The conflict between preserving the environment and providing housing for the masses is age old. Whether it is an urban sprawl or a concrete megalopolis, many of us get pained at the impact on the city’s greenery. We pay the price with our health, our lifestyle and our culture. Are there alternatives that can provide affordable housing and yet allow us to be surrounded by trees? What about housing colonies like those of government quarters?
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India first gave a thrust to industrialisation during its first two five-year plans and a number of public sector undertakings were established in many cities during the Congress rule under the visionary Jawaharlal Nehru. Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) were some of the major industries that were put up in Bangalore in the 1950’s. All these industries were established on the outskirts of the city on large tracts of land and each firm also developed residential layouts around the factory. These layouts were self-contained colonies which had houses, shopping arcades, schools, playgrounds, clubs and hospitals.
Most activities of the township residents are restricted within the townships. Very few of them travel to and from the townships on a daily basis.
Vivek, a doctor in the making says, “Until I finished my 12th std., I knew nothing other than the life in my colony (Wheel and Axle Plant – Indian Railways colony, Yelahanka) and I enjoyed it 100 percent. I missed nothing”. He now feels children living outside do not enjoy the kind of peaceful times with family and the pollution free atmosphere that children in townships are blessed with. Living in an eco-friendly colony as per the ISO certification, he looks forward to getting back home everyday and feels there is a whole lot of influence of such a life on the culture of the youth.
The BHEL (Electro Porcelain Division) township is situated right in the midst of a bustling city, just as the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus is. These two are in Malleshwaram/Yeshwantapur localities, but once you enter the colony, you forget that you are in Bangalore. The IISc campus has thousands of huge trees forming a canopy on the entire campus, cozy quarters in the midst of gardens, lovely stone buildings housing the various labs and classrooms, large open spaces with trees in between concrete structures and well-laid roads. (I used to dream of studying at IISc. I consider myself lucky to have worked in a bank in this campus for a short while.)
Lakshmeesha’s family and Kumaraswamy’s family living in the BHEL township agree that living in a township has its own advantages like security, peace, cleanliness, community living styles and amenities. Sharat and Samhita, children of Kumaraswamy, say they enjoy life in the colony and never miss anything. “My friends envy me and say it is so peaceful and cozy in here. I would definitely not want to live in a congested locality outside”, says Sharat, an engineering student. The advantage of this township is that it is in Malleshwaram and so all the so-called facilities of a city are available at the doorstep.
The BHEL (EPD) housing colony at Malleswaram contains about 162 houses and the Chord Road campus of BHEL (EDN) has 300 units. Railway colony contains 700 plus apartments and 74 independent houses spread over 100 acres. The DRDO campus is much larger with about 2000 units.
“I spent all my life in this colony, as my father too worked in HMT. Whenever I go to the city for any purpose, I wait to get back home”, says HMT employee Prasanna Kumar. The 40-year-old has recently quit his job and will be moving out of his Jalahalli quarters. He says he dreads the idea of living in the city, with the “din and polluted atmosphere”.
SN Sharma and his wife Girija Sharma, who also reside in the HMT quarters are very vociferous in their support for such townships. “Definitely, the concept is very good and the city will not suffer much. I, too, lived in a township like this, as my father worked for a public sector undertaking. I came to Bangalore in the eighties and today I see no semblance of the city which I saw then”, says Sharma. He feels worried about the disastrous damage to the environment.
As I entered the HMT quarters, I was transported back to my childhood. The township which was once a heaven, with cashew, mango, chikkoo, guava and coconut trees surrounding every house and huge trees lining the neat roads, today is surrounded by huge multi-storied apartment complexes, most of the land having been sold off to private builders.
“You need not even talk to my children. I can confidently speak for them. They had the best of their time during their childhood in this township”, says my friend Neela Gopalakrishnan, who has been residing in the DRDO campus at CV Raman Nagar for the last 20 years. This is another well-maintained township housing the employees of defense establishments. “Life in the township is excellent”. She explains how children have company at all times, at all ages, because as retirees move out, the age group of employees and their children residing inside remains almost the same. This family has preferred to stay within the campus, even though they purchased their own house elsewhere.
All these townships have spacious play-grounds for children, clubs with swimming pool and other facilities to play tennis, TT and badminton. People living outside have to pay through their noses to avail of such facilities and travel long distances to ferry their children to the clubs. Good schools, shopping arcades, community halls, theatres and hospitals are all inside the campus. The offices are situated within a distance of one to two kilometers. Except for a few spouses and children of the employees who work or study outside, the others do not travel back and forth often.
“Please do mention that our township is certified as an eco-friendly colony by ISO and we have a 24-hour power and water supply, a full-fledged tennis court, two swimming pools, a huge community hall, a pretty large hospital, Kendriya Vidyalaya certified as a model school, a nursery school, a lovely stadium and well-taken care of garbage disposal system”, says Praveen Kumar, proudly, about the Railway Colony.
Such townships have a few disadvantages, though. Some of the residents of the colonies felt that sometimes the office politics get discussed among the spouses, causing a little embarrassment and some of them prefer strangers as neighbours, rather than their own colleagues. But these are just minor complaints from a small percentage of people. The majority of them prefer townships, as all their basic amenities are well taken care of. “We need not run in search of a plumber, electrician or gardener. Just a phone call will solve our small problems. Bigger problems like water shortage or power shortage are faced by everybody collectively and so there is no heart burn” says Neela.
Living in townships is indeed a privileged existence. Contrary to this, IT and other industries, established more recently, have not provisioned for employee housing in the vicinity of their offices. Their employees travel back and forth across the city every day. With the increasing population of such workers, the city’s road and transport infrastructure is insufficient. Authorities are working on widening the roads, constructing expressways, bridges and grade separators and private builders are developing multi-storied offices and residential spaces. All this at the heavy cost of green spaces!
The idea of living near one’s workplace has many takers. Thus, apartments and housing layouts have sprouted near Electronics City on Hosur road and ITPL at Whitefield. But a concerted effort in synchronising requirements in housing, transportation and quality of life is the need of the hour. The same multi-storied apartment complexes housing the employees within the city would be a better idea near the IT Park. At least, if a majority of the IT employees are comfortably housed near their offices, the quality of their lives and the lives of every citizen will improve a lot.⊕