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Hope for a growing, liveable Bengaluru

Bygone era: ‘We had known the city as a retired person’s paradise with clean air, low noise pollution, very few people on the road, nice parks, fresh vegetables and flowers in the nearby markets, and a few restaurants,’ says Narayana Murthy.

Bygone era: ‘We had known the city as a retired person’s paradise with clean air, low noise pollution, very few people on the road, nice parks, fresh vegetables and flowers in the nearby markets, and a few restaurants,’ says Narayana Murthy.  

The first time I came to Bengaluru was from Mysuru to spend a few weeks here in 1962 when I was hardly 16. We had known the city as “a retired person’s paradise” with clean air, low noise pollution, very few people on the road, nice parks, fresh vegetables and flowers in the nearby markets, and a few restaurants. My eldest sister lived with her family in a small rented Karnataka Housing Board place in Jayanagar, in what is now part of the Jayanagar Complex in 4th Block.

A walker’s delight

I walked all the way from the railway station to Jayanagar, carrying my small suitcase. Since I had always been a small-town child, I was warned about the guiles of the tricksters of Bengaluru to rid me of my meagre possessions.

As I walked the four-mile distance, I found very few people, and even fewer vehicles on the road. The road appeared wide and well kept. The air was clean. There was a nip in the air. I had worn a sweater.

I was told that the population was about 10 lakh. I went to the homes of my relatives in Jayanagar, Basavanagudi, and Tata Silk Farm, all within walking distance.

I do not think that Banashankari, J.P. Nagar or even Jayanagar 4T Block [where I live today] existed, and if they did were considered remote and sparsely-inhabited areas. Koramangala did not exist. Tata Institute [the Indian Institute of Science], Bangalore Medical College and the University College of Engineering were the best-known institutions of higher learning to youngsters interested in a good career. Vidyarthi Bhavan that serves mouth-watering masala dosas was well known even in those days. Lalbagh was a delight to spend time in.

The next time Bengaluru came onto my radar was in 1982, when we decided to establish our data centre and software services centre in the city for two very important reasons. The first was the tenancy law, which was fair with regard to the tenant and the landlord in Bengaluru, unlike in Pune where it was heavily tilted in favour of the tenant.

A tenant who stayed for seven years in a rented house could, for all practical purposes, claim ownership of the place. This meant that most landlords were scared of letting their apartments out for the fear of losing it. So, small fledgling companies, like Infosys, had very little chance of finding reasonable accommodation for its employees.

The second reason was the reputation that Karnataka, in general, and Bengaluru, in particular, had developed for the availability of engineering talent at reasonable salaries.

City of promise

We easily rented a bungalow for our office in Jayanagar for a rent of just ₹4,000 per month. The sleepy town had graduated to a promising city with a population of 3 million but it was still liveable with very few cars and well-maintained roads. Jayanagar had expanded to J.P. Nagar and Banashankari. School admission for our children had become difficult to obtain, but was not impossible. It was a common sight to see seven to eight uniformed children being huddled together in a rickshaw on their way to school.

Shalini, an inexpensive and clean restaurant near our office, offered a “full plate meal” for ₹4! Air was still clean. You could go from Jayanagar to M.G. Road in 15 to 20 minutes. Since the automobile revolution had not yet taken place, the noise and air pollution were low.

By 1990, my children, Akshata and Rohan, went every day from our house in Jayanagar 4T Block to Bishop Cotton School and Baldwin Girls’ High School in the Central Business District in a rickshaw. We were simply not worried about their safety.

Unfortunately, the growth of Bengaluru, which started in 1995 and continues even today, did not get the attention of our politicians and the bureaucracy, with exceptions like the former Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, and excellent officers like K. Jairaj, Vidyashankar and Jayakar Jerome who tried in vain to improve the infrastructure of the city to cope with its growth.

For example, while Infosys was offered a plot in Electronics City in 1992 there was no viable road to get there. Those days, it took our employees 2 to 2.5 hours each way to commute to our office in Electronics City.

There was no arrangement for transportation, no stable electricity supply [It was made available, thanks to H.D. Revanna much later], nor was there any water availability.

Contrast this with our experience in Pudong, China, where our plot came with the most modern concrete roads, electricity and water supply, and a state-of-the-art transportation system. The Pudong hi-tech park resembled a modern western tech park.

My colleagues [Mohandas Pai, Ramadas Kamath] and I had to work hard to get the Union government to auction [Maytas won the bid] the building of the flyover from Silk Board Junction to Electronics City. An industry that contributes about US$ 50 billion deserves better attention from the government. Bengaluru roads are in a poor condition. It is not very clear why good ideas like TenderSure have not been blessed by our politicians and bureaucrats. The building of the so-called overhead “metro” has been a very painful exercise, thanks to low productivity, large elapsed time, poor project management, poor traffic management, and even poorer site management. Most citizens spend 1.5 to 2 hours to get from a city suburb to an industrial park.

My view has always been that India must build visible signs of progress to raise the confidence of our own citizens and foreigners who want to invest in India.

Today, Bengaluru has swelled to a population of 12 million. The population has grown 12 times in the last 60 years and at 3.5% annually every year over this period.

Bengaluru has lost its lustre and has become one of the least liveable cities of India. I hope our politicians and bureaucrats listen to the cry of children who commute daily to their schools and that of our youth who commute daily to their jobs.

There are umpteen examples of cities in the developed and the developing world that have experienced such a growth and still managed to make the quality of life liveable there. The need of the day is to be open-minded, learn from those who have performed better than us, benchmark with the best in the world, bring in advanced ideas, tools and techniques, have pride in the country, work hard, be disciplined, and strive for excellence.

(N.R. Narayana Murthy is co-founder of Infosys.)

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2020 7:44:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/hope-for-a-growing-liveable-city/article31881157.ece

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