Category Archives: Blog

Our cities need better leaders

Today’s Livemint editorial talks about how Indian cities need better leadership and how its current political structure hinders good administration:

India does not have the political structures required to run its growing cities with large budgets. One of the key problems is the lack of quality political leadership at the third level of government (the problem is perhaps even more acute in the village panchayats). The two are linked: talented politicians are unlikely to be attracted to a job that has little power while handing over more power to city governments will backfire unless the quality of urban leadership improves. Much of the debates on devolution seem to bypass this key obstacle. Indian cities need the quality of political leadership that was available many decades ago, when people of the calibre of Nehru, Patel, Bose, Rajagopalachari and Prasad led city governments.

Several countries in the world have empowered mayors. New York mayors such as Rudy Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg can be effective because they have power; Boris Johnson has far more freedom to manage London than his Indian counterparts; the campaign to bring the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro has been led by mayor Eduardo Paes; even many Chinese cities have been hothouses for political talent that later went national. In India, state governments that have traditionally been run by rural elites have not been keen to hand power to city governments that are usually treated as cash cows to fund patronage networks in the hinterland. The way Karnataka politicians have treated Bangalore or Maharashtra politicians have treated Mumbai are two obvious examples.

Full Article: Indian cities need better leadership, February 14, 2014.


Tender S.U.R.E

Tender SURE – Improving the design of Bangalore’s roads

Bangalore City Connect Foundation and the Jana Urban Space Foundation together launched the Tender S.U.R.E project to improve the design of urban roads. Piloting their efforts on Vittal Mallya Road and Walton Road in 2009, the project has been progressing since then. Below is a preview video of the project.

A useful guide for any aspiring corporators looking to improve the road infrastructure in their wards, volume I of the report can be read on Scribd below. You can also check out a presentation by BCCF. More information and videos are available on the Jana USP website.

Top image taken from the front cover of the Tender SURE report.


School for politicians

B.CLIP was featured this week in Open magazine, which includes snippets the lectures of Takshashila Councillor Prof Mukul Asher on public finance and municipal budgeting.

When he throws the floor open to questions, there are several. Predictably, in keeping with the zeitgeist, there is a question about the Aam Aadmi Party. A student asks if AAP can afford to give away free water and subsidised power to the residents of Delhi. Asher’s response is a question. “In the 21st century, what is going to be the commodity that will be the scarcest?” he asks. There is a murmur of responses, then someone gives the right answer: water. “If something is very scarce, would you price it at zero?”

Asher then explains that although a free-water policy may appear to benefit households at the outset, it would eventually hurt them. As water becomes scarcer, the cost of supplying it will increase. Therefore the only way the Delhi government can afford to give its citizens water free is by finding an alternative source of revenue—it can either take money away from other infrastructure projects, or raise water prices for commercial establishments.

The first idea is obviously a nonstarter. And if the government opts for the second, it would increase the cost of doing business in Delhi, forcing commercial establishments to move to other cities. Such an exodus would come back to hurt households, because they are customers and employees of these businesses.

Read the entire article: School for Politicians, Priyanka Pulla, Open.

Passion to practice

Meena S

On February 1,  Meena Seshadri, a software professional, a social worker and the wife of a well known politician,  spoke to the B.CLIP class on various topics related to a public life. Her session was on the realities of practicing politics and working at the grassroots level.

She talked about the choices that shaped her life, described her experiences as a software professional and as the wife of a politician and how she balanced both roles and the difficulties she faced.  She also spoke about  the role and responsibilities of a public servant touching on the multiple aspects of running for elections—from campaigning,  fund raising, to convincing the citizens to participate in solving the problems faced by the city. She described the daily challenges that one would face working at the grassroots level and the need for a strong professional and personal support system, along with the need to have a steady flow of personal income. Meena also spoke about the importance of giving back to the society and the personal satisfaction she felt with her work in bringing about a change in the country.

Meena’s session was informal and  interactive, with the B.CLIP students asking her multiple questions ranging from the significance of gender in politics, fund raising and methods to reach out to citizens .

ward planning

Ward planning & budgeting

On January 18, A Sivasankaran took a session for students on ward-level participatory planning and budgeting. Mr Sivasankaran retired from government service a few years ago to settle in Bangalore, and has since been very active in local governance and planning processes in his ward (#60, Sagayapuram) and at several other parts of the city. Having worked in collaboration with Janaagraha, CIVIC and other Bangalore-based outfits, he founded the Jago Federation to scale and sustain his work. Mr Sivasankaran also works on electricity governance and advises the state governments of Karnataka and Kerala.

As someone who has already been able to do much of what B.CLIP participants hope to in the coming months in their wards, Mr Sivasankaran’s talk was inspirational and he urged the participants to work harder, be patient and work smart to achieve their goals. A few points of his suggestions for the participants follow.

In preparing ward-level activities and engaging local public officials, the role of evidence and knowledge is key. If one prepares a comprehensive ward budget outside of the government system but with sufficient legitimacy and realism, it can become the official budget as there are no documents that currently compete. Having a firm grasp on local realities, costs and solutions can eventually win the respect and cooperation of local officials.

