The areas off old Airport Road offer affordable housing and an open culture, but lack public amenities

Entering old Airport Road from Domlur, it would be natural to assume it is the city’s high street.

The area to one’s right is called Diamond District no less, which houses elite residential complexes, with a golf club nearby. Further down the road is the busy Manipal Hospital, right opposite to which stands the swanky Leela Palace hotel, which marked Bangalore’s entry into the global business class.

However, right behind these wealthy constructions are some of the city’s most haphazardly developed residential layouts. Further down the road, closer to the HAL airport and then further closer to Marathahalli, neighbourhoods become dustier, muddier and fail to put up even a façade of prosperity. Whoever said that information technology has cornered all the resources of the city has obviously not visited L.B. Shastri (LBS) Nagar, Murugeshpalya, Vibhutipura and Chalaghatta — areas which border the road. They are home to a wide range of migrants, starting from affluent double income families living in brand new apartments to labourers engaged in ragpicking, domestic work, construction work and street cleaning.

Wealthy waste

“When a locality has affluent houses, it is bound to generate plenty of recyclable and reusable waste, and hence is a source of livelihood for ragpickers,” reasons P. Lakshapathy, executive director of Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), an NGO that works with the children of migrants in LBS Nagar. “In the early 80s, when our office was in Indiranagar, we used to work with many children who picked rags in that area. Now, they cannot afford to live there.”

But, ragpicking is only a backup for migrants. “I had to move to the city as agriculture was becoming nearly impossible back in my village in western Tamil Nadu,” says 36-year-old Periyasamy, who has been collecting papers and plastic waste for the past four years. “There was no time to look for a construction or other salaried jobs.”

There seems to be a pecking order in occupations, according to Roshni Nuggehalli of the Concerned for Working Children (CWC), another NGO.

“The early migrants, who live in hutments, work as domestic help, which is considered a relatively easier and better earning occupation,” she says. “Among newer migrants, construction is the preferred work, followed by street cleaning and ragpicking.” Her organisation and APSA have often found that it is the children who are into ragpicking, as it offers a temporary source of earning for them.

“Earlier, when this area used to be under the Krishnarajapuram City Municipal Council, rag pickers could earn more; now, they only get what the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike vans haven’t picked,” says Shantha Kumari, a worker at APSA. Like others in her profession, she attempts to draw those children to her classes at APSA.

Plots rented

Right next to her ‘classroom’ is a plot of land with a colony of bright blue tents. “We pay anywhere between Rs. 150 and Rs. 300 a month to the landowner to continue using this space,” says 23-year-old Yellama, a migrant from Gulbarga.

She works as a street-cleaner on a sub-contract with the BBMP. “We do not like working in someone else’s household, and construction work is difficult to get. It is better to clean the streets,” she says.

“Of course, when this plot is to be built up, we have to move to some other empty plot,” she adds. That is why it is common to see slum-like settlements sandwiched between multi-storeyed apartments here.

“These lands used to be ragi fields before, owned by the Telugu landowning class of Reddys,” explains Shantha Kumari. “But, even they had sold off their land in the early 90s.”

A frail old man, who is watching us curiously gets defensive when he hears this. “You must understand we needed the money back then. It was not as if we could continue farming,” he says. He refuses to give his name, but confirms he is a Reddy landowner.

Water equity

“In comparison to their hometowns, which are often drought-prone regions, migrants feel that they have better access to water here,” says an unpublished report by CWC and APSA. Yellamma is on her way to fetch her daily pot of water, from a tap a few streets down the lane. According to Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board spokesperson Sarala Kumari, these public taps are mostly installed by the local councillor by digging deep borewells and the water supply agency has nothing to do with them.

At the tap, a queue of colourful plastic pots has formed. A young man puts his transparent can under the tap. He works for a leading software firm, he says. “There has been no water in our borewell for as long as I have been here. Ours is not an apartment and so, we can’t buy a whole tanker of water either.”

Cosmopolitan

He stays with his wife and daughter in a single bedroom apartment, paying monthly rent of Rs. 3,000. “It is possible to afford decent housing in this area and provisions are easily available,” he explains. “Roads are potholed and water is difficult to access. We will adjust to that until the corporation turns its attention here.”

Balancing two cans of water on his motorcycle, he drives off. His is a sentiment echoed by other middle class residents as well. “People look for comfortable housing and a place to buy groceries when they move into a city. That is available in this neighbourhood,” says Shahtaj, whose husband works as a driver with a private enterprise. “There are no cultural issues in this area, which houses people from all walks of life and varying regional, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Only physical amenities need to be improved.”

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