When I moved to Bangalore from Bombay in 1971-72, it was a great city to live in. Roads would get deserted by 7 pm. One could reach areas like Basavanagudi, which is about 10 km from my house in Malleswaram, in just 20 minutes and that too during peak hour. Today, it takes between 45 minutes and one hour. Slums have sprung up in almost every locality. Roads and the local public transport have become grossly inadequate and the piles of garbage an eyesore . The city’s infrastructure seems to be buckling under the pressure of the burgeoning population. Though Bangalore is gifted with pleasant weather, vehicles spewing out smoke have made it unbearable. Everything seems to be going out of hand.
Thousands of people are literally living on the pavements. These people go indoors only to sleep or when they need some privacy, the rest of the day the entire family is out on the streets. Most localities in the city have become mini-towns and include several slum pockets. Bangalore has become a mega-city of mini-towns and slums.
The same is the case with all major cities in the state, be it Belgaum or Mangalore, but the degrees may vary. In fact, I have been considering moving out of Bangalore once my daughter’s education reaches a level when our presence would no longer be required here. My wife and I frequently discuss how it is no longer tolerable to live in the city. I think the solution lies in Gandhiji’s "Back to the Villages" call. Though we may not move to a rural place, a semi-rural town is very tempting.
Ironically, these developments were foreseen by the previous Janata Dal government headed by Ramakrishna Hegde. I believe it would have been possible to handle Bangalore’s growth if the plans made then had been implemented. But in the five years from 1989 when the Congress ruled the state, none of these plans were implemented. All three chief ministers— Veerendra Patil, Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily— failed to pay attention to Bangalore. During those five years, the monsoon was good and the state faced no shortages. But they never got down to administering the state and politics overtook administration and governance. The result was that Bangalore has suffered a great deal.
It is not as if solutions don’t exist. Bombay was a bigger mess till the creation of New Bombay, which reduced the congestion there considerably. Even Bangalore needs satellite towns. In fact, four satellite towns were planned in the mid-’80s. But the rich rushed to these areas and bought most of the available land. The middle and lower classes now cannot afford to shift there. People tend to inhabit a place which is affordable and where civic amenities are provided. So with increasing migration, the pressure on localities within the city is tremendous and slums have come up.
Interestingly, my brother (Shankar Nag) and I in 1987 had proposed to solve the housing shortage in Bangalore. The project, based on Austrian technology, comprised the construction of small houses with pre-fabricated concrete blocks, which made the house sturdy, and fire and earthquake-proof. A house of about 800 sq ft then cost barely Rs 50,000. But the project never really took off due to vested interests. The model houses which were constructed then still stand strong. I don’t think anyone has come up with a better solution to remove slums. All this talk of liberalisation and privatisation is just that, talk.
Liberalisation, surprisingly, has not brought in as many investors in the infrastructure sector in India as those with an eye to the lucrative markets here. Outlets like Kentucky Fried Chicken come up in no time as business prospects are very attractive. So willy-nilly, it becomes the duty of the government to get things done. Though beset by a resoure crunch, it has to look for finances before undertaking infrastructure development.
And there isn’t much time. Unless the problems are taken up on a warfooting, the situation will only worsen. Slums need to be removed and the people living there relocated. This is not impossible, keeping in view the space available. Some time ago, slum-dwellers on Miller Road were relocated without a tear being shed or a lathi being raised. But first we have to stop thinking about votes.
The housing shortage can be tackled by growing vertically — building high-rise apartments. But Kannadigas will always prefer an independent house to ana partment as they are used to open spaces. We’ve bought a flat in Malleswaram but haven’t been able to move in there as I cannot get used to the idea of living in an apartment. So, for the people to have independent houses and to move away from the city, revolutionary changes have to be brought in the public transport sector. Mobility is discouraged with the public transport system in a bad shape. I am not hopeful of the Light Rail MRTS project becoming a reality in my lifetime. Private operators must be allowed to run services in the city. It is not possible for the state transport corporation or private operators to cater to Bangalore’s local transport needs individually. We need both.
Besides, the Ring Road has to be completed and flyovers are needed. The present government has shown its concern and there is a sudden surge of interest. But people also seem to realise they cannot depend solely on the government to solve their problems. They are beginning to organise themselves into groups. A few groups are already handling garbage clearance in some areas. While approvals have been given to new power projects, things can change only when these are handed over to large companies. It is our ill-luck that the monsoons failed us this time. Dependence on the city corporation, the BDA or the PWD will only lead to stagnation. But, I am hopeful as we still have people with vision.
(The writer is an actor and an MLA representing Malleswaram in Bangalore City)