In an obese, overgrown metro, some symbols still endure. One of these is the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), almost a subconscious icon that IT Bangalore has inherited from its ‘garden city’ avatar.
Bangalore Development Authority Headquarters (courtesy: BDA)
There is a mixed reaction to the BDA. There appears to be a slight inclination to appreciate its new IT-savviness. On the other hand, there are charges of corruption. And finally, more civic conscious citizens find its development plans to be grossly unbalanced, with the wrong emphasis on all the wrong areas.
So firstly, is there really a new IT look? K Puttaswamy, the BDA Public Relations Officer, may point to the website and e-Pragati Kiosks with pride. They give access to all information and register complaints. "This is the first of its kind in Asia, and makes everything transparent," says another source from the BDA.
"It’s certainly a more open, transparent body today than it used to be," explains Raghu, a software professional. "e-Governance, at least, has made it more accessible to the public." There also seems to be some orientation towards development of roads, flyovers and layouts, he points out.
However, according to Professor G S Shastry, Associate Professor Centre for Ecological Economics and Natural Resources, Institute for Socio-Economic Change (ISEC), the BDA has only grown "more confused" over the years. "There has to be planning right from the beginning", he explains. "However, do you find any plans deployed anywhere? Except for Jayanagar 4th and 8th Block, I do not find any plans working anywhere."
Take the case of roads, he points out. Is there any road linking the core to the artillery roads? Everywhere, there is only confusion. There may be pockets of development. However, on the whole, we are seeing what appears to be disorganized development. For instance, when you look at the new airport, well-laid roads leading to the airport are still under discussion. Can an airport exist in a vacuum?
As Vijay Menon, from Koramangala Initiative, a citizens’ body on local issues, points out, the access to the airport should have been factored in the original plan by the BDA, in conjunction with other planning authorities. Initially, the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), drawn up in 2005, did not even mention the airport or the metro, he pointed out. It was only later, as a hasty afterthought, that it was ‘noticed’ at all, and even then, the access to the airport was not discussed.
The overall impression of the BDA’s work thus that of a patchwork growth over the years. It is perhaps synonymous with and iconic of the city itself. "We have developed 63 layouts since our inception, and distributed 50,000 sites in the last seven years alone," points out M K Shankaralinge Gowda, the BDA Commissioner, defensively. "Some of the best schools, public utilities and landmarks such as the Chowdiah Memorial, for instance, rest on BDA land."
Born on 6 January1976, under a separate Act of the State Legislature, i.e, the BDA Act, 1976, the organisation combined in itself the planning functions of the City Planning Authority and the developmental functions of the City Improvement Trust Board. On the other hand, the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) is an autonomous body created by the Government of Karnataka under the BMRDA Act 1985 for the purpose of planning, co-ordinating and supervising the orderly development of areas within the Bangalore Metropolitan Region (BMR).
Charges Menon, that there are actually two plans. The BMRDA draws out a plan for some of the districts. The BDA’s master plan should be subservient to the BMRDA’s, which is supposed to be giving planning directives. However, in reality, both bodies draw out plans that are diametrically opposite to each other!
The real growth of the city as well as the BDA began post 1998, when it began to expand in function and scope. The reason is obvious. "It’s due to the phenomenal growth of the city itself," explains Puttaswamy. "I would say that we as an organization have risen to the challenge of a city that is growing beyond bounds," he claims.
Gowda defends the BDA’s plans with the argument that the city itself has grown in an unbalanced way, with more growth in the south and east of the city, but not all around. As for unplanned growth, the Commissioner replies that plans are drawn up once in 10 years only, which is the CDP, and the next plan is scheduled to be in 2015! "We cannot meddle with that," he says.
Every year, though, the plans could be reviewed. There are supposed to be sectoral plans, and ongoing reviews, which are finally taken stock of during the following CDP. However, all that is done is a couple of bureaucrats begin to work on the plan in the end, after which they push it, charges Menon.
Bangalore Development Authority
T. Chowdaiah Road,
Thus, the last Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) of the BDA was formulated in 2003-5. The draft plan was notified in 2005, while the plan was finalised just about four months ago in 2007. According to Clifton D Rozario, from the Alternate Law Forum, who explored the CDP when it was being drawn up, the IT industry has been factored into the BDA’s plans, perhaps too much. The entire focus of BDA’s future vision seems to be to develop Bangalore as an IT city. IT is "too much of a reality in Bangalore", he points out.
The other reality of Bangalore, i.e., the slums, which constitutes 26 per cent of the city, rarely gets much press coverage. The CDP, according to Rozario, does not even mention ‘slums’ or slum-dwellers, and just talks of ‘shadow areas’. Thus, it puts these dwellers on par with the lower middle-class residents, to whom adequate civic amenities have not been provided. This is in stark contrast to the previous CDPs of 1984 and 1995, which at least recognized the existence of slums and the need to provide for facilities.
Thus, the BDA appears to be more concerned about changing the status of Bangalore from a capital city to a global IT paradise. The special emphasis, for instance, is to provide for additional, wide roads for transport, rather than public transport. Rozario says the priorities are misplaced: "Roads, rather than public transport; garbage and pollution, rather than public housing and mosquitoes and public toilets rather than public health."
BDA seems to be reinventing itself to benefit the IT industry only, while the other slums and housing problems of Bangalore take a back seat, even as the city that grows at breakneck speed. The situation appears all the more bizarre when reviewed against the recent ‘boom times’ for the BDA, as indicated by a simple figure: "In the last five years, our total revenue was Rs.235 crores," explains Puthaswamy. "But in the last 18 months alone, the revenue realised was Rs.274 crores!"
Even when looked at from a residential point of view, says Menon, there are a lot of encroachments into residential space that have not really been dealt with as an important issue. There is more leeway for commercialization in the plans. Secondly, green areas or lung space, according to the CDP, does not figure much. In Koramangala, for instance, green areas do not figure for more than 2 per cent of the total area.
On the whole, although the CDP made a great show of asking for public input, it seems to be just a ‘land-use’ document, according to Menon. How much land has to be allocated for what, and where, seems to be its only concern. As far as comprehensive planning is concerned, while the BDA did make a great show of getting feedback about the plans from the public, it did not actually follow it. "I do not really know what interests are being protected here," he says. "But it appears to be a case of bureaucrats in power wondering—why should I listen to what the public says?"
The Commissioner throws the ball back to the people’s court. "It works both ways," he explains, diplomatically. "The people should be vigilant, to ensure that the public bodies are working for the people." He defends that experts from the Calcutta and Delhi Development Authority have even visited the city to inspect BDA’s working and learn from it. Maybe that is not much credit in a country where other ‘planning’ authorities could be worse?
However, the real and more serious overview appears to be that the BDA seems to be just drawing up ‘land use’ documents as excuses for plans, rather than an inclusive vision with focus.