Bangalore’s voting percentage in the last election was one of the lowest among the metros. Unless this changes, India’s garden city could end up being a garbage city

Bangalore is India’s most global city — and it is slipping into coma, slowly but surely. 400 of the Fortune 500 companies are here in one form or the other; its per capita income is the highest in India at about Rs.9,200 (even higher than Mumbai). It produces about 60 per cent of Karnataka’s State gross domestic product (SGDP) and contributes about 66 per cent of its taxes. McKinsey estimates that by 2030 Bangalore will be India’s fifth largest metro with a GDP of $127 billion, and a population of 10.1 million. Sadly a significant part of the GDP is not spent on upgrading the city’s infrastructure and is not ploughed back into the city itself. The report estimates that Bangalore needs about $58 billion over the next 20 years or $255 per capita and it is next to impossible for it to find these resources.

Between 2008 and 2013 while political infighting, anecdotal and evidence-based rent seeking and maladministration in general dominated the headlines, there has been some, albeit limited, good news. Despite the absence of a strong and supportive political executive, the permanent executive under the leadership of Chief Secretary S.V. Ranganath has produced nothing short of a miracle in Bangalore, something that needs to be recognised. Otherwise, the all-enveloping gloom and the undeniable misgovernance of the city alone would be assumed to be the truth.

Positives

First, the computerisation of commercial taxes or e-Sugam has virtually eliminated 1.5 lakh visits of traders every single day to the tax offices (and with it the attendant corruption). Revenue volumes have shot up from Rs.18,133 crore (2009-10) to Rs.32,000 crore (2012-13) and everything is now automated and online. Pradeep Kharola, a dynamic IAS officer, and his team won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in 2013 for this project that every State would do well to implement.

Second, the power situation in Bangalore as compared to Chennai and Hyderabad is far better. There are no scheduled power cuts, and transmission and distribution losses are at a low seven per cent. Further, 99 per cent of what is billed is collected. Under the leadership of P. Manivannan, another innovative IAS officer, the utility now uses Facebook, SMS, and crowdsourcing through YouTube for regular customer interaction and speedy resolution.

Third, in 2008 the Bangalore Metro Rail was non-existent. Thanks to the persistence of yet another IAS officer, N. Sivasailam, and his team, the first line of seven km now carries 30,000 citizens a day, and another 14 km will be ready before the end of the year. Phase 2 of 72 km awaits Central government approval for launch.

Fourth, the imaginative “Sakala” Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens’ Act covers about 265 services across 18 departments of which more than half are operational now. The entirely automated system is hugely popular and has received about 2.20 crore applications with a commendable redressal rate of 97 per cent.

Last, and certainly not the least, the Global Investor Meet (GIM) — brainchild of two outstanding IAS officers, V.P. Baligar and Maheshwar Rao — in its two avatars saw MoUs worth over Rs.10 lakh crore in investment being signed. Even assuming only 30-40 per cent of this is realised, it would be a huge fillip to Karnataka’s development.

As compared to the above successes, Bangalore’s civic body and planning authority are in an undiluted mess. Thanks to poor political and permanent executive leadership, everything has been reduced to a “cash and carry” system, bringing shame to the city.

Woeful tale

The data on the city’s finances tell a woeful tale. Bangalore’s share of operations and expenditure in total is at an abysmal 4.72 per cent (versus 22 per cent in Hyderabad, 58 per cent in Pune; 14.4 per cent is the national average). The Zakaria Committee’s norms for civic expenditure were evolved in 1964 and Bangalore stood at Rs.983 per capita; in 2003 (adjusted for inflation) average spending on core civic services was 74 per cent below this 1964 norm, at about Rs.243 per capita! (Extent of underspending varied across Indian municipalities from 30 per cent in Pune to 76 per cent in Hyderabad). Garbage collection is quite obviously in a comprehensive mess because only about Rs.15-20 per capita is spent on it.

In sum, “Being Bangalored” can either be a Pollyanna or a Cassandra depending on the quality of leadership and effectiveness of citizen engagement. Voting percentage in urban Bangalore in the last election was 47 per cent, one of the lowest among all metros and unless citizens engage, India’s garden city will end up being the garbage city, permanently.

(The writer is an IAS officer. Views expressed here are personal. Twitter: @srivatsakrishna)

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