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Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020

Elections in the city where garbage trucks run on two wheels

In April this year, a commission of inquiry set up by the Siddarmaiah government scrutinized the registration numbers of the trucks that were used by the city's garbage contractors since 2008.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2017 12:16 IST
Sudipto Mondal
Sudipto Mondal
Hindustan Times

In April this year, a commission of inquiry set up by the Siddarmaiah government scrutinized the registration numbers of the trucks that were used by the city's garbage contractors since 2008.

The commission headed by retired IAS officer, Rajender Kumar Kataria, found that several contractors had submitted registration numbers of two wheelers and passed them off as trucks in their bills.

Hollowed out of its funds by scams big, small and downright ridiculous, the BJP ruled Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) decided to mortgage the city's iconic M Puttanaiah Chetty Town Hall in January last year.

By the time the council voted to mortgage the 80-year-old heritage structure, it had already pledged six other properties including a maternity hospital complex.

Scams such as the two-wheel-garbage-trucks were made possible by a scheme started by the BBMP in 2010 under which contractors could get their bills directly reimbursed through banks.

In the absence of any form of scrutiny, says the Kataria committee, the contractors helped themselves to a whopping Rs. 200 crore by submitting largely fake bills. The civic body, which already had nearly Rs. 9,000 crore in outstanding debts, couldn't repay the banks and had no option but to pledge the city's assets.

The Siddaramaiah government, which has often been in conflict with the BJP ruled city council - used the findings of the Kataria commission to dissolve the democratically elected body four days before its term was to end on April 22.

The State government's decision to supersede the BBMP council and appoint a single IAS officer as its administrator, triggered massive protests with members of over a thousand residents welfare organizations taking to the streets demanding elections.

The State government's decision was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. The apex court slammed the Siddaramaiah government for dissolving the elected body and delaying elections.

But even as it was being dragged through the courts, the State government made another surprise move; It pushed through a Bill in both houses of the legislature to divide Bengaluru into five independent municipalities in April. So by the time, the Supreme Court orderered fresh elections in July, the State government had found a way to make the elections a lame duck exercise.

The rough and tumble of these last months has given both the Congress and the BJP enough material to have a go at each other.

The Congress has made the Kataria commission report one of its main planks. It's seeking an anti incumbency vote saying the BJP has run down the civic body in the last five years. If the Congress loses, aspirants to the CM's chair are bound to once again question the Siddaramaiah's legitimacy as a leader.

Winning these elections will provide the BJP with an important counter force to the Congress' dominance over the State. The party's response to the Kataria committee report has been to point to the period when the Congress was in power. After all, the Congress ruled the city twice before the BJP came to power in 2010. The BJP's position is that much of the financial crisis and corruption is the legacy of the previous elected bodies.

In the absence of a viable third alternative, the city's voters will once again have a a tough choice to make. Of course, for many the decision is as simple as choosing the candidate who is offering the highest bribe.