In part-I, I argued that our planners, politicians and administrators put Bengaluru’s development on steroids over the last 10 years, the way farmers sometimes do for agriculture, only to find that the soil dies later.
I also argued that we have built a Bengaluru in the form of a giant shining saucer that is suspended at 10,000 feet above the real land of this city. There is one single pipe holding up the saucer and through this pipe, water, services, resources and low-income jobs are sucked through to the fast-paced life above. The pipe though is now bursting at the seams, because the social fabric that holds it together is seeing unrest and cracks.
One example will tell you how my super-story above is actually real. This is no dream.
The Ejipura housing disaster near Koramangala was manufactured by the city administrators in callousness and cynicism in 2004, leading up to heartless razing of tin shed-homes to the ground this January. When the old buildings first collapsed in 2004, it was already one disaster. Around 1500 families were promised the new flats to be built on those 15 acres of land owned by the city. The city could have simply cordoned off the area, called EWS colony, built the flats in one year and handed it back to the low income folks and moved on.
They did not. Having issued entitlement papers to those slum dwellers, they asked these allottees to leave. And then, under the guise of not having funds to build the new flats, city administrators floated a massive cross-subsidising mall project on the same land, splitting it 50-50, with the low income flats to come up only on one half. The idea: the mall builder will construct the flats on land given by the city.
What transpired was something else. The tender was mired in dispute for five years and settled in court only in 2011. (Court gave the order in 2010, the petitioner filed an appeal, but withdrew it in 2011). During this time, a new generation of squatters came into the colony, became tenants of the old residents’ sheds and structures, set up new sheds, and ended up getting their own set of ID-cards and benefits from the government. Little surprise then that when the High Court settled the tender dispute and ordered the city to let the awarded builder start work in 2012, this second generation of residents too asserted their right to receive the original 1500 flats or suitable rehabilitation, if they had to move out.
From then on, one thing led to another including tensions between the original allottees and the new settlers. Finally, they were pushed out over a three-day operation using earth movers and heavy machinery. City officials heartlessly asked them to relocate far away to Sarjapur to a so-called slum housing project that was shown to not exist readily anyway.
None of this would have happened if the city or the state government had coughed up the money to build 3000 flats on the whole chunk of land for both the original 1500 families and to house more families, since in any case demand for low-income housing was going to skyrocket. But the city administration preferred a real estate deal. You connect the dots.
There is never a shortage of money in Karnataka to build underpasses and flyovers at the cost of Rs.10-20 crore per structure using taxpayer’s money. Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent already. Yet, there is always a shortage of money and land when it comes to housing for lower income citizens – domestic workers, drivers, mechanics, errand boys and others. Bangalore is among the cities with highest range of rent in India. Conveniently located low income housing simply pre-empts the continuous emergence of squatter slums and more Ejipura-like disasters.
Here is the part that will amaze you. Around the same time the Ejipura EWS colony residents were chased out of their sheds and made to wander on the streets looking for shelters in grief, another project had broken ground just a few kilometres away near the Agara lake between Koramangala and HSR Layout. This is a Rs.2300-crore, 72-acre real estate project, co-promoted by one of the city’s most famous and reputed developers. The state government acquired 63 acres from farmers a decade ago and allotted the chunk in the name of industrial development at a throwaway price of Rs 22 crore for this massive project*. It includes a 27-acre SEZ, office space, a 5-star hotel, a two-star hotel, two residential apartments for the well-heeled, and more.
The massive water requirement of 45 lakh litres/day for this project is not available either from the city water utility or from groundwater. Borewells are not permitted here, the central groundwater authority has stated plainly. And yet the builder secured clearances and has started the construction. Worse, the minimum goals of social justice any elected government ought to deliver using its power to acquire land was not served. Low-income housing was not even thought about.
This is your classic real-estate-on-steroids land deal of 21st century Bangalore, and also a piece of the shining saucer being built above the real city, literally in the air.
Is there a silver lining? And is this a political one, given that the elections are an opportunity? That is part III.⊕
*Corrected April 24th 2013.