Leo Saldanha is a full-time Coordinator of Bangalore-based Environment Support Group. He is an expert in the areas of Environmental Law and Policy, Decentralisation, Urban Planning and a variety of Human Rights and Development-related issues, working across many sectors for over a decade. He is a keen campaigner on critical environmental and social justice issues and has guided several campaigns demanding evolution of progressive laws and effective action. He has supported various distressed communities to secure justice through public interest litigations and advocacy efforts. He has argued as party in person several public interest litigations, many of which have resulted in remarkable judgments.
Citizen Matters approached him with the question – What does he want the government to do in next five years. With his experience in the grass-root level developmental work, he has deep insights into the urban planning issues and governance policies, which he puts forth here.
– Citizen Matters team
- Deep decentralisation of civic affairs must be undertaken sincerely and without any further delay. Ward Committees must be made fully functional and each ward must operate as though it were a little Council – the Corporator must be held accountable, and the bureaucracy actions should be transparent. All decisions must be publicly made and information made accessible suo moto.
- Luring investment is not the same as keeping investors happy. Manufacturing sector needs encouragement on par with what IT/BT sector has been getting for far too long, and that is a sure way to spread jobs among skilled, unskilled, services and knowledge-based workers.
- Bangalore needs to become an inclusive city, not only for those with money. Many recent incidents suggest that the real estate mafia is in cahoots with key bureaucrats (also influential ex-bureaucrats) and politicians and are forcing poor out of the city. This must end. The poor make the city, and the upper classes and the rich indulge because of their efforts.
- Make housing affordable for all, especially the urban poor and lower income groups, who supply a host of services and labour, must be top priority. The high cost of rental accommodation must be addressed by massive infusion of low interest loan to remodeling old houses, or streets to increase their capacity to provide moderate and highly affordable housing. Currently, middle and lower middle classes are being pushed to the fringes, and the high cost of travel to work and school is eating into the small incomes of people.
- Education has to be easily accessible and affordable for all. There is too much support for elite education and none at all for others. Make education attractive and free for poor communities. All government-run schools must be revamped a priori, complete with playground, library, laboratory, gardens, rain water harvesting, etc.
- Primary health care centres must be easily accessible with remedies for most illnesses. Drugs must be made easily accessible for the poor under the BPL scheme. Make public hospitalisation attractive and affordable, and let not the poor suffer the high cost of medical treatment from hospitals.
- Bus-based public transport and remodeling of existing rail networks – to make an inter-nodal network of options, including rickshaws, taxis, cycling and walking, must be a priority action to relieve traffic congestion. Taking the bike or car out should become unnecessary. Metros and high speed rail links (the constant demand of the elite) are too expensive, unaffordable to most, heavily burden the tax-payer and destroy the city form and structure.
- Bangalore must be restored back to a walking and cycling city that it was till about two decades ago. For this, a massive tree planting drive is once more needed to bring back shade and birds on our streets. This will also help regulate temperature of buildings and keep the city cool, thus consuming less energy (fans) and water (needless AC use).
- Make parks and open spaces accessible to all, and at most times of day and night. Bangalore residents have very low access to open spaces, and this is now turning into a major public health problem. Children should be able to access playgrounds with ease, safely and at most playing times, and not only when convenient to adults or the gardeners. Presently all parks are shut down between 10am and 4pm; this must end.
- Rejuvenate all lakes as per the directions of the Karnataka High Court (in response to ESG PIL) and the guidelines of Justice N K Patil Committee to help rebuild biodiversity value of these wetlands, make them cultural and recreation spaces for all and recharge ground water aquifers. Bangalore can soon become the greenest, water-filled city if these directions are strictly followed.
- Regulate ground water use strictly and make rain water harvesting/storage mandatory in large apartments, hotels and corporate offices compulsory. All middle and upper middle class houses must be retrofitted with rain water harvesting units of 5000 litres in a phased manner. Those polluting any water source must be criminally prosecuted. Unless these steps are taken immediately, Bangalore has no chance to survive. There is no water left in the Cauvery for Bangalore.
- Implement strictly Karnataka High Court orders (in relation to ESG and other connected PILs) directing segregation of waste at source, composting locally, recycling and avoiding landfills altogether.
- Invest in libraries and cultural centres in all wards. Create cultural zones in different areas of the city to encourage theatre, music (of all forms and sorts, not only classical or filmi), art, etc. This is what the "world class" standard Bangalore must aspire for; not the crass, consumer-centric, money-only-talks mall culture that is becoming all so pervasive.
- Make all Bangalore houses and building solar energy capture devices. All dwellings must be encouraged to shift to solar water heating (boiling water for bath is a major consumer of energy). Make all street and public spaces lighting solar energy dependent, either through stand alone devices or roof-top solar ponds (schemes can be evolved to rent out roof-tops to solar energy companies to lay panels).
- Immediately complete a rail-based commuter service between Mysore, Bangalore and Tumkur, and incentivise spread of populations to nine towns that are along this corridor. The model should enable living in any of these towns and ride a train to Bangalore for work. They have all the social, medical and educational infrastructure already.⊕