Krishna Byre Gowda was the Agriculture Minister in the last Assembly. He is contesting elections again. In an interview, he talks about his vision, mission, work and policies. The interview:
When you moved constituencies in 2008 to Byatarayanapura, it was newly added to the Great Bengaluru area. What were the challenges that you saw that needed immediate attention?
As you said it was a newly added area to Bengaluru. All the amenities that people take for granted in a city like Bengaluru like underground drains, Cauvery water, roads, parks did not exist there. And when the area was being added, there was no plan to put the infrastructure in place. Obviously when you are part of a city like Bengaluru, you have those expectations… But you need a systematic approach to upgrade to give these basic facilities. Since there was no plan for this, putting them in place was the challenge when I came to the area.
How much of it have you been able to solve?
Of the seven municipal wards in my constituency, five have Cauvery water and underground drains. Work has started in the other two wards for the supply of Cauvery water and the work for underground drains will begin in the next three months. As far as roads are concerned, a majority of constituency, about 80% of the area, has good roads. We have created parks and playgrounds where we have public land available. So I’d say about 70% have been upgraded in the last ten years. It has taken us 10 years to get this points. There are pockets where we need to focus, like ward number 5 and 6 which should take about two years. So by and large, we have been able to address the three basic issues of reliable water, roads and underground drains, and we should reach about 90% pretty soon.
What about waste management in the constituency?
The constituency is in the top three in waste segregation in Bengaluru as I understand, you can check with BBMP. We pioneered the public partnership method of waste segregation and management. We started the campaign for this as early as 2010 so the segregation is above the 50% mark and in some pockets this number is as high 70%. I want to drive this number up to 80% across the board. We have worked with RWAs and communities to ensure that waste is segregated at source.
In fact after our government came, the highest percentage of waste segregation in the country is from Bangalore. We have taken it further and composted the wet waste converting it to organic manure, and sell it to farmers at a subsidised rate of Rs 800 per tonne. We have already delivered 15,000 tonnes of manure to farmers over the last year. I don’t think this model exists anywhere in the world probably, not to the best of my knowledge. We take bookings from farmers at the Hobli level and then deliver the same to the farmers. The idea was to bridge the gap between the demand and supply by putting a delivery mechanism in place. This also solves the problem of waste management because about 4 tonnes of wet waste becomes one tonne of organic manure so that about 70,000 tonnes of wet waste that has been converted. We just talk about problems in Bangalore but do not talk about many solutions that have been put in place.
In newly formed constituencies, the problems are the same across the board – water supply, waste management drains and roads. At a policy level, where do you think Urban development has singularly failed?
It is not only urban policy. The governments all over India and not just in our state react to a problem. Governance on many spheres has been reactionary, though there are areas where we are proactive. That is a larger issue, but it has its repercussions on the urban space also. Does that attitude need to change? Sure. But it is our DNA. It can be reset. I am not saying it can’t happen. But that requires all governments, State and Central, to embrace the idea of planning ahead which is sketchy at best right now, or not appreciated enough in urban area. It is especially worse for cities like Bangalore, which has grown much faster than any other city in India. At one point Chennai had more population than we did, but today we beat them in numbers. Our growth has been phenomenal since 1995 and attracted a lot of talent; it’s been a centre of migration. So the problems are more pronounced in our city. So the policy failure isn’t just about urban development.
But just to give you an example. A perusal of your LAD fund expenditure shows that in the last fews years most of it has been spent on creating drinking facilities in your constituency. But that is a stop gap arrangement in the larger picture of policy in water management. An MLA is first a policy maker. So where has that failed? What would you want to do in the context of your own constituency and water management?
I agree there is a serious mismanagement of water resources. The primary cause is because that we as a society haven’t woken up to the fact that water is a very a precious resource. You can blame the government. But it is largely a social issue and national issue. Water is a scarce resource and if the government is not paying attention, it doesn’t mean that you and me as a citizen shouldn’t pay attention. We abuse water resources when we have them. We are living an unsustainable lifestyle. We consume energy or water just because we can afford and not because we need it. This is symbol of lack of civic awareness about physical resources.
But the government has a bigger role to play. People don’t have awareness, it is our job to create awareness. Nevertheless that hasn’t happen. Our government hasn’t done a good job of talking about innovations undertaken to manage water resources. One such initiative is that we are now taking sewage water from Bangalore, treating it and then pumping it into lakes around Bengaluru in a radius of 100 kms. So we basically recycling and reusing sewage water, treating it and filling up water bodies.
