How to build cities?

Published: November 15, 2012
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The writer is a stage director, film-maker and journalist in Bangalore. He is a cofounder of the Suchitra Centre for Film and Drama

The writer is a stage director, film-maker and journalist in Bangalore. He is a cofounder of the Suchitra Centre for Film and Drama

Former mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñalosa Londoño, hailed for transforming the Colombian capital into a tolerable urban space, said during his visit to India in 2009: “The single biggest difference between the infrastructure of an advanced nation and a backward nation is its footpaths, not its highways.” He was hinting, probably, at what is wrong with India’s urban planning. Indian cities are often rated by newspapers and magazines on the basis of their standard of living features. But the typical indices are real estate prices, leisure and entertainment, and education and career opportunities. There are also the occasional stories about the crime rate, safety of single women, medical treatment facilities and so on, but the right to walk, efficient waste disposal and affordable public transport almost never figure as priorities.

Celebrated only a decade ago as India’s city of the future, Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka, south India, is now sinking under heaps of garbage piling up on its streets. The crisis hit the city a few months ago, when villagers around landfills starting protesting against illegal dumping of solid wastes and it is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. There are many reasons for it, but the crucial one is that the civic authority is not competent to deal with it, legally or materially. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state is choking with internal power struggles and heading into an election year. A majority of the lawmakers will seek re-election from constituencies elsewhere in the state and need not care about Bangalore which, for the record, generates about two-thirds of the state’s revenues.

The civic administration is actually quite helpless because it has no powers or resources to take over private land around the city for new landfills. The plans for the city are actually made by the state government, which is not directly accountable to the citizens. But besides these political issues, India’s ideas of urban planning are themselves open to question. Bangalore is a good example of how not to do it. In 1980, it had a population of about two million; now it is close to 10 million. This was not a surprise, because successive administrations at the Union and state always knew that this was India’s first big city that Indians would build. The other big metros — Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai — were already done by the British. India’s first prime minister Jawarharlal Nehru, during a visit to the city in 1962, was moved to remark: “Bangalore, more than any other great city of India, is a picture of the future.”  Asia’s first light bulb glowed in the city’s market in 1905. When the boom began 20 years ago, Bangalore was already a fine city. A Bangalore Agenda Task Force led by software tycoon Nandan Nilekani was set-up in 2001 by the state government to work out the city’s future.

Ten years down, the city is an urban nightmare. It has more than four million private vehicles because its public bus service, though efficient, is not sufficient. The metro rail project, started just too late, is still under construction. The pedestrians have been edged out of the roads, always expanded to accommodate more vehicles, new ones registering on the street at the rate of 1,000 every day. The crime rate has grown because the old neighbourhoods are utterly transformed and community networks have broken down. Those that can afford it are moving into gated communities with guards at the portals. Two million construction workers and the poorest live in slums without sanitation. In an incredible decision, the state administration in 1991 found more than 20,000 acres of land to handover to a private corporation for new townships and an expressway that are yet to materialise for  just Rs10 per acre covering a period of 30 years. Now the government says it cannot find 500 acres for a modern landfill to store and treat its solid wastes.

In the case of garbage, it has been out-of-sight is out-of-mind. The comfort for the citizen comes at the cost of dumping daily 4,000 tonnes of unsegregated waste at a couple of landfills in the margins of the city. The civic authorities have ducked questions on the legality of this policy by simply outsourcing the collection and disposal of city wastes to a lobby of private contractors. The villagers around the landfill eventually have rebelled and precipitated the garbage crisis. But the rubbish is now visible and the stink, unbearable. In the case of pedestrian rights, the neglect is simply bewildering. Nearly 1,000 pedestrians were killed in Delhi in 2011.  About 400 will die in Bangalore this year. Nearly 70 per cent of all pedestrian deaths are in urban India. In 2009, the World Health Organization in its global report on road safety said India had the highest number of road accident deaths in the world, more than the more populous China. Before the planners offer the solutions, it is time to ask the right questions.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • BlackJack
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:29AM

    Umm.. what is the point? I have no clue where all these quotes on Bangalore being the city of the future come from. Until the IT boom, Bangalore was an educational and research hub, and considered a pensioners paradise. It never had the infrastructure to cater to the kind of population growth that it has seen over the last 15 years. The same issues are being faced by cities like Pune and Kochi, although to a far lesser degree because the influx of immigrants has been far lower. Based on the writers previous pieces, we know that he somehow seeks to indict the present Karnataka govt for these problems – which is why he is bringing up the garbage issue which has been festering for over a decade. Painful or pitiful, not sure how to categorize this attempt.

