Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Bangalore has been the cradle of urban governance reform: Nilekani

Bangalore has been the cradle of urban governance reform
Subir Roy / Bangalore Business Standard

Nandan Nilekani and Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), which he helped found, have suddenly become ‘political’. They are at the centre of a public controversy. Sometime after the new Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government came to power in Karnataka, BATF began dismantling itself. It had not heard from the government.

But BATF had by now become a nationally-known institution. Other state governments expressed an interest in having their own versions of such a forum and the Delhi government went the furthest by signing an MoU with BATF to replicate it.

When this perceived ‘neglect’ of BATF by the Karnataka government became a public issue, the government called leaders of the IT community and BATF members (Nilekani, as CEO of Infosys, wears both hats) for a meeting to discuss the city’s burgeoning infrastructure problems.

BATF has, in a way, been ‘recognised’ again but will it be as effective as it was earlier? Nilekani dwells on all these issues in a conversation with Business Standard. Excerpts:

Can you, objectively and in your own words, sum up what BATF has achieved?

In the last five years, Bangalore has been the cradle of urban governance reform. It was really a platform for public private partnership which created a public accountability platform. This had not been done hitherto anywhere in the country where civic providers stand up every six months, talk about what they intend to do in the next six months, and then actually come back and say, we did this and we didn’t do this.

The kind of transparency and accountability which was created with the BATF platform, the summit, is unprecedented. Second, we worked with several civic providers in the city and helped implement the self-assessment system that doubled property tax collection.

We put in a fund-based accounting system (after the US government accounting standards which are the most rigorous), incorporating double entry book keeping, which produced financial statements shared with the citizens. So BATF helped bring in financial accounting and transparency in Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP).

Visitors to Bangalore notice those bright BATF bus stands.

Yes, there have been many other initiatives – solid waste management, public toilets, urban spaces like bus stops, park rejuvenation. Then we partnered with agencies like the Bangalore Development Authority which, as you know, did a remarkable job over the last five years.

These are all very tangible accomplishments. The Public Affairs Centre led by Dr Samuel Paul did a report card in 1999 and another in 2003. On every dimension the level of citizen satisfaction has gone up.

Along with that, Ramesh Ramanathan started Janaagraha, a unique citizens’ participation movement, then a set of NGOs came together and set up the PROOF (Public Record on Operations and Finance) campaign. BMP has had eight of these PROOF sessions where they actually discussed the financial performance of the city. This is an important part of public accountability and transparency.

How has BATF used IT?

We have this whole initiative to implement IT in the city. Today all the property tax collected by the city is based on technology provided by the eGovernments Foundation (jointly funded by Nilekani and Srikanth Nadhamuni).

In partnership with the BDA they are developing a digital CDP (comprehensive development plan), the only city in the country where such work is going on right now. These are all path breaking, innovative measures.

With all this going for it, how has Bangalore landed itself in a civic mess?

At the same time the city has grown dramatically. The success of the city, the influx of companies and people, influx of automobiles and two-wheelers, is also because the brand has become both nationally and internationally known.

The thing with success is that it brings in more people. You moved in, Subir; like you many other people moved in. As a result, while there is a tremendous amount of stuff that has happened, it is always a moving target, the more you do, the more successful you are, the more it attracts people and you are back to square one. Some of the infrastructure things you have to see in that light.

What is the unfinished agenda?

We (BATF) had a summit early this year (January 31) and all the projects were listed. You can go and see it on the BATF website ( Finishing all the unfinished projects which have been publicly agreed to by all the stakeholders is really the number one priority.

Leveraging all the tools that are there is also very important. We believe property tax collection can be enhanced by using IT and GIS (geographical information system). One lesson we have learnt from the last five years is that urban areas can largely stand on their own feet.


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