Wish lists are fine, but for wishes to become reality, the city needs political leadership, administrative firmness and citizen participation. Does Bengaluru have any of these in good measure to ensure that it will take a different trajectory in 2016 than in the years before? Or are we condemned to feeling that sense of déjà vu year after year? ‘Civic catalyst’ V. Ravichandar says hard realities beckon, but feels optimistic enough to lay out an action plan for the city.
While Santa Claus comes in with Christmas goodies, one has never heard of a similar do-gooder who makes your wishes come true through the coming year. But 2016 is upon us and, despite past experience, hopes rise again in the minds of day-dreamers like yours truly about what the year could bring for a better Bengaluru.
For starters, the city needs an overarching vision about what it can be. One of the seminal events of 2016 will be the release of the Master Plan 2031, which will decide what happens to Bengaluru over the next 15 years. Thus far, it has been done secretively, in a manner that would match the best stealth bombers or drones — slowly creep up on us sans notice, or consultation, and leave us with a fait accompli of land use changes and development rules and regulations. If Bengaluru is a mess today, it is in no small measure to the so-called Comprehensive Development Plans of the last three decades which have been violated with impunity. Even at this late stage, it is not too late to do Master Plan 2031 differently as a truly intersectoral, strategic, spatial plan that is negotiated among the multiple stakeholders, including citizens, and followed by all. Briefly stated, agencies like BWSSB, BMTC, BMRCL, BBMP, BESCOM, etc., and citizens need to play an active role in the plan and, once finalised, adhere to it.
While we are on the vision thing, let’s talk about laying the seeds for two long-term projects in early 2016. The Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) has been spoken about for over a decade. All that has happened during this period is a four-fold increase in costs to around Rs 12,000 crore today. It is badly required, and the only way to make it happen is to develop a win-win proposition where land owners share in the prosperity that the PRR project will bestow on the neighbourhood. This can be done by Town Planning schemes (as done in Ahmedabad) or Land Pooling schemes (as underway in Amravati, capital of AP) with some areas (intersection with arterial roads) being done as Joint Development.
The other key intervention needed is in the area around the airport, called BIAAPA. This area is about 10 percent more than Bengaluru. Random land conversions, land aggregation sans street grid and ecological violations are ruining the area that potentially can be our future hope as the city expands. There is a need to revise the master plan for BIAAPA and come up with town planning/ land pooling schemes ahead of the development avalanche that will hit these areas.
Moving on to the usual suspects that form our civic woes, garbage is clearly at the top of the heap! It has been stated a zillion times, but is worth stating once more – without segregation at source, there is no solution to our garbage problems. It requires us citizens to play our role by segregating our garbage. The ‘2 bin, 1 bag’ scheme endorsed by the High Court is a great initiative and worth implementing. Once we play our role, the BBMP needs to do its bit by having proper garbage contract tenders that mandate collecting and carrying segregated garbage to select destinations in the locality and beyond. Decentralised processing centres is the way ahead. Bulk generators must be encouraged to manage their own waste and cesses must not be applied on them. The most important step in this journey is the new BBMP contracts – they have been put off for over two years, one hopes that early 2016 will see the emergence of contracts that favour the city, not the contractors.
Roads and traffic is another common woe. Of late, there has been a spate of road tarring and pothole filling. A fervent hope for 2016 is that these hastily done projects will survive the monsoon. One is sceptical that they will withstand the rains, given the state of our storm water network, but one lives in hope. The commencement of the 50 new TenderSURE roads expected in 2016 is most welcome. Hopefully, the demonstration effect of these roads will result in more citizens demanding similar infrastructure in their neighbourhoods.
On traffic, there is no solution without huge investments in public transport. It is impossible and not desirable to try and cater to the ever increasing private vehicle demands of our limited road network. About 6,500 buses carry half the city -- 50 lakh commuters — per day; the other half move in about 55 lakh vehicles. The solution is staring us in the face – ramp up investments in public transport through more buses (at least 10,000 in all), build a Bus Rapid Transit on ORR (25 percent of Metro cost, implementable in 2-3 years), expedite Metro construction and regularise the maxi-cab/minibus aggregators. 2015 has seen a ham-handed approach of banning the ZipGo type of aggregators. It is seriously short-sighted. One hopes 2016 will see better sense prevail, with an ‘encourage but regulate’ approach. These are forms of public transport that offer flexibility in timings, routes and stops.
Public health has been an issue where the system has been in collective denial. Public health issues tend to hurt the lower income groups economically. Dengue and Chickanguniya were rampant in 2015, but the official response was to underplay them, based on meagre numbers obtained from tests done in three approved labs. In 2016, we need to change the system. BBMP should accredit 75-100 diagnostic labs to test these cases and these numbers must be used to formulate a response to the disease threat. Awareness on disease prevention is required on a city-wide scale.
Bengaluru did not make it to the Centre’s Smart City short list. That should not deter us from charting our own course to become smart, starting 2016. We need to build a city that is a vibrant economic engine and works for all its citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable. We need to make sustainable choices, be it in energy, water, waste or mobility. Bengaluru has more urban reformers per capita than most Indian cities. If their innovative ideas are heeded by the powers that be, there is no reason why Bengaluru cannot be the beacon for other smart cities.
A city is, in the final measure, defined by its community energy, public spaces and its arts and culture scene. In 2016, we must refurbish our existing public spaces like museums, galleries, auditoriums and invest in new world-class convention centres and such facilities. The adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery and the Government Museum by corporates is welcome, and 2016 could be a harbinger of more such collaborations. The world over, pedestrian plazas are known to be great for business and are places of vitality. 2016 should see one pedestrian plaza on Church Street that should act as a demonstration of what is possible by thinking differently.
Wish lists are fine but for it to become a reality, we will need political leadership, administrative firmness and citizen participation. This is a tall ask. The unfortunate reality is, we will likely wake up on January 1, 2016 feeling that it is no different from all the New Year days that preceded it. If citizens are to get what they desire, they will need to be eternally vigilant and demanding of the system for a better quality of life. The time for dreams and wishes is over. Hard realities beckon!
(V. Ravichandar, civic catalyst continues to be hopeful that 2016 will be a break from the past for the city)
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