I was asked to write a piece about government performances, past and present, for Bengaluru. At the outset, it is hazardous appraising a government and predicting the future by looking at the rearview mirror.
Especially as one remains sceptical about party manifestos that contain the usual pronouncements that rarely fructify, and which reach their sell by date on election day.
So, this dreamy writer instead embarks on a wishful, fanciful speech (and hopefully subsequent action) about Bengaluru that the next Chief Minister, who likely will retain the Bangalore Development Minister portfolio, ought to make.
“Namaskara. I wish to make a departure from mentioning the setting out of hundreds of crores of rupees budget provisions for Bengaluru’s development across a slew of projects by government agencies. Instead, I wish to focus on how we will secure the future of Bengaluru for generations to come by thinking differently about what we do now.
“My vision simply expressed will be just and equitable opportunities and quality of life for all our citizens where all of us have a stake in the outcomes and work together to make it happen.
“I am fortunate to speak from this Vidhana Soudha hall thanks to a former Chief Minister’s foresight to get the project done despite reservations. My inspiration is that Lalbagh, Cubbon Park and Laxman Rao Boulevard would never have been around for us to enjoy had the then decision makers taken a clerical accountant’s view of why it was not feasible.
“There are two ways to go about thinking about the contours of Bangalore’s future. One is to look towards the ‘horizon’ and make inspired, hopeful guesses from the current quagmire we see ourselves mired in. The problem with predicting from ‘where we are standing’ is that it provides a very limited, erroneous view of the future possibilities.
“The other option, which this Minister prefers, is to envision a future say in 2040 and ‘fold the future in’ to decide what is needed today to match the reality of 2023. So here is a list of four things my government plans to do for a better future for Bengaluru.
1. The development of Karnataka and Bengaluru are interlinked
It is a reality that nationally and globally, brand Bengaluru has played a role in putting Karnataka on the map. Over half the state’s GDP has been contributed by the city and in return it faces significant stress due to haphazard growth. In the past, we have allowed the growth to go unchecked. We have not even planned the BIAPPA area growth management properly as a twin city and continue to repeat the mistakes of the past with mention of satellite towns as a panacea about which nothing is done.
“My government will focus, starting now, on making regional growth across Karnataka happen. We envision a ‘RURBAN’ (Rural-Urban continuum) area with 5-6 regions across the state with anchor cities and smaller urban towns.
“The future lies in having ‘live and work’ clusters that are urban nodes within the regional network. Any two nodes in the network will have high speed connectivity (rail and road) that allows travel (including airport access) within two hours.
“This needs a huge mindset change since it challenges all conventional thinking about jurisdictional boundaries, administration, planning and more. We have the chance to be pioneers like we have been on decentralisation. If we do not do this, competitive forces, such as another progressive state embracing the RURBAN way ahead will impact our drives to make Karnataka a competitive investment destination creating job opportunities for our youth across the state.
2. Re-architect City Governments
“We are aware that we, the state, control what happens in Bengaluru given the many parastatals like BDA, BWSSB and Corporations like BESCOM, BMTC, BMRCL that we have created over the years. The City Corporation and the titular mayor are dependent on the state’s largesse, and we do not have the confidence nor the sagacity to let go of our powers, given that we are no Ekalavya, to roll up all the city’s agencies to be under BBMP and an empowered city mayor.
“But we broke the system, and we need to fix it. To do this, we do not reinvent the wheel. There are multiple reports and suggestions over decades of how we can do this. We intend to read and adapt the recommendations given to our current realities.
“We realise integration and coordination across multiple entities is the key to getting desired, good outcomes. So, at the apex greater Bengaluru level, we will have a fully accountable body chaired by me that will have day-to-day planning and oversight on the functioning of the many individual government entities that determine life in Bengaluru.
“One such entity reporting to this apex body could be the recently formed BMLTA that will oversee transport outcomes. Budget flows from the state to various entities will be routed through this apex body because sans money control, no listening happens.
“The road ahead is through appropriate decentralisation and centralisation of activities. We will deeply decentralise (eg. garbage) to the ward committees, which will have access to multifarious agencies. At the same time, we will ensure that activities needing a centralised outlook (eg. Transport) is done at higher levels.
“We will put citizens at the heart of the re-architecture design. Citizens are concerned with saving travel time, crossing roads without losing life or limb, hygienic surroundings, lower pollution, bribe free civic services, access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, electricity, public transport, public spaces, etc. Many of these cuts across multiple agencies that have a silo orientation and resist marching to a common ‘outcome conductor’. No more. We will ensure outcomes. That is our promise.
Adopting a Vulnerability Framework
We all talk about being inclusive. A civilised society is one that takes care of its weakest members. An approach that is focused on marginalised groups is one that will deliver prosperity for all.
“The vulnerable on our roads are the pedestrians, followed by those who cycle and use public transport. When it comes to monsoons, the vulnerable are those in low lying areas. When it comes to health, it’s the poor and those residing alongside our storm water drains that breed mosquitoes and more. When it comes to garbage management, the villages that surround our landfills are the severely impacted vulnerable communities.
“Our project and budget priorities will be based on a robust vulnerability mitigation framework. Spare a thought for the lives of the city’s maids, drivers, vegetable vendors, garbage handlers, and more and you will see the need to put them at the centre of city planning. Priorities will then gravitate towards drinking water, clean sanitation, safe pedestrian walkways, reliable public transport, low cost rental housing, street lighting, restoring storm water drains, local culture, etc.
All of these are the basic building blocks of a more livable Bengaluru.
4. We will listen to you
“In all that we do, we will be guided by what is relevant for Bengaluru. Each city has its unique ethos that needs to be nurtured rather than a blind aping of other cities that have a different context. There is a strong case of community/institutional based urbanism over the western concepts of master planned development and industrial city models.
“This implies allowing neighbourhood choices and decision making within an overarching institutional framework. The 15 minute and 5km city is an aspirational dream that we can achieve collectively. We intend to focus our efforts to listen to all voices and help realise them. It will mean a focus on walkable streets, safe cycling, ‘door to door’ public transport, reclaiming public spaces for citizens, sweating our existing assets, promoting places for arts and culture, investment in social rental housing, etc. “
Is all of the above wishful thinking from a self-described patron saint of lost causes? Not so, if we have the political will, administrative firmness, and citizen involvement in collectively making it happen.
However, for now, daydreaming is over and it is back to messy urban realities!
[V. Ravichandar has been tilting on towering urban challenges for over two decades]