A tale of two cities Sunday Anchor

Bloom, boom, doom

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has an appointment with the people of Mandur village on July 26. The village, on the outskirts of the city, has landfill in its backyard where some 200 truckloads of Bangalore’s solid waste are dumped every day. The people want the Chief Minister to experience the stench and see how they suffer from various health problems.

The success story of Bangalore — which has traded old epithets such as “garden city” and “pensioners’ paradise” for new ones such as “Silicon Valley of India” and “Boom City” since the 1990s — is riddled with sub-plots of the Mandur kind. The potholed roads, shrinking footpaths, metro rail project that has missed multiple deadlines, power crisis, water shortage, dying lakes, depleting green cover and bumper-to-bumper traffic on even residential lanes are all symptomatic of a city growing way beyond its means.

Its population has now crossed the one-crore mark and every sixth person in Karnataka is a Bangalorean. The 2011 Census put Karnataka’s population at 6.11 crore, with Bangalore urban district accounting for 96.21 lakh. The city’s decadal population growth rate is nearly 47 per cent as against the State average of 16 per cent. Bangalore saw the highest decadal growth among metros in India, Delhi being a distant second at about 21 per cent. Over 4,300 persons live in every square kilometre in Bangalore urban district.

The growth of “Brand Bangalore” since the 1990s was fuelled by the information technology boom. Bangalore was seen as a model for integration into the global service economy. The city already had a large pool of skilled personnel and the boom triggered migration from all across India. Today, an estimated 10 lakh people are directly employed in the IT-ITES sector. Though far less visible in public debates, the over four lakh garment workers (mostly women pushed to cities because of acute agrarian distress) and an ever-increasing migrant and unorganised workforce in the bourgeoning construction and service sectors too make up the city’s workforce.

Bangalore is today a city of an increasing number of villas and gated communities, even as every fifth person in the city civic authority’s limits lives in slum settlements.

While Tier 2 cities such as Ahmedabad, Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Coimbatore expected to lead the economy in other States, Bangalore continues to be the lone growth centre in Karnataka. According to the latest paper on Census of India 2011 (Urban agglomeration and cities: provisional population totals), Karnataka has 26 cities that can be classified as Tier 2 cities, but none of them has shown a population boom comparable to Bangalore’s. The second biggest city in Karnataka, Hubli-Dharwad, added only 1.57 lakh population over the past decade.

The statistics on Karnataka’s most famous export — software — is one important indicator of the lopsided growth pattern. IT exports from the State stood at Rs. 1.51 lakh crore (about 37 per cent of the total exports from India) during 2013-14. Of this, over 95 per cent is from Bangalore alone, with Tier 2 cities such as Mysore, Mangalore and Hubli-Dharwad contributing a miniscule share.

Bangalore being the single-point destination has quite predictably meant a boom in property values. The metropolis is today next only to Mumbai and Delhi as a real estate destination. This has also meant land sharks holding sway in the city, often finding their way to political power as well. Two government-constituted panels — a joint legislature committee headed by A.T. Ramaswamy to detect encroachments and a task force headed by former bureaucrat V. Balasubramanian for their recovery — have shown how large tracts of prime public land and lakebeds have been grabbed by real-estate bigwigs, with generous help from the political class and bureaucracy, in and around Bangalore. The committee put the encroachments at 27,336 acres, conservatively valued at a whopping Rs. 40,000 crore.

Mr. Balasubramanian says that Bangalore has quickly degenerated from “a boom city to a doom city” and wonders why even the loudest alarm bells — stinking garbage piles and shrinking water table that would soon lead to a “water famine” — are going unheard. He asks why the state’s politicians, who talk of turning Bangalore into Singapore with its skyscrapers and glitzy skyline, do not think of adopting the city-state’s technology of purifying wastewater for consumption (brand-named NEWater). The city has failed even to implement rainwater harvesting strictly.

While the former bureaucrat believes that Bangaloreans will do well to pack their bags and head to smaller towns, Mohandas Pai, former chief finance officer and Head, Human Resources, Infosys, who is part of the Karnataka Information Communication Technology Group, sees hope yet for the city. “Bangalore’s challenge lies in its prosperity,” he argues, with the city accounting for 60 per cent of the State’s GDP and 65 per cent of taxes. He believes that successive governments have had a “deliberate policy of starving Bangalore of investment in infrastructure.” The group, in its recent report, has suggested a spending of Rs. 2,55,000 crore over 15 years financed by city revenues, share of State taxes and borrowings. It has, importantly, also suggested that growth be triggered in seven emerging ICT centres in Karnataka, apart from Bangalore.

However, Narendar Pani, Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, says the argument that the city’s share of taxes should be pumped pack into its own infrastructure is unsustainable. “The idea of taxation is for the greater good of the people.” On the contrary, high tax generation in the city is indicative of the economic-earning capacity of other regions not being developed, which needs to be set right.

Prof. Pani says there are clear patterns in Indian urbanisation, with some States such as Karnataka marked by single-city growth. The States that have a multiple-city growth pattern (Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and West Bengal, for instance) have seen a transition of capital investment from agriculture to industry. “This has not happened in Karnataka,” he says.

“The single-city growth of Bangalore and Hyderabad, in the past 10 to 15 years, has been celebrated to their own detriment,” says Prof. Pani. While Hyderabad might get out of this because of the formation of Telangana, Karnataka has a long way to go before it loses its Bangalore-centricity, he adds.

As the debate continues on ways of salvaging Bangalore, the people of Mandur have set a December ultimatum for Bangaloreans to stop dumping garbage in their backyard. “We are getting destroyed as Bangalore is growing without any control or plan,” says Gopal Rao of the village, who is spearheading the agitation.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 3:32:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/bloom-boom-doom/article6204838.ece

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