Swalpa sihi, swalpa kahi: 2013 – Bengaluru that was!

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Like every other year, 2013 has been eventful. When one thinks of the big things that took place in Bengaluru this year, citizen-led initiatives such as the lake rejuvenation movement, Whitefield Rising and everyday heroes who shone, stand apart. They are indeed a reason for celebration.

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Then there are those which we may very well want to brush under the carpet, but cannot as a result of their impact they have on our lives – the state of roads, the multiple pothole related deaths, women’s safety, the lack of accountability on the part of our government etc.

Let’s take a look at how Bangalore has fared in the past year, before we move on to 2014. 

Election 2013 sees maximum voters

Voters waiting in a booth near Kengeri Pic: Kedar Nadella

The heat of the Assembly elections took over the city at the start of the year. Census 2011 was the basis for the voter roll, and the city officially boasted of population of about 90 lakh. More people enrolled themselves as voters; some people saw themselves being deleted from the list for no fault of theirs. A software problem in the Election Commission was determined as the root cause of these problems, which no one was ready to admit officially. The result: Lakhs of voters were deleted from the voter list.

High Court, while disposing of a PIL by P G Bhat and others, directed the Election Commission to ensure a cleaner voter roll and restore the illegal deletions. However, on voting day, many were not able to vote. On a positive note, the voter turnout was 54 % – the highest in Bangalore in recent years.

While several attempts have been made to clean up the voter rolls, as of November 2013, the extrapolated figure for deletions not restored was 200000. The new draft rolls also featured people with illegal ages, and 120 male voters with husbands.

New wave in politics

2013 also paved the way for a new kind of politics. February 3 saw the city take its first step towards active urban citizen engagement in the electoral process with the launch of the Bangalore Political Action Committee or BPAC. BPAC’s agenda is to identify and support strong candidates – irrespective of their political affiliation – for public offices at all levels of governance in Bangalore city – city council, legislature, and parliament. The Committee also wants to streamline the process of funding of election campaigns. In December, they started Bangalore Civic Leadership Incubation Programme (BCLIP), a leadership programme to train potential candidates for BBMP elections.

Bangalore saw its version of the peoples’ party in Loksatta and Nav Bharat. Several well-educated contestants represented Loksatta in the elections. True, they were no winners, but they set the precedent for the future of elections in the country. Contrary to the predictions of some, the Congress took away the limelight in the state, by winning the elections with a comfortable majority. However, Bangalore re-elected the old MLAs, a majority of them from BJP.

BBMP – A lot said, less done…

In July, then Mayor Venkatesh Murthy presented the BBMP budget. While the BBMP’s account showed approximately Rs.75 crores as the opening balance, the proposed expenditure for the year was estimated at Rs.8520 crores. Of this, about 50 crores was to be spent on lake rejuvenation, 100 crores on solid waste management and 500 crores on storm water drains.

As the year draws to a close, BBMP finds itself in a very bad state financially, with too many property tax evaders, too many pending bills from road and garbage contractors and salaries for contract employees overdue for months. However, BBMP is now in budget preparation mode, without having fulfilled even a fraction of the promises from the last budget.

The Chief Engineer of Technical Vigilance Cell under Commissioner, better-known as TVCC, Devraj, who blew the lid off the pending bills scam, resigned this year. However, the TVCC continues to function as required. The Mayor made a press statement promising to defreeze 550+ works frozen by the BBMP, but the TVCC is inspecting the frozen works. The de-freezing will happen only if the TVCC finds the works worth undertaking.

New mayor, old promises?

After a long time, Bangalore is seeing an interactive Mayor this year. The newly chosen Mayor, B S Satyanarayana took to Facebook to interact with the people of Bangalore. He also made his contact information public, so people could reach out to him directly to voice their opinions and bring to notice issues plaguing the city.

In an interview with Citizen Matters, the Mayor stated that his aim was to reduce the garbage in the city, and requested that citizens of Bangalore wait till January 2014 for a better waste management system.

No end in sight for traffic woes

For the BBMP, it has been a year of constant reprimanding, especially with respect to garbage and the state of the roads. The pothole saga took on an entire twist. The deaths of several people have been attributed to the state of the roads. The city witnesses several protests, the most recent being the one organised by the Whitefield Rising group demanding for safe motorable roads, after the passing away of a 3-year-old girl.

The much-discussed Silk Board junction traffic might get a solution soon, with a multi-layered flyover- underpass combination coming up at Jayadeva junction, for which plans are being chalked out. This apart, five other signal-free corridors are being planned by BBMP, for which the budget has been sanctioned.

Residents of Thubarahalli started a big movement this year to lobby for a good access road to their area. Similarly, residents of Kadugodi got a road half-repaired by the BBMP, before the project was stopped for the want of funds.

