Karnataka is poised to be the fourth most urbanised state. Shambhu Dayal Meena, Secretary, Municipalities & UDAs, Government of Karnataka, discusses with Shashidhar Nanjundaiah how the state will meet new challenges in urbanisation.
What is your opinion of a recent HPEC report which states that urban local bodies (ULBs) need more empowerment? How is the state tackling this issue?
We have already delegated many of the functions and there have been no problems so far. Over the past three years, ULBs have received only three centrally spoÂnÂsored schemes. One is applicable only in Bangalore and Mysore. The second one is also limited to just 38 towns. The third is the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, which focuses on wage employment, urban wage employment and self help groups.
From the state's side, we are pumping in funds to the ULBs since 2008 through a scheme called the
Chief Minister's Small and Medium Town Development Programme, which we have financÂed. Under it, we are giving seven city municipal corpoÂrations Rs 200 crore every two years for creating basic infrastructure like roads, water, solid waste management, development of gardens, widening of roads and beautiÂfication. This work is going on very well. City muniÂcipalities are getting funds from Rs 2-3 crore at the city CMC level. Altogether, we have pumped in more than
Rs 3,000 crore from the state budget itself.
To monitor all these activities, we have appointed independent, third-party inspection picked out from academic circles and general public, and many other staÂndard quality check practices. At the same time, wewant to increase the capacity of our functionaries, especially government officials. Since there were many vacancies, we have hired environment engineers, Grade 1 officers, Karnataka Municipal Administrative Service Officers, accountants, etc.
All ULB accounts are computerised, and we have even developed software such as the latest double entry system (which was scratch-based single entry earlier). Our e-procurement maintains better transparency in accounting. We have our Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurement Act so we cannot do it manually.
Apart from providing funds to the cities what other support mechanisms does the state provide them?
We are pitching service benchmarks. For this, we have collected data pertaining to more than 60 per cent ULBs. We have collected relevant information and are using it to shift service-level benchmarks to ULBs. They have to improve their deliveries. We are bringing unaccounted properties under the tax net and have set the ball rolling on many reforms in this sector.
Oversight of the implementation of reforms is critical because our infrastructure has often failed at that stage. Although the central and state governments intend to bring in reforms, sometimes the ULB level implementation is lacking, rendering the reforms ineffectiveâ€¦
We are aware of this, and that is why every ULB has a regularly updated website for better accountability. All their councils' decisions are published on the website to maintain transparency. At the same time, the elected counsellor and corporators are provided training at an institute in Mysore. We have also set up a state training institute for urban development and a training centre in each district. We invite faculty to impart online training through satellite feed, so that ULB heads need not travel all the way. This is ongoing in order to improve their capacity and scope.
How are third-party inspectors selected?
We engage engineers from engineering colleges, maiÂnly professors, or private consultants. But when we have single jobs worth Rs 20-30 crore, we invite tenders. This approach has dramatically improved things on the groÂund. If you visit some of our bigger towns, the changes are visible, although there may not be a 100 per cent turnaround since these are recent resources.
What is the change that you have seen since you have brought in this reform?
I can tell about good road networks that cover even the interior lanes of towns. We have developed a lot of infrastructure in slum areas for people belonging to SC/ST. In other states there is a 17 per cent special comÂponent plan for SCs and STs; we have increased it to 22.75 per cent for them and to 7.5 per cent for ecoÂnoÂmically weaker section.
How are you dealing with the issue of shortage of manpower?
We are imparting training for different trades and we have director to oversee its implementation. We interact with entrepreneurs and private industry with who we have MOUs whereby we provide four to six months traiÂning and they provide placements. We are involving indÂustry ranging from software to construction.
What is the biggest issue that you have faced while introducing reforms to empower ULBs?
Karnataka is 38 per cent urban and in the future is expected to reach almost 50 per cent. Then urban povÂeÂrty would overtake than rural areas. So we have to cope with infrastructure requirements resulting from migration.
Does it also mean that rural areas are not being serviced properly?
No, it is about expectations. In rural areas, there is little hope of finding full employment and families get divided. They look to urban areas to improve their life, but they find ground realities as difficult here.
Do you think that funds allocated for infrastructure at the budget level are sufficient?
No, there is a big gapâ€”about 30-40 per cent, or mayÂbe more because we have to provide good roads, strÂing water drainage, underground drainage, water supply and transport. Recently the government has sanctioned bus rapid transport system (BRTS) for Hubli-Dharwad, Bangalore and Mysore.
How are government bodies improving their efficiency in your state?
We have a separate directory for urban transport in urban development headed by a very senior officer as a commissioner, and have developed a good working coÂordination with the transport department. We get plenty of feedback from the Minister of Urban DevelopÂment and Chief Minister as well.
There are monthly reviews via video conferences with deputy commissioners and concerned commÂissiÂoÂners, quarterly meetings with all commissioners in Bangalore and at the regional level.
The directors also make field visits; we have deleÂgated power to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) so that every proposal does not come to the Director and delays are minimised.
We have allowed upto Rs 2 crore sanctioning power to the DC for this purpose. Funds are released through e-banking, so ULBs do not have to follow up with the state government.