Using data to solve problems of Bengaluru Palike

IF I WERE THE BENGALURU MAYOR

The problems Bengaluru faces have never been more evident. Traffic has reached a record high, more than half our roads can’t even be classified as roads, our garbage disposal system is in a state of absolute disarray, our groundwater is vanishing at an alarming rate while the part that remains is being constantly polluted, our lakes are struggling to not be engulfed by toxic foam. Most importantly, not only our ecosystem is dying in isolation but also the citizen of Bengaluru is perishing along with it. For example, with far over 65 lakh vehicles in the city, Bengalureans breathe air that has a staggering 3-12 times the amount of pollutants than what is recommended by global safety standards.

The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), has said the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels are far beyond the safety limits in most parts of the city and have already sparked a rapid rise in respiratory diseases across the “Silicon Valley of India”. Without effective action now, it might just be too difficult for future generations to survive the wrath of the present’s consequences.

Numbers don’t lie. More importantly, they form the true base for measuring the extent of a problem faced by the city. Everything from traffic to water pollution can be seen with an element of uniformity through the lens of hard data.

Such an objective view would immediately and directly establish cause-effect relationships for all problems that we face, making it significantly easier for us to take concrete action. Therefore, as the mayor of Bengaluru, I would strive to collect these crucial data points and efficiently process them to finally pass them onto citizen and government “action-taking” organisations.

The rest of this essay will focus on how I plan to create this data-driven system to make Bengaluru a better place for everyone. To begin with, it is imperative that there is a single organisation that coordinates this collection of data and its release into the public forum. For the purpose of this essay, I’ll call this entity DataRock. DataRock would essentially carry out three core functions: Collection/Aggregation, Analysis and Release of the data.

Now, who runs this organisation? The answer to this question reveals the system I intend to create to source the workforce for DataRock. It is important to know that DataRock would require a medium-sized technically sound workforce, that is, proficient with the use technology and numbers. DataRock only requires a few administrative full-time employees with the rest of the organisation being comprised of part-time working volunteers.

Which city in the country has a better opportunity to source such individuals than the technology capital of India? Apart from using citizen forums like the Bellandur Forum to recruit working individuals for this part-time enterprise, as the Mayor, I could send a small team of people to big corporate companies like Wipro, Infosys and the array of other technology companies to pitch them the idea of asking some of their employees to work on this citizen-led project.

The same companies could also be used to fund the full-time workforce using their CSR funds. It is a well-known fact that several large companies are more than willing to provide ‘techies’ for public projects and DataRock provides the perfect outlet for this technical talent to use their skills for public good.

So, what’s their work? The answer to this question relates to the three core functions specified before. DataRock would be responsible for setting up new data collection points like air/water pollution sensors and aggregate the existing data being collected by several existing sources. For example, organisations like Biome and ATREE have collected troves of data for years, all of which can be compiled by DataRock and combined with the newer data sources.

In the end, DataRock would be left with a dataset immeasurably rich in insights and the most effective pathways forward – for a bunch of Bengaluru’s problems. DataRock could be divided into different departments, each addressing data analysis for a specific problem like roads or garbage. Traffic data, for example, could play a pivotal role in determining where to place new signals or pedestrian crossings or where to widen the road. Water data, would determine which lakes need the most help, what the central causes of water pollution are, etc.

The final stage is the most important one — releasing this data to bring about public unity behind the insights provided by it. Not only would this increase citizen involvement, but I can extend beyond my assigned powers by using the public to place the necessary pressure on government organisations to act on this data. Therefore, I would hold multiple citizen meets to emphasise on the importance of the actions suggested by this data.

By meeting citizen organisations working on different problems, I can recommend and support actions on the basis of the data collected in their category. The widespread influence of citizen organisations like SWMRT and Whitefield Rising could further be used to back this data, not only creating consensus but also pointing at the right goals for government actors like corporators and MLAs.

In the end, as the mayor of the Silicon Valley of India, I have a limitless opportunity to revolutionise the way development policies are put in place by using an approach that looks at the facts instead of opinions. It is my use of this “rock-solid” data backed by the public to create the essential momentum that would enable me to make Bengaluru a better place for everyone.

Vikhyath Mondreti is a student of Greenwood High International School (IGCSE), living in Sarjapur Road area. This is one of the shortlisted entries in ‘If I were the Bengaluru Mayor’ contest launched by Citizen Matters in September 2017. 

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