Participation of residents and constituents requires leaders to go to them, rather than the other way around. Large meetings and mohalla sabhas are difficult to manage, but can be necessary to confer legitimacy to plans and provide public support that pushes them through. However, as people can be fickle as well, public approval of plans and priorities may often have to be taken in writing.

Maps and markings help as they reduce the scope for discretion and confusion, and making budgets for 5 year periods help as it often takes that long to cover all concerns. In the absence of longer term plans, anything that gets chosen could get the appearance of arbitrariness. Mr Sivasankaran demonstrated how stakeholders and their interests can be aligned with the right incentives that leadership can provide.

Mr Sivasankaran also highlighted how creating a local newspaper can both teach a lot of things as well as provide a platform that fosters change. Running on advertisements from local shops, professionals and merchants, a local newspaper can showcase news and developments from within the ward. When most people like to see their photographs and their names in newspapers, even initial hostility can be overcome when people see others’ names in a paper.

Further, given the paucity of record-keeping within government, public officials end up using newspaper reports as a track record of their success. To the entrepreneurial civic leader, a newsletter/newspaper service is a vital tool.

Finally, he stressed on how individuals will always find it difficult to effect change, and people need to build organisations and groups of people around them who can make things possible.


Garbage and the city

On January 18, Kalpana Kar took a Practice Track session for B.CLIP students on waste and its management. Ms Kar is a prominent resident of Bangalore who has been a part of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force earlier and now leads the cause of a ‘Kasa Mukta’ (waste free) Bangalore, a campaign with the city corporation that strives for a clean city.

Ms Kar gave students perspectives on four broad areas: understanding waste and its categories; waste management examples from across the world; the context in India and Bangalore; and key players in the game. Some excerpts follow.

Different cities have found their own solutions for managing waste, from conversion to energy in Sweden to recycling in Singapore and London to use as road material elsewhere, all solutions suited to local constraints such as land availability, presence of a shoreline and other factors. What they do have in common is the notion that unsegregated waste neither has any value nor is it amenable for easy and safe disposal.

There is a strong role of markets to play in the waste management sector, where the role of government is be an enabling force. Segregation of waste into various categories and sub-categories not only makes disposal easier, but also creates value. Even in a city like Bangalore where currently most people do not segregate waste, it is quite rare to find milk covers, PET bottles or cardboard boxes lying mixed with garbage heaps. This is because there is already a value chain and a market for these items and people readily resell them for a profit and they get reused in various ways. The challenge is to form similar value chains for several other waste products, that incentivises their segregation. Tetrapack is a good example of a company that has done just this – where the multi-material laminate can be reused as construction material and private agencies have developed around the same. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is another idea along these lines that awaits exploration.

Unfortunately, city contracts on waste management are more often transport contracts rather than garbage contracts. Contractors are not evaluated or paid based on how clean they keep their zone of operation, but paid on the number of truckloads of garbage they can bring to the landfill sites. Subsequently, there are perverse incentives for contractors to not segregate garbage, as segregation leads to lower weights and volumes. Restructuring garbage contracts, amending archaic laws and building capacity within the BBMP are essential components of going towards a Kasa Mukta city.

Ms Kar also remarked on the public ignorance on a range of garbage-related issues. Even amongst a group of educated and motivated residents, it is difficult to get accurate estimates of say how much waste their own households generate.

This compounds into a range of ‘guestimates’ on even how much waste the city as a whole generates, and of what types.

For more on Kasa Mukta visit and take a look at their slides.


Road management fieldtrack: Presentations

Following the field trips to the CNR Circle underpass and the Yeshwantpur TTMC, the B.CLIP class was divided into groups and asked to make presentations on how to improve road management in Bangalore.

From the presentations, multiple ideas emerged. The class discussed the factors that caused the degradation of the roads that included poor quality of construction, wear and tear,  and natural causes (extreme weather conditions, trees etc.) among others. It also discussed solutions in the form of human intervention (these can be legal or illegal interventions by individuals, agencies, private service providers, government agencies etc.). The concept of stakeholder analysis was also explained- who are the main stake holders with respect to a road? What are their interests and incentives in maintaining the quality of the roads?


(B.CLIP students making the presentation)

The class also discussed the kinds of interventions needed for road management. These included looking at information, coordination, monitoring and reputation.

Information: Information of various kinds exists with respect to roads in a city.  There is prior information that should address all questions related to the roads– what is over the surface and under the surface of the roads—walls, electricity wires, pipes, fences etc. There is information on the “calendar of works” for roads in a ward made available publicly. Information about the money involved-  what are the allocations for the road development? What is the spending? What are the finances of different stakeholders? And information disseminated via media– advertising road development plans in the newspaper.


(B.CLIP students making the presentation.)

Coordination- There is a need for coordination committees for effective road management. The chairman of the committee should be the ward Corporator.  Important stakeholders should be on this committee- RWA members, press members, different stake holders etc. The committee should be headed by a person in authority to make important decisions related to the ward. He should be the person motivated to do the work in the ward.

