Sunday, October 31, 2004

Think green and save Bangalore

Think green and save Bangalore
By Suresh Heblikar
Times of India

Bangalore once had a collective identity which helped it in maintaining its homogeneity and image as a clean, green planned city. In fact, it takes a vision to build cities and there were people who were vested with such a vision. Bangalore indeed was built over the centuries by the rulers, the statesmen, administrators, scientists, thinkers and philanthropists.

Unfortunately, the two important traits — collective identity and vision — have disappeared. They are replaced by new paradigms based on adhoc planning and short-term solutions. But even these new paradigms came a bit too late: at a time when a lot of damage had already been done.

The basic flaw was not integrating traditional establishments in the developmental process of the city. Today, at the cost of the traditional environment, the unseemly concrete structures tower over the placid but naively congenial neighbourhood communities. Since metropolitan Bangalore could not incorporate the traditional structures and utilities, upgrading the city’s infrastructure is becoming a herculean task.

Bangalore has outgrown its capabilities to withstand the present pressures exerted by huge population, expanding volume of economic and commercial activities and demand for basic necessities like water, shelter, etc, which has gone up many a fold in the last decade. And much of this can be attributed to an exponential growth triggered to a large extent by the IT and other sectors. While the citizens are put to hardship, the land mafia has struck a gold mine in the form of exorbitant land values, shot up by unbridled development.

To add to present woes, the migrant labour population brought in by contractors to build additional infrastructure is further contributing to the swelling slum population, which is already 30 per cent of the total population of Bangalore. The surrounding lands around the city, which served as a catchment area for more than 200 lakes, has been callously encroached and converted into layouts. This has prevented percolation of rainwater into the underground. We are not certain about the availability of adequate drinking water in future. The topographic landscape of Bangalore, which was immensely comparable to any beautiful city in the world, is gone forever.

The tragedy is that the civic agencies involved in the development processes are compelled to be more concerned with demographic projections rather than with environmental and aesthetic considerations. The issues of inner city decay and environmental degradation arising out of the urban sprawl will have to be seriously considered and dealt with. The civic issues of infrastructure have been brought in to the national forum because of IT’s international status. But the government finds itself incapable of addressing the serious issues of providing the amenities. This is not because of the enormity of the task, but because of the mistakes stated earlier which have dwarfed Bangalore’s ability to rise as a great metropolis.

Drastic steps need of the hour:
There is hope for Bangalore to remain as a great city, provided the authorities take drastic steps. The government will have to disallow and stop any further urbanisation and industrialisation. It is worth identifying smaller cities, which have enough scope for development. And there are many such places in Karnataka which have salient features to be developed into potential centres of growth. This way Karnataka will acquire a new face, new image and provide economic and socio-cultural opportunities to the remote corners of the state. This will also solve problems of unemployment, migration, non-development and lop-sided planning. As the rest of the state starts growing Bangalore can breathe, have its own space and move slowly filling the pot holes.

The writer is a noted filmmaker and environmentalist


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