In my constituency two lakes – Rachenahalli and Jakkur lake are being filled up with treated water. By next year we will increase this number to ten lakes in BBMP limits. The state government has allocated Rs 3000 crores to transport treated sewage water from Bangalore and fill about 500 lakes in Bangalore rural, Kolar, Chikkaballapur and Ramanagar.
But the lakes of Bangalore continue to be infamous for their various problems around the country and now the world…
Besides Bellandur, which other lake is being talked about? Have you talked about Rachenahalli Lake?
Pattandur lake has been in the news too…
So what about Bommasandra or Jakkur lake? You guys don’t want to talk about it. I can give you a list of 38 lakes which have been restored in five years. Bellandur lake is a legacy issue. Sewage has been flowing in for more than 15 years. Now we are setting up Sewage Treatment Plants. But it cannot be ready overnight! We have commissioned STPs and work is going on and by 2020, we have a project in place under progress to treat all sewage water including the sewage that is flowing into Bellandur lake. That time we will also spend money to desilt the lakes because now there is no point spending money on desilting because sewage continues to flow. In the meantime, we have spent Rs 50 crores on temporary measures to deal with the problems. By 2020, we will desilt and beautify lakes including Bellandur. But for the record, 13 lakes have been restored in my constituency alone at a cost of Rs 70 crores in the last seven years. They don’t get talked about. You are welcome to take a look.
So what kind of work has been done at Rachenahalli lake?
The lakes have been desilted, more than 2000 saplings have been planted around them; we have invested in diversion drains to keep the sewage out of the lakes. Whatever experts consider as restoration, we are doing that for about 13 lakes in my constituency and all together 38 lakes in Bangalore at about Rs 280 crores. We take about 10 TMC of sewage water which will be treated and fill lakes in four neighboring districts.
I am unable to articulate this well and it is our failure. But I don’t think there is a model anywhere in the world where treated sewage water is being used and lakes are being filled in such large numbers. We are setting up mini STPs to to deal with the problem. That is a way of using water resources responsibly, because we are recycling it to recharge ground water.
Obviously it is not fit for direct agriculture. So to me this a very clear case of responsible water management. But since it has not been documented and presented well, it hasn’t been recognised. Apparently the work you do doesn’t matter but how you present it does. But this has been serious work and some of us who have been involved in it have been quite happy with it.
Your constituency is en-route to the International Airport. Do you think there is enough public transport available in the interiors of the area, last mile connectivity etc? What have you in your capacity as an MLA done to encourage public transport and get people to leave their cars behind?
Manyata Tech Park falls in our constituency, so I have been working with them closely to develop a replicable model of car pooling and dedicated bus lines. It is an initiative that I have been seriously pursuing. We have had multiple meetings with them to increase carpooling and it has increased. But again it is a social issue and the idea of car pooling is not something that people take naturally to. Seventy six percent of the four-wheelers entering Manyata are single passenger units. They are coming from similar directions and going back in similar directions. So we have tried to encourage carpooling with but citizens are only going to be so responsive.
See, they don’t want elevated roads or flyover, road widening, they don’t want trees to be cut down, they all want to still drive their own individual cars but they don’t want any traffic jams. These are the challenges we face. Call it contradiction or lack of imagination by the policy makers to find solutions, but this is our situation. Now about BMTC, in my constituency, hardly 20% of it are BDA layouts and 80% are unplanned with hardly any thoroughfare roads. So the challenge with narrow roads is that there is no last mile connectivity. There is hardly one road that connects all the layouts and for you to enter and come out of them, you need to take ten turns in a 20-foot road which makes it challenging.
But I would say transport in my constituency is good because it intersects by the airport road on one side and the Outer Ring Road on the other. On these corridors there is good connectivity. But providing public transport close to people’s homes has been a challenge, because the roads are not wide enough for BMTC buses. But the biggest lacuna in Bangalore North has been the lack of Metro which we are working towards and one line has been sanctioned till Nagavara. We have also sanctioned another line from Nagavara to the International Airport. On north we have Yeshwanthpur and on the east we have K R Puram, No Metro connectivity between the two, which should come up in Phase II. Once the Metro comes, we will see big relief in terms of traffic.
But what about the Suburban railway? That option has been mooted by many citizens especially in the case of North Bangalore.
The lines transact, but we don’t have many stations in the stretch except for Kodigehalli. But the State Government has allocated Rs 700 crores for the Suburban railway project and the cabinet has approved a special purpose vehicle to overlook it. The first Rs 350 crore is already been allocated, and the second instalment of Rs 350 crores can be released anytime needed.