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  • Hindustani
    Nov 16, 2012 - 3:28AM

    “There are many reasons for it, but the crucial one is that the civic authority is not competent to deal with it, legally or materially.”

    The crucial reason is people like you and me. First of all, in a democracy, a civic authority cannot be a different entity from the civilians. Second, we Indians have become extraordinarily selfish, even going beyond the selfishness of the west.

    We want our groceries in plastic bags, we want our meals parceled in not less than 3-6 plastic covers and a big plastic bag, we want to buy everything that our eyes can spot in a shopping mall, whether we need it or not. We want plastic boxes and not stainless steel anymore. We want to chew on gutka, arecanut and we want them in small aluminum laced plastic packs only. We want plastic cups when we drink chai. We want plastic plates and spoons when we eat pani-poori.

    Where is all this waste going to go? What can the civic authorities do, if we civilians act like inbred animals. Show some responsibility. Don’t put the blame on the government.

    And mind you, today or tomorrow, this problem is going to haunt evary city and every town, be it Karachi or Mumbai.

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  • sabi
    Nov 16, 2012 - 3:51AM

    Instead of looking for open land for dumping waste policy makers should go for modern garbage collecting system and plannts that seperate different materials for recycling.This is 2012 and technology is there and also cost effective.The problem with people in sub.continent is they have potentials but they lack initiative,Perhaps fear of failure is the underlying cause for all these troubles.Don’t let heaps of garbage burry the succes story of indians youths in IT and other branches of commerce.Wake up Indians make one big city a precedent other will follow it like.flies fall on honey.

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  • Santosh
    Nov 16, 2012 - 5:28AM

    China just blows India away. I saw Chinese cleaning highways immaculately on my recent trip there. We are being left behind.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Nov 16, 2012 - 7:50AM

    Plasma gasification is the answer.

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  • Iyan, USA
    Nov 16, 2012 - 8:30AM

    What has Mr. Prakash Belawadi actually done to help remove trash ? I bet you nothing ever in his whole life time on earth so far. He will sit in his office and type away and mail things for publications but do nothing truly meaningful for trash collection and removal. There are almost a billion of people like him there. So what does he expect ? In the West, we haul the trash out from our home to the front of the house in neat containers on given days of a week, have it removed by trucks, and pay on a yearly basis for trash removal. The amount is agreed upon by us in Township meetings. We meet and discuss how to send the trash to places for final disposal and coordinate. This is democracy. Not the ability to sit and pontificate. We also have our regular jobs to attend to and our children and homes to take care of. We keep our homes, on an average, nice and clean. We vaccum clean our homes and wash our windows every so often. As Mr. Belawadi probably knows we have no servant maids here in the US. We clean things by ourselves. In that part of the world, most people will gladly talk and write but will not undertake anything responsible to address an issue. This is what I have found.

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  • agent provocateur
    Nov 16, 2012 - 10:25AM

    Prakash,
    The culprits responsible for the blatant, mindless,unplanned development of B’lore is actually the clever connivance between politicians, bureaucrats, the real-estate cartel ,so called town planners, law-framers and the city’s elite/intelligensia even.
    Do you want me to name people that you know on a personal basis who could be held responsilbe for the unregulated ‘growth’ of Bangalore?
    Please stop being sanctimonious on a foreign-forum for the sake of a few a few feathers on your artsy cap.

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  • Ali
    Nov 16, 2012 - 10:26AM

    China econcomy is much better than indianRecommend

  • antony
    Nov 16, 2012 - 10:38AM

    I dont understand why the author writes article about bangalore to be published in Pakistan .I checked today’s bangalore news sites which do not have this article. Is it an attempt to teach pakistan how to build a city ? . China is the best example for all developing nations to follow for infrastructure . Is this article to make pakistanis happy about bangalore’s misery?.

