N Manjushree, CEO, Bengaluru Urban Zilla Panchayat, speaks to Kumar Dhananjay, Consulting Editor, Urban Update, on tackling solid waste problem, reviving water bodies and other problems in Bengaluru city. She reiterates technology would play a significant role in improving access to better urban civic services
How important do you see the role of local bodies in running a city like Bengaluru and what has been your personal experience?
It is through the local self-governments that the local problems are considered and solved effectively and appropriately. Since the members of the local selfgovernment are locals themselves, they can realize and understand the gravity of local problems more seriously than the administrators of the State or Central government and can address them adequately.
In local self-government, the members have close and intimate contact with the local people. Naturally, it remains rather transparent and acts with real social welfare motive. My experience says that to implement economic planning at local and regional levels the local self-government institutions are far more helpful than the State or Central government. It also inspires the local people to actively participate in various governmental activities.
You are responsible for both urban and rural areas in Bengaluru. How do you strike a balance because concerns are different in two areas of your field of work?
Areas under Bengaluru urban district are partially rural. It is a fast urbanizing district. Areas of concern in both urban and rural are generally the same like water, health, education in addition to sanitation, cleanliness and infrastructure demands like roads, etc. but of late the concerns in urbanised areas are more and more towards better service delivery, responsive governance, solid and liquid waste management.We try to strike a balance by bringing in innovation and convenience in dealing with Govt agencies. Innovations like Sakala (timely service delivery) and Jan Snehi Kendras (over the counter delivery of services) for the urbanised areas.
Prominent citizens of the city have called Bengaluru once a city of gardens, now a city of garbage. How are you dealing with this problem?
Bengaluru still has the largest lung space in the form of parks. There is hardly any locality in the city without its own park meant for the recreational activities of its residents. I do understand that solid waste management is a great concern on our hands. We have many localized waste collection units managing the waste of that local body. At-source segregation and door-to-door collection is practiced. We are also looking at localized waste to energy plants to be run on a PPP mode.
Also the waste management is important as it leading to the death of rivers. A city that once upon a time had more than 200 water bodies is now struggling for water?
Bengaluru has 3 rivers flowing through it and once had over 200 tanks. Efforts are on by the water and sewerage board of Bengaluru to ensure black water is not drained into the rivers. As for the tanks, many of them though not serving drinking water needs, efforts are on to give them an overall facelift to serve as recreational hotspots for the residents. Large-scale efforts are also in place to remove encroachments on the tank beds of the district.
To mitigate the scarcity of water, water conservation, rainwater harvesting is being promoted. BWSSB is also making efforts to treat sewerage water and the same water is going to be filled in the tanks to ensure ground water recharge.
Equally important is rampant illegal construction. First the civic bodies allow this to happen and then go for demolition drive. We saw it happening few months back in Bengaluru. Obviously it happens because of nexus between officials and builders but at the end people suffer. How do you think this can be stopped?
Unfortunately the prevalent policy is that of buyers beware. The Department of Survey has placed on public platform (their website) the information of government land like tanks, etc., which are generally encroached and illegally developed. The buyers need to be a little more cautious and should exercise great vigilance before purchasing a property.
But history has proven that the civic bodies wake up after illegal construction only because the bodies need to discharge regulatory work in addition to their work of providing basic services. In my opinion greater awareness and transparency in the records of the land, making them available to the public easily and a separate body to regulate such illegal activity is the only way to end suffering of the people.
Bengaluru has 3 rivers flowing through it and once had over 200 tanks. Efforts are on by the water and sewerage board of Bengaluru to ensure black water is not drained into the rivers. As for the tanks, many of them though not serving drinking water needs, efforts are on to give them an overall facelift to serve as recreational hotspots for the residents. Largescale efforts are also in place to remove encroachments on the tank beds of the district
The City should be for the people. So how often do you interact with the citizens while taking and implementing any particular decision?
We have a system of ward and gram sabhas where the elected representatives and officers of the local body interact twice in a year with all the participating citizens.
Planning is key to the development of a city. In that context how have you been able to rope in different stakeholders while formulating policies to get the desired results?
I am in the development sector. We have a separate entity called urban and city-planning department to formulate policies of development. All stakeholders like the planning, urban development, BWSSB, BESCOM are members in various committees that plan the development of urban areas.
Technology is a key component these days. Be it waste management, traffic, sanitation etc. How have you used technology to make things better? Also the big question is: are local bodies equipped and trained to handle the technology.
Bengaluru being the IT capital of India, it is hard to stay untouched by technology. Various apps are in use to capture progress, update information and monitoring of various schemes. Every department has its own apps or ITeS for better functioning. Like the traffic management centre in Bangalore for transport management. GSK app for information relating to civil works taken up, their progress and bill payment status. Citizen services like Jan Snehi Kendras (CSC’s) and online payment of taxes like e-pavathi. Our officers have been using technology for many years now; they are equipped with smart phones. Also training is given at regular intervals.
Local governance is an important factor in the development of the city. What is the main focus area at the moment in Bengaluru and steps that you have taken to address it?
Solid and liquid waste management is the area of concern. Efforts are as explained above.