The Government of India announced Rs 17,000 crores in the budget, but the book of accounts shows only Rs 1 crore. If we have to do this on a fifty-fifty basis, they should have atleast released Rs 700 crores. Instead they have announced Rs 17,000 project and released Rs 1 crore. So I don’t know why having made such a bombastic announcement, they are not walking the talk. But the state government has released the money and I do hope the Suburban rail will pick up, because we have been supportive of the project.
You mentioned roads is a major challenge for last mile connectivity with the BMTC. Do you think it makes sense to bring private players with smaller vehicles to bridge this gap and break the monopoly of the BMTC to encourage better services?
I am generally for competition and not monopoly of a market, but public transport companies serve a greater purpose that private players cannot. BMTC operates many loss making routes which cannot be expected of a private player. I am not saying monopoly should continue, but let’s recognise the cost benefits.
Do you think BMTC should be subsidised?
We do! There is a huge subsidy built into public transport system. It may not reflect on the ticket prices, but they have been given large tracts of land at a nominal price, buses are paid, they generate rents out of the terminals which is built with public money and not from the corporation, capital grants are also given. If they had to incur the cost of infrastructure, the cost of travel would go up by 50%, which is covered by the government.
Usually we have seen that MLA’s role is confused with the corporators and they end up dealing with civic issues that are technically not their responsibilities. What happens to the idea of localised governance in that case? And what is the solution to this?
Most of the questions you have asked me are all corporator questions..
But I asked them in the context of policy which is what an MLA is meant to do
You open any newspaper and we are being measured on these parameters. Now if I don’t address these issues claiming they don’t fall under my jurisdiction and turn my constituents away, I end up losing their votes. So I am damned if I do, because we are accused of interfering in local governance, and damned if I don’t.
The public discourse needs to change because if it does it means less grey hair for me (laughs). I would rather be a policy maker because this means less stress. But the point is completely lost on the 99.99% of the people including the academics, journalists and MLAs. Even in a moot academic discussion, they do not realise it is not the job of the MLA. The politicians in India are easiest mark for every kind of criticism, potshots and mud slinging.
Moving forward to the issues of slums and their residents, can you tell me how many of them do you have and what are your initiatives for them?
We have very few slums in my constituency. We have focused on building multi storey homes for them in ward 11 and other wards as well. Work is being done on housing for them through BBMP and the Slum Board. About 280 homes have been built so far. We recently launched the Chief Minister’s 1 lakh housing project which is an affordable housing initiative gives them a one bedroom flat for about 2 lakhs. We have 4000 people in my constituency who have been selected. The construction will begin after the elections. This is not just Low Income Groups(LIG) but also families below the LIG line. But housing needs are huge because most of them are migratory population.
So where do you see an improvement possible in urban housing policy?
Definitely. In my view BDA should stop selling these plots and should only go for multi storey flats, so that we can saturate more demand for housing. In my view plots are the most un-economical way to address housing issues. If somebody is looking for a plot, they can do so from a private developer. The government/BDA should only look at the larger needs and only consider multi-dwelling needs. For example, the Vishveshwaraiah Layout plots were sanctioned in 2002 and we are in 2018. Not more than 25% people have built there. Obviously it is not going to the needs, and being hoarded. If there is a change in the policy the tendency to hoard these flats for financial gain will far lesser than hoarding of BDA plots that we currently see.
How difficult is it to manage your time between being a minister and an MLA and give your constituency the attention it needs?
I think I have managed the requirements of both quite well. But what has taken a hit between the two is my political role where I have had to step back because of demands of these two. I live in the constituency and that is an advantage. I have open office hours so people can come to meet me any time without an appointment. I go around my constituency a fair bit. As a minister also I have been able to achieve a fair bit.
What would you list as major achievements as the minister for agriculture?
I don’t think people in the urban space really care about agriculture.
But in the urban space terrace farming and organic farming has really caught the fancy of a lot of people. Do you think there is a role for the ministry of agricultural ministry in this space?
The terrace gardens in the city are where they are today because of the government. The Horticulture department runs a workshop on terrace gardening. In my constituency alone, we have done 120 workshops for terrace gardening which is bundled with garbage segregation and composting. We have trained close to 10,000 people in our constituency alone. I do recognise some NGOs have done work in the area, but the scale at which the government has stepped in has made terrace gardening a reality in Bengaluru. When I took over as the minister, there were about 50 organic vegetable shops, today there are more than 250 organic outlets. That is because we invested a lot on awareness and promotion which is driving the demand for organic produce. We have also pushed millet as a superfood.
I think Bangalore has the highest number of workshops in the country. I am not even sure if it is happening anywhere else in the country. Bangalore has the largest market for organic supply and health food also has become quite popular. Not to blow our own trumpet, the kind of work that has been done by our government in these areas of terrace gardening, organic farming, health foods has not been done by any other state. We are ahead of the curve already. I hope whoever comes into this responsibility will keep at it and keep the lead.
