In the normal course of events, the city would have by now been in the middle of a political campaign for the civic polls, with elections due in September first week. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of easing, and the authorities estimating that it will be a few months before we can flatten the curve, elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) council are unlikely to be held as per schedule.
A senior minister in the government said that given the COVID-19 situation in Bengaluru, it is unlikely that elections can be held in 2020. “We don’t think we can afford to let a city with a population of 1.34 crore come out and vote this year,” said the minister.
The State government has already postponed gram panchayat elections indefinitely. “In all likelihood, a similar decision will be taken for the BBMP polls,” he added.
Karnataka State Election Commissioner Dr. B. Basavaraju said that while he was yet to receive any communication from the State government, the upcoming BBMP elections may be postponed.
“Recently, the Karnataka High Court asked us to reconsider the decision to postpone gram panchayat elections. We held a review meeting with all district administrations via video conference recently. The Deputy Commissioners expressed not only concerns over holding elections during the pandemic, but also how the administration is busy fighting the pandemic. We think the BBMP elections may also go the same way. But we shall consult the State government after the lockdown is lifted,” he said.
Following a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, the government had recently notified the new delimited wards but is yet to announce reservations, following which the Commission will have to get down to updating the electoral rolls.
If the elections are not held as per schedule, the council will cease to exist and the State government will have to appoint an IAS officer of the rank of additional chief secretary as the administrator for the civic body.
“Discussions are already under way as to who will be the right person. The administrator will also hold charge of the fight against COVID-19 in the city,” a senior functionary of the government said.
Civic activists are unhappy with the absence of the civic administration in the fight to stem the rise of cases in Bengaluru.
“Ideally, the civic administration should have led the management of the COVID-19 crisis. But the Mayor is nowhere to be seen,” said N.S. Mukunda, founder president of Citizen Action Forum. “It is the BBMP Commissioner and Ministers who are at the helm. The absence of a council and a mayor will unlikely cause any change in the fight against the pandemic since they have had no meaningful role so far,” he added.
Meanwhile, the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has on its agenda a dedicated law for the governance of the city, expansion of the BBMP to include 67 more villages on the city’s outskirts and increasing the number of wards to 224.
This is contrary to a proposal pending with the State government to divide the civic administration into multiple corporations as it is unmanageable in its current form.
A senior city BJP leader said the party will use the time it has gained by the pandemic to push through the Bengaluru Governance Bill and restructure its administration before the next civic polls.