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Spotlight- Karnataka

Can commercial establishments and residential neighbourhoods co-exist?

July 01, 2022 01:29 am | Updated 11:00 am IST

Rajarajeshwarinagar is one of the residential areas in Bengaluru that has seen rampant commericialisation

Rajarajeshwarinagar is one of the residential areas in Bengaluru that has seen rampant commericialisation | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

The fight for city spaces is nothing new and is in fact an inherent part of the urbanisation phenomenon. While the true fight for space is really equal opportunity for the urban poor, the commercial-residential loggerheads saga is a close second. In its simplest form, the commercial establishments want a no holds barred right to pursue their livelihoods, while residential neighbourhoods want to be insulated from the noise, congestion and safety issues that go hand in hand with a commercialised locality. In what has been a traditionally adversarial relationship, only a new set of thinking and planning instruments can have a remote chance of putting this perpetual bug bear to rest. 

The devil is neither the commercial nor residential entities themselves, but an archaic, bureaucratic method of planning for the city. Planning is not an ivory tower process of pen pushing babus”, but a hard and often difficult understanding of the city where the rubber really hits the road. The “babu” approach is to give a flourish on a piece of paper and dish out universal rules and regulations for a city as varied as there are individuals. Imagine the idiocy of rules which apply equally to the congested and highly commercialised Chickpet and the relatively calm streets of Jayanagar

It does not take a rocket science expert to realise that true city space planning can only be done bottoms up, road by road, locality by locality and resolution of conflict by conflict. In this, we do have instruments called the Ward Committee and the Municipal Planning Committee (MPC), both enshrined in the constitution The Ward Committee has been relegated to a grievance platform rather than the unit of governance it is supposed to be. The MPC is lost in the corridors of power despite court rulings. At the heart of spatial planning is a micro approach to planning by the stakeholders of their locality who have an intimate knowledge of the textures and contours of their surroundings. It is ultimately a devolution of power as granted by our constitution. And therein lies the devil; no politician or bureaucrat willingly gives up power, especially of the cash generating metropolitan like our city. 

Koramangala in the early 2000s was written off as a residential neighbourhood with rampant illegal commercialisation in every nook and corner. We chose to formally participate in the Masterplan 2015, through interactions and inputs to the planning authorities and external consultants entrusted with the job of developing the plan. We were surprised and depressed when we saw the draft Masterplan, which in simple terms formally allowed commercial establishments in practically every street of Bengaluru. Through an extensive reach out programme, we educated the citizenry and garnered enough strength and conviction to challenge the Masterplan in the courts. What happened subsequently is a kind of history, where the courts delivered a landmark judgement rolling back the Masterplan and striking down the offensive rules for rampant commercialisation.

Today, the commercial-residential stand-off still continues, with active residents taking an extreme stand of blocking all commercial activities and strict implementation of the rules and regulations, that they have brought about through their master plan legal battles, which recognised the primacy of residential neighbourhoods while the commercial lobby is either forced to break laws or try workarounds — like the recent attempts at 24/7 working rules or doing away with occupancy certificates for electricity connections. Neither approach is really sustainable, though some neighbourhoods like Koramangala and Indiranagar have started to show an initial degree of understanding each other’s issues.

The centralised government machinery, however, sleeps its morbid slumber. It is time they acknowledged that by its very definition, city spatial planning is not top down. Continuous reliance on the bureaucratic and centralised methods of working only exposes further the incompetence of the government machinery. 

(Vijayan Menon is President, Citizens Action Forum)

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