An MLA’s office needs to be staffed, constantly working with multiple people needed to run it. Do you think the monetary perks offered to an MLA is enough to run the structure required?
No. But people don’t want to recognise it.
Is that why corruption becomes unavoidable in public life?
Yes. Even people who wish to remain clean cannot stay clean. I don’t know what the public expects. As individuals, as families and MLAs we do have certain basic mandatory requirements. There is such public opposition to give even those basic requirements. Of course there are allowances for drivers and PS and staff and we are compensated some. I was a minister, so my situation was far better. I get better staff and my house rent paid. But as an MLA what I got every month was not enough or barely enough to pay my driver’s salary, cover the diesel costs and pay the EMI of the car. That was where the government package went. All put together – the diesel cost me about Rs 15,000; the driver’s salary was Rs 10000 and the EMI was about 15-20000. The car expenses alone were about Rs 50,000 and above and that was what I was getting all put together as an MLA.
Who understands this? Our society is riddled with contradictions and this another area. I don’t want to trivialise it because it is an Indian custom not to put monetary value on it. But there are about 100 people who come to my office everyday. We offer them coffee and tea. You do the math. But it is a moot issue to be discussed.
The election commission has a Rs 28 lakh ceiling for an election campaign. How practical is that number?
For the legitimate expenses that EC has listed, a slight number may go here and there but largely enough. But we all know there is a parallel economy in the elections which the EC is not bothered about. So that’s where the bulk of money going. So instead of the EC meticulously writing down how many flags and pamphlets I have used (because these are all non-harmful effective modes of communication) which brings life into elections and works towards a considered decision making process, which is being squeezed, they should be going after the parallel economy of elections. And that’s the black hole.Recently we put pamphlets in a newspaper as an insert and I was served a notice about it!
So how are you going to raise this money for elections?
Friends, family – they are there.
Do you think it should be made public?
I am unable to communicate the point right. This written down expenses are a small portion of what is actually spent on elections. Majority of the expenses are going to items which cannot be written down. So that cannot be solved by public financing. And talking about it in the middle of an election is not the right time to be discussing this either…(laughs) The way Indian elections are, we need to clean up that system before anything else can be done.
There was a lokayukta case that was filed against you previously. What is the status of that?
I don’t know! If you can check and let me know, I’d love to know what happen to it. I have not been served any notice. I haven’t heard anything from anybody. The media is happy to pick such stories.
You were among the youngest MLAs when you first came in to the Assembly. What do you think can be done to bring more young people?
Who else wants it (politics) as a career choice? Very rare. Look, it requires sacrifice that many youngsters are not willing to do it. They look for quicker means to get to any point. People say that politics is riddled with insiders, but who wants to come in? People from political families have a huge advantage, but that can’t get over the finish line every time. And newcomers who have come in also have made it.
How did you come into politics?
When I came back after my father’s death (who was an MLA as well) the request from the family friends and well wishers was a compelling reason for me to get into this.
Do you think it is important to have power to work for the people?
In India it is very important that you be a part of the power to usher in change. Sure, there are examples where change has been brought in from the outside, but those are exceptions and not the norm.
You mentioned that between your Ministry and Legislative responsibilities your political role has taken a back seat. What is your ambition? Do we see you moving away from State politics and going to Delhi?
I am at a point where I am quite content where I am. I am not willing to compromise more than what I already have which I can live with. The compromises just get bigger as you go up and I am not willing to make them. I have gotten more opportunities than what I deserve. So no complaints there. I am happy being an MLA because now I want to focus on micro issues developing systems there. I will be happy going lower than higher. If I get re-elected that’s what I will focus on.
But what if the election throws up a nasty surprise and you do not win the election? Will you take a break from public life?
I do want take a break from public life (laughs), push the refresh buttons and come back with more energy.
Since the start of your political career in 2003 what have been your major learnings and failures as a politician?
Political management is a strong point of mine. I had a fairly decent tenure as the Youth Congress president, gave a fight during the MP elections, have won four MLA elections. I bring a systematic approach and a seriousness to the job which doesn’t go well with the current system, but I can’t change that about me. But public management…(laughs)
Why do the voters need to vote for you again?
I think visible development is there for all to see in our constituency, and I have been their representative for ten years. I have used the power given to me by the voters very responsibly. I have used it for the betterment of the larger public good, instead of driving my political agenda which is the normal recourse today. Look at the work we have done, approachability, accessibility and the clean record I have. That is my pitch.