Sunday, March 30, 2008

Need for radical reforms

Need for radical reforms
Politicians Have The Master Key To Unlock Bangalore
A Ravindra

In its laudable effort to unlock Bangalore, The Times of India brought together a panel of distinguished persons, the stakeholders and the citizens for what turned out to be an absorbing debate on the issues confronting the city. Everyone seemed to agree that we are in a mess but there were different perspectives about what went wrong and what needs to be done.
As to what went wrong, the views ranged from government’s emphasis on rural development in spite of increasing urbanization and lack of an urban planning perspective to a bureaucracy untrained in the art of managing cities and lack of citizens’ participation with politicians contributing to the overall mess. It was indeed a comprehensive diagnosis of the diseases the Garden City is suffering like — poor infrastructure, lack of resources, chaotic traffic, lack of traffic discipline, rampant building violations and corruption.
What initially appeared as a sense of helplessness gradually gave way to a sense of hope with the participants coming out with suggestions to mend matters.
Ravindra suggests: (i) promote public transport through a more efficient bus system and putting the completion of Metro on fast track; (ii) retain HAL Airport and don’t create private monopolies in airport sector; (iii) promote public-private partnerships to improve infrastructure; (iv) train officials in urban and traffic management; (v) give longer tenures to bureaucrats; (v) improve enforcement of traffic regulations, (vi) adopt a people-centred approach and, (vii) create avenues for public participation in city governance.
While the prescriptions are all valid, certain vital issues, in my view, did not receive the attention of the participants. The fundamental question relates to accountability. It is wrong to presume that there have been no master plans for Bangalore. The first Outline Development Plan for the city was prepared in 1972, followed by a comprehensive development plan in 1985, which was revised in 1995. A new master plan-2015 has been brought in 2007. The plans had their drawbacks but what is important to note is the distortion in the implementation of the plans. The zoning regulations and building by-laws have been followed more in breach than in observance. Parking spaces gave way for commercial purposes. Sites earmarked in the plan for civic amenities were subsequently converted into residential or commercial plots. Imagine, a large locality like Indiranagar not having a bus station. Well, what was in the plan just vanished.
Thus, part of the traffic problems we are facing today is due to the fact we failed to implement our own plans.
So, the first step in unlocking Bangalore is to respect the plans we prepare and follow the rules we make. The authorities must be accountable for what they do or don’t do. Secondly, the planning process needs to be reformed. The BDA happens to be both the planner and developer. Real estate functions have taken priority over city planning. Therefore, the time has come to separate planning and development functions. Thirdly, connectivity cannot be viewed in isolation but as part of the urban planning process which include issues relating to land use, transportation and traffic. Unlocking implies bringing about some radical changes and not just tinkering with the system. Reforms are required both in structures and processes. Primarily, the BBMP needs to be developed into a strong and accountable institution. Bangalore needs a directly elected mayor with requisite authority, and who is accountable to the people. We need a unified planning organization to plan for the metropolitan region and monitor the implementation. A metropolitan planning committee needs to be set up as ordained by the Constitution, composed of elected representatives as well as experts to guide the planning process. The Bangalore metropolitan land transport authority must be made a statutory body and professionals need to be inducted into such organizations. Space must be created for citizen participation in institutions such as ward committees and other interactive processes.
Some short-term measures are imperative. While connectivity to the airport is considered as the top priority, pedestrian connectivity seems to have been totally ignored. Safety of the pedestrians is literally at the crossroads which needs urgent attention.
Aristotle said: “People obey laws not because they love the law but because they fear punishment.” Once laws are enforced, citizens of our city will abide by the laws. Each stakeholder may have a key to unlock Bangalore but the master key is with the political leader.
(The writer is visiting faculty at Centre for Public Policy, IIM, Bangalore)


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