Akrama-Sakrama

The Akrama Sakrama bill intended to regularise all construction violations in urban areas, within certain limits. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion between the government and the BBMP. Confusion still remains as to whether many illegal constructions can become regularised, by only paying a penalty.

The bill has been passed in both Vidhan Parishad and Vidhan Sabha,during the last session, with some conditions, but the rules are yet to be framed. The ball is in the Urban Development Department’s court again, as it was before. One can only wait and see what demons the implementation of the bill will create. Citizen Matters will keep you updated.

Meanwhile, BDA has jumped into housing business, constructed many low-cost flats for public, and has distributed them through a lottery system. In the private housing sector, there have been many allegations of people being duped by builders, some of which have been reported by our citizen journalists.

Committee for Bangalore Metropolitan Area

The notification for the much-awaited committee to govern Bangalore region – the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), was issued in November this year. Many citizens and NGOs filed their responses on the public notice, analysing the pros and cons of the rules framed.

The notification makes the Chief Minister as the head of MPC, and does not include the Mayor and the Commissioner in it. Also the planning power of the other agencies like BMRCL, BMTC, BWSSB etc will remain the same, which could pose a problem to the proposed powers of the MPC to plan the city’s infrastructure and services. These points have been widely objected.

Rains create havoc

Last year there was not enough rain, the effect of which peaked when 2013 arrived, and multiplied each day, until May. A statement from the then-BWSSB Chairman Gaurav Gupta on the inability of BWSSB to supply water raised serious concerns among people.

Then there came a rain in the beginning of June, that washed away everything, including the comfort of people. Following this, there were many rains which caused flooding all over the city – only to remind us of the importance of having a good storm water drain system, to stop the encroachment of canals and to plan well in advance before the rains begin.

Lake rejuvenation : Citizens take the lead



Volunteers cleaning up Agara lake. Pic: Kavitha Reddy

BDA developed 12 lakes in 2008, but the BBMP could not take them back for the want of funds. As the year ends, BBMP has started the process of spot inspection for each lake and estimation of maintenance funds. Entry of Upa Lokayukta in the cause of lakes has brought a respite to many citizens fighting for lake issues.

In October, the Save Bangalore Lakes Trust was formed with a focus on bringing various lake groups/trusts and social organizations/NGOs in Bangalore together. This brought a focus to the people interested in saving lakes in their localities across the city. Several lakes across Bangalore are being revived, and continue to be maintained well, with vigilant citizens looking out for them.

Puttenahalli Lake and Kaikondrahalli Lake continued their success story amid various challenges. They have been pioneering the cause of utilising the space for public use, and making the next generation aware of the environment and lakes.

Bangalore’s lakes became a subject of international attention too. Stockholm Resilience Centre, a division of the Stockholm University, made a documentary on Kaikondrahalli lake. There came an NGO called Sherwood Institute, that signed an MOU with BDA to provide a plan for rejuvenating selected lakes in Bangalore.

Garden-turned-garbage city

Bangalore’s garbage crisis reached its peak, with the city being unable to manage its own rubbish. As soon as the new Chief Minister took over, he set a time-frame for the BBMP to put a better garbage management plan in place. As a result, a pilot Kasa Muktha project was launched in 22 wards, for efficient management of waste.

The philosophy of ‘1 Mane, 2 Dabba, Mix Maada Beda’ was propagated in these wards; money was spent on publicity and training. After six months, members of Solid Waste Management Round Table prepared a report, which projects only 50% success, and points the reasons for the failure: citizens not being proactive about segregating the waste, and mixing up of the waste by garbage collectors.

Champions of the city

On a postive note, there are many waste evangelists who continue to inspire others and produce more waste warriors.

The citizen movement picked up in a big way, with citizen groups sprouting up across the city to take charge of what is rightfully theirs. The Ugly Indian, a band of faceless heroes, continued to clean up the city on weekends. Whitefield Rising paved the way for active, efficient citizen-led initiatives. From turning dumping yards into parks and reclaiming public land, from planting trees to leading protests for bad roads, they reiterated the fact that citizens need to be involved to bring about change.

San Francisco – Bangalore ties to strengthen?

A consortium from San Francisco visited Bangalore in December to take forward the Sister Cities initiative. Several civic agencies such as BBMP, BWSSB, BMTC signed MOUs with San Francisco to foster a mutual exchange of ideas, expertise and best practices for better urban management. The MOUs signed covered many interesting aspects, starting from waste management to electricity management to public transport.

One of the MOUs proposes setting up of offices in Bangalore and San Francisco for better co-ordination. However, the MOUs signed a few years ago with BBMP, BDA and other agencies have made no headway in reality.