Monitoring- There should also be a well developed monitoring mechanism that is a sustainable and is an ongoing process. One needs to find people with vested interests, committed to monitoring the roads, who will use information systems.

Reputation- It is important to set the pre-qualification of contractors. Also, create and use the system of merits, stars and grades to help build a reputation for the stakeholder to perform his or her job to the best of their ability.


Practicing electoral politics in Bangalore city

Members of B.CLIP Advisory Board held a panel discussion on January 4. The session was moderated by Mr Jairaj and the speakers were Mr PGR Sindhia, Dr Rajeev Gowda, Mr Ashwin Mahesh, Mr RK Mishra, Mr Narayan Ramachandran along with B.PAC principals Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Mr Mohandas Pai. The discussion delved into india’s contemporary political reality and aimed to answer questions about venturing into politics and of working in it.

Mr PGR Sindhia compared the the JP movement of the past to the contemporary economic and political situation and employment. He elaborated on the fact that all of the above were fundamentally dependent on people’s anger and eventually that was what democracy depended on. He talked about how the anger and passion of the citizens would ensure that our democratic systems stay in place. On the question of how to win an election, Mr Sindhia said that we need to remember that 90 percent of the voters don’t vote for money but for issues. People often vote on the basis of sentiment or the latest issues or if they believe in the candidate.

Dr Rajeev Gowda spoke about how issues pertaining to the citizens have a macroeconomic effect, however,  at the micro level, it is all about the individual and the candidate. To connect with the electorate, it is important to get known, engage with the public and gain face. The crux of the matter is on building individual credibility. Another way is to bring expertise into the party. He also talked about the importance of tackling issues hands on and not just being a speaker.

Mr Ashwin Mahesh spoke about how to ensure one’s campaign is effective. He spoke about the different political phases in India.  He spoke about how in contemporary India there seemed to be no distinction between the government and the sarkar.  He talked about how people have  started to demand for direct participation in the democracy.

Mr Mahesh also emphasised on the multiple levels of the government that do not often communicate with one another. He mentioned that one of the reasons for state vulnerability was the fact that india was a diverse country with a growing population. He spoke about the demand for a large number of people who could solve problems within the city.  By catering to these factors, Mr Mahesh said that it would be easier to formulate one’s political campaign—to identify an issue and get the right people involved. He also spoke about how people have common concerns across the country—opportunity for children, employment for young adults, retirement pland and services for the aged and savings.  He concluded by saying that for an effective campaign,  it was important for a politician to address issues that are personal to the people and those that they can connect to.

Mr RK Mishra spoke about his own experiences and transition from a corporate career into a political one. He spoke about his own realisations about the difficulties of being involved in a political life. He also emphasised on the importance of financial stability and passion, to sustain oneself in the political arena. Mr Mishra also spoke about how it was the time for the political parties to realise that they needed to change and give space to new and fresh people and ideas. Mr Mishra also talked about how there is a demand in India for young, adept people to foray into politics.


Mukul Asher on the BBMP Budget

Professor Mukul Asher, Councillor at the Takshashila Institution visited Bangalore in December to teach B.CLIP students about public finance and municipal budgeting. He also analysed the Bangalore (BBMP) municipal budget for the class. Here he is interviewed by Subir Ghosh of DNA on the same:

One reason why the BBMP is under the public glare is that the Palike is sinking under the huge debt that piled up arguably because of its faulty way of accounting. According to the budget estimates of 2012-13, the BBMP was under a debt burden of Rs 5,325 crore.

According to Asher, though the BBMP budgets are classified by departments, line items aggregating to thousands of crores simply state “development works” or “Assembly  constituency works” without mentioning the precise objective or category of work. This  probably where the problem lies. On one hand the BBMP is biting more than what it can chew, and on the other the Palike is opaque about its own expenditure. The way out, Asher asserts, is for individual budgetary allocations aggregating to at least 90 per cent of total expenditure (excluding loan-related payments and overheads such as salaries, etc.), to clearly mention the purpose of the works in terms of either a category or one of the functions of the BBMP (such as solid waste management, storm water drainage, etc).

Read the entire article: Bangalore: BBMP? We should call it ‘BB empty’ instead, Jan 6, 2014.

Photo credit: DNA

With a flyover right in front of the TTMC, and a slum to its left, it proved to be difficult for buses to move from one side of the TTMC to another.

Field Trip Part 2: Yeshwantpur TTMC

On January 5, after visiting the CNR Rao circle underpass, students were taken to the Yeshwanthpur TTMC (Transport and Traffic Management Centre), an example of a successful JNNURM project by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.

Constructed on a institutional plot of land with an aim to maximise public utility, this is one of 8 TTMCs proposed in the city. A total sum of Rs. 256 crores was invested in the 8 projects and today, they are generating revenue of Rs. 42 crores per annum.

This TTMC has a multi-level car parking, 4-level commercial property, and a 2-level bus stop. Prioritising customer satisfaction and efficiency, it allows for easy bus maintenance, and houses passenger facilities, a bus terminus, public parking and commercial space.