The high court ruling prohibiting commercial enterprises in areas designated as residential neighbourhoods, has very important implications for all of us, whether we are property owners, tenants, business people, or retired senior citizens. Where just one RWA (Residents Welfare Association) and 12 individuals of the city joined hands to go to court against the rampant commercialisation of residential areas in the metropolis, there should have been in fact, several thousand supporters and joint-petitioners, given the city’s population of over 60 lakhs.
Consider this example – 8-F main and 27th cross in Jayanagar’s third block used to be lined fully with residential bungalows till a decade ago. Today there is just one small residential property, the rest have all been demolished to make way for high-rise blocks with shops – mobile phone sales outlets, eateries, jewellers, shoe shops, textile showrooms, banks, boutiques, a lassi outlet, dry cleaning shop, a fast food joint, a financial investments offic, and a fitness gym. The fast food place is housed in a multi-storeyed complex that came up in place of a bungalow with a garden and lots of mango, guava and coconut trees, as soon as the elderly owner of the bungalow passed away.
A few feet away, likewise, when another bungalow owner passed away, a fancy restaurant materialised. Vehicular traffic caused by the proliferation of commercial premises has resulted in a lot of noise and dust pollution. Cars in which people arrive to eat at the fast food joint and ice cream parlour clog the kerbside and sometimes even get parked on the pavement, for want of other space. What used to be a peaceful neighbourhood has become impossibly crowded and noisy. Where commercial activities attract customers, a tea shop and tender coconut sellers have set u[ shop, doing good business – and leave the footpaths strewn with plastic cups, cigarette stubs and empty coconut shells that attract stray dogs and vermin.
When the fast food restaurant closes around midnight, the leftovers are emptied at the back and the vessels are cleaned. Large rats are attracted by the food scraps. In consequence, snakes have started appearing (even one as long as six feet) attracted by the rats as prey.
Where a single bungalow housing a family of five lived, now the demand for water from this restaurant and the multiple commercial establishments on the higher floors, has led to tankers coming late at night, creating disturbance and noise. The corporation rakes in higher taxes from commercial premises, the business enterprises are happy, but what happens to the city’s environment?
On the opposite side of the pavement one more residential house has been demolished and another high-rise is now coming up, strewing cement and sand and rubble across the road. The family that sold the house and moved out, says they were finding it impossible to live peacefully, after another complex with shops, a bank, an ATM, and sundry commercial enterprises came up on the plot adjacent to them, causing disturbance day and night. They were, in effect, hounded out of a house that they had been living in, for two generations.
Thanks to the commercialisation of the neighbourhood, electricity and water consumption has shot up several fold. Several transformers have sprouted along the pavements, blocking the way, but the service providers are unable to cope. The fancy shops acquire generators of their own, and use tankers, the smaller operators who cannot afford this either turn to illegal strategies (unauthorised connections) or filch, or mess up the place.
Progress? Betterment of the city? On what grounds?
Along 9th main leading to the 4th block bus terminus too, there were only residential houses when we moved in first, three decades ago. Today it is all taken over by high rise shops, eateries, etc.
A friend who is a medical specialist and lives opposite the Mantri Mall at Malleswaram, now finds that traffic routinely chokes the approach road to the mall, especially on Saturdays, and she cannot even take her car out to attend to emergency calls from patients for delivery complications. When asked how this mall was sanctioned at this busy junction, the authorities retorted, what were you all doing, ma’am, before the mall came up, why didn’t you protest at that time? What’s the use of protesting now, after the construction is completed?
Point is, how many citizens get to know about commercial construction plans sanctioned in the vicinity, before construction work is actually started? How many can keep vigil? Isn’t that what the corporation is for, to ensure that city planning laws are not violated and that citizens’ rights in terms of ease of movement and safety, are safeguarded? Why is it necessary for a high court to issue orders banning commercial construction in what were originally designated as residential? Can the corporation convert land usage at will, disregarding norms drawn up by its own laws, just for the sake of extra tax income? What about the multiple costs we end up incurring, in terms of worsening health, pollution, environmental degradation and erosion of the quality o0f life?
Now juxtapose this with another development of last week – the removal of the entire market of fruit, vegetables, flowers and sundry peddlers at Gandhi bazar, to make way for a BDA "complex". Some of those vendors have been earning their livelihood for half a century but destruction of this livelihood (without alternative offers – that even when alternative arrangements are promised, they never materialise, is another matter) does not seem top be a consideration in the "complex mania" that our administrators and city planners seem to be suffering from (remember the infamous plans to erect a convention centre and complex, in place of the beggars home?)
If you are a big operator (or one well connected to the corridors of power) you can get sanctions for commercial operations even in residential areas, or get a stay order even if your commercial operation is illegal; i but if you are a small street vendor, you get squashed underfoot, by insensitive minions of the corporation or police or BDA.
As Dr Ravindra points out, the ‘sanction’ for the proliferation of commercial enterprises, is to "regularise" the violations that have already taken place (with or without the collusion of the authorities) But if one is a small vendor, there is no question of ‘regularisation’ or compassion, or hesitation in demolition — because power and pelf count, not human beings or their basic rights. If you can destroy vendors’ carts and demolish roadside structures, why not commercial establishments that have come up in contravention of existing norms? Why do they need ‘regularisation’ which in turn becomes an excuse for further violations and illegal operations?
Which is why we need more residents to join hands in public vigil, and raise our voices, to stop gross violations of norms in our neighbourhoods – otherwise, tomorrow it could be your own home that gets squeezed out, your own health and peace that vanishes, thanks to the way anarchy now typifies our city’s dubious ‘development’.