Big corporates, big scams

On January 17, 2013 residents staying at the Ejipura slum, near Koramangala (opposite NGV), were asked to vacate their homes, as the slum would be razed down by the BBMP to give way to new EWS quarters and a mall, to be built by Maverick Holdings. Though several support groups, including residents, protested the High Court order, hundreds of tin-shed slum homes in Ejipura near Koramangala were razed down in two days, rendering close to 900 families homeless and on the roads.

While the BBMP promised alternate housing arrangements at the Slum Board quarters at Kudlu, off Sarjapur Road, those families evicted struggled to find houses, and several are yet to get what is due to them.

Meanwhile, in March 2013, the 2300-crore project coming up near Agara was exposed by Citizen Matters. The project did not have BWSSB NOC. The land was a valley zone, but BDA changed its classification from valley to mixed-residential. KIADB acquired the land and sold it M/s Manipal ETA Infotech Ltd. Manipal ETA Infotech started construction and altered the landscape by filling a canal.

Finally the resident welfare associations around Koramangala, alongwith Namma Bengaluru Foundation, filed a PIL in the High Court. The construction hasn’t stopped, even when the project doesn’t have plan approval from BDA or BBMP.

Construction work on Bellandur wetlands continues unabated. Pic: Nikita Malusare

No news from Namma Metro

Earlier in the year, a spokesperson from BMRCL stated that Reach 3 from Swastik in Malleshwaram to Peenya would be launched in July 2013.  The year has ended, but the reach is seeing test runs every other day, and most stations are still under construction.

There were also plans to speed up Reach 4 between KR Market and RV Road and make it open to the public. This too has not materialised. With construction and testing underway, citizens of Bangalore can only hope that they will see the light of day in 2014. Meanwhile, between many controversies, Phase-2 work has started, with KIADB starting land acquisition.

On a more positive note, the Rangoli Metro Art Center, a public space at the MG Road metro station was inaugurated in May 2013. This includes several art galleries, an auditorium, a play area for kids, a walk-way and more. The space also acts as a venue for events such as puppet shows, drum jams and workshops.

BIAL is now KGIAL

The year ended with BIAL being rechristened. Namma Bengaluru’s airport is now called Kempe Gowda International Airport Limited – named after the founder of Bangalore. The airport also boasts of a new terminal, T1A. The expansion of the airport from 73,347 sq.mt to 1,50,500 sq.mt with respect to area, and from 53 to 86 in terms of check-in counters, has been made to cater to growth in traffic over the next couple of years. With this new development, we can only hope that the airport continues to shine.

Women’s safety and LGBT rights

In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya attack in Delhi in December 2012, the country went up in arms for the safety of women. Bangalore was no different. Several protests, candlelight vigils and demonstrations were held at Town Hall and Freedom Park to show peoples’ solidarity to the cause and to raise awareness for immediate action for the safety of women.

On Valentine’s Day, thousands of women took to the streets to “Strike, rise and dance’, to say no to violence against women at the One Billion Rising event. The year also saw several heroes who came forward to talk about their experience – an acid attack victim spoke about her struggle, a victim of eve-teasing took her eve-teasers to task. The verdict on 2012 National Law School Rape case saw six accused being convicted.

Only recently a woman bank manager was brutally attacked with a machete at an ATM, once again bringing to question the safety of womenfolk in the city. The attacker however, is still at large.

The Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 in December, once again criminalised homosexuality, questioning the right to freedom. The LGBT community and its supporters rose up in arms against the verdict in front of Town Hall, with a plea to repeal Section 377.

Going green via cycles

In an effort to go green and encourage people to cycle more, the last Sunday of every month was declared as Cycle Day. This is being organized by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) in partnership with cycling communities, civic groups like Praja and BMTC. This effort will hopefully be a part of the solution towards improving the traffic conditions in Bangalore, in coming days.

And yes, this year Citizen Matters journalist Navya P K, who covered the environmental issues on the mixed development project with commercial residential and SEZ, coming up off Sarjapur road between Agara and Bellandur lakes, won the All India Environment Journalism Award instituted by Indo-German Environment Programme (IGEP). This is fifth such award for Citizen Matters in the last six years.

That’s all for now folks! As we step into a new year, we must be hopeful that Bangalore will witness a sea of change in the coming year. The citizens of Bangalore are all set to stand up for their city and for what is rightfully theirs. This in turn, will make officials and public representatives running the city accountable. Citizen Matters will continue to cover the city to bring you all the news and analysis. Stand up, speak up, it’s your city! Here’s to a happy and hopeful 2014!

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About Ganga Madappa 77 Articles
Ganga Madappa is a Staff Reporter and the Community Manager at Citizen Matters. She loves cats and books and travel. She tweets at @pulicatmonster and blogs at Random Rambling.