent about the process. “It was based on our suggestion that the inviting of application was taken forward by Commissioner on November 2020. There were only 317 application on the late date and based on our request the last date was extended. Around 1271 application were received on December 4, 2020. No other place in the State has received such response,” he stressed.
Nigel said that the Commissioner was giving effect to the HC judgement order. “In my view, the selection process should not have taken for more than a month after December. Unfortunately, they did nothing till the beginning of March. Commissioner took very little steps in this direction,” he said.
The Petition highlights the ‘Inequality before Law’, in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, as introduced by the government by framing different laws for selecting Ward Committee members and Area Sabha Representatives in different cities. It has used the BBMP Act 2020 for a metropolis like Bengaluru, KMC (Amendment) Act 2011 in the other ten municipal corporations of the State, and the Karnataka Municipalities (Amendment) Act 2020 for the smaller cities. The Petition points out that the Karnataka Municipalities (Amendment) Act 2020 is more effective than the KMC (Amendment) Act 2011 and BBMP Act 2020. Therefore, the Petition demands that the KMC (Amendment) Act 2011 and BBMP Act 2020 be amended to make it the same as the Karnataka Municipalities (Amendment) Act 2020 in the matters regarding ‘institutionalising citizen participation’ in Urban Local Bodies.
Nigel said that in April and June, they completed the initial review. Then by end of July they completed the provisional selection. 15 days were given to the citizens to give their objection. There was a huge unrest among the applicants who didn’t make it to the list that, political party workers have been provisionally selected. Then they commenced review of the objections received.
“There were two conditions that the applicant have no pending criminal cases against him or her and he or she is not affiliated to any party. We were not convinced with the selection list which only had the name, ward name and number. The information was insufficient to know about those who got provisionally selected,” he added.
“We stressed on publishing the original applicant list with their contact information. The Commissioner said that would affect the privacy of the applicants. But we needed some basis to submit objection. He agreed to give the address and nothing else. 100 plus objections were received and he informed that they are being reviewed. We didn’t want to stop the people’s objection process and we submitted a memorandum to him and DC and other relevant officials in Bengaluru. So, we suggested for a fresh verification. Commissioner would send the provisionally selected to the competent authority for verification. The same list was furnished to all the 4 political parties including BJP, Congress, SBPI and JD (S),” he informed.
Speaking to News Karnataka MCC Akshy Shridhar said that he is yet to see and understand the PIL.
Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC Bengaluru, has put offered to conduct online training for the competent people, once the functioning commences, they need to aware of everything which the Commissioner welcomed.
The petition also demands that people’s participation structures and methodologies be uniform, transparent, fair, democratic and participatory in all Urban Local Bodies.
The MCG was formed in 2015 under the erstwhile name ‘MCC Civic Group’ to foster citizen participation in local self-governance.