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  • Rakib
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:19PM

    A majority of the lawmakers will seek re-election from constituencies elsewhere in the state and need not care about Bangalore which, for the record, generates about two-thirds of the state’s revenues. (Author)

    Tad insensitive towards needs of the lesser ones. From where else the smaller towns bring money or influence? Belawadi of all the people should know that what was true about Madras (“overgrown village”) applied to Bangalore in a different yet similar way considering the City has expanded over scores of years to gobble up around 80 villages within. The villages have become “city” but the villagers have remained the same in attitude & aptitude, only worse, since their landholdings have been en-cashed & the cash spent already. Acreages of quite a few of such “hallis/palyas” (hamlets) of Gowdas & Reddys (farming community) have acquired the sheen of glass & steel body but its character & social hygiene still remain at 18th century levels. Today when he talks of elected representatives being more concerned about upcountry Karnataka than Bangalore he exhibits an elitist view from Olympian heights, looking down at the less developed, which does not befit his stature as a liberal, a raconteur & a stage entity.. Let him recall what he knows well, the masterly words of DVG the great Kannada Litterateur who wrote the wise verses of Mankuthimanna Kagga ( Dim Tim’s Ramblings):- How can experience of truth be the same for all? Suppose one is at the foot of a hill and the other on its top is it possible for the one in the valley to get the same view as the one above? The prospect depends upon the range of vision, O Dim Tim!! (verse: 333)

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  • harkol
    Nov 16, 2012 - 3:17PM

    I have this theory of Indian cities. I feel that India never figured a governing process for large cities. British left behind a system to govern cities of the size of 2-3million people. And most cities of that size are fairly nice and livable. Bangalore too was very nice couple of decades ago, when it was having just about 3+million population.

    When it grows beyond 5+million, every metro goes thru an urban decline in India, because we don’t have modern management techniques for managing such huge metropolises.

    Perhaps it is time we re-invited British to give us a governance system for larger metros.

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  • Hindustani
    Nov 16, 2012 - 3:17PM

    @Rakib

    Wonderful!

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  • Nasir
    Nov 16, 2012 - 7:42PM

    I have been to Bangalore in 2007 and i really liked the city. Though I was told that it is no more a garden city, I still find it quite beautiful, green, neat and tranquil of which I am used to since I live in Islamabad the capital city of Pakistan.

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  • BlackJack
    Nov 16, 2012 - 8:53PM

    @Nasir:
    It is still a Garden city – hasn’t lost any of its parks to development and very few trees to road widening so far; its beauty is in its greenery. However, tranquil is not a word that you would use if you had to drive from one part of Bangalore to another during the day – traffic is a nightmare.

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  • abhi
    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:53AM

    so Bangalore generates 2/3 of karnataka’s revenue while its population is only 1/10 th of karnataka. This itself clearly shows the skewed development. Actually the descriminatory policies like SEZ and STPI are the root cause of this. The real estate mafia along with politicians put these kind of policies so that industries will be centralized only in certain locations, banglorians are otherwise very happy on this “Development” as their property prices are increased. But when they have to deal with consequences you see this kind of article.
    The author says that bangalore civic administration lacks budget, they can easily increase property tax and have budget for cleaning the cities, how many banglorian will be ready to pay for what it takes to clean the city? Most of the IT companies spend money on their offices but they don’t even pay taxes which other industries pay, and they have grabbed the land without even paying the market price, no wonder all the IT cities of India (Bangalore, Pune, Gurgaon etc) face same kind of problem.

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  • abhi
    Nov 17, 2012 - 3:39PM

    @Rakib
    I doubt Belawadi would have read any Kannada literature.

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  • Rakib
    Nov 17, 2012 - 6:21PM

    @abhi:

    It is no longer essential to know many languages..Kannada, Gujarati, Tamil, Urdu, Hindi etc etc to appreciate a DVG,a Meghani,a Tiruvalluvar,a Ghalib or a Harivansh Rai. Besides, Belawadi, as the surname (which is name of a tiny village in Karnataka) suggests,is a Kannadiga. His parents were known personalities of Kannada stage. Apart from being a journalist & writer, he is a well known director of Bangalore who has handled both English & Kannada drama, film & a Kannada TV serial. Here, what he said or failed to say is more important than him.

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