Bengaluru: The tragic face of development
This Garden city, Bengaluru has covered with the toxic froth coming out from its polluted lakes, making city's life miserable. Photograph: (DNA)
As a child of 3 years of age, I discovered another form of mobility when I was provided with a worn out tricycle. Stepping out of the gates of our rented home, I cycled what seemed like less than half a kilometre trying to reach a friend’s home. My parents were, of course, oblivious to my adventure. My route involved the main road and a side road. Before I could go any further, the shopkeeper at the local “buy and save” promptly stopped my adventure midway, reported me to my mother and had me shipped back home to mildly annoyed and mostly relieved parents. While, I hated the shopkeeper for spoiling my day then, in hindsight, I am grateful for his concern and paternal affection.
That was the Bangalore I grew up in. Main roads safe enough to ride for a 3 year old; sense of community around raising children and members looking out for each other’s families; tadpoles in the rain water that flowed through the drains which we would feed during the monsoons; sufficient playgrounds where countless kids would play cricket and not realising when one group’s tennis ball is exchanged with another and a climate that was the stuff of dreams for people from other parts of the country and sometimes even the world. Always cosmopolitan, Bangalore hardly ever heard about communal conflict or linguistic divides or race driven xenophobia.
Bangalore was a relatively small city, full of greenery and just about the right place to raise your children.
Bangalore of the yesteryears was not a commercial hub and certainly not the central place of power or money like perhaps Delhi or Mumbai. Bangalore was a relatively small city, full of greenery and just about the right place to raise your children. Bangalore as Bengaluru is now a stark contrast to its past. Today it enjoys a status as the hub of India’s Information Technology industry. As a lawyer, I find the city the best place to practice law in the State of Karnataka. However, while I certainly see the perks of the city’s development, I often wonder what the cost is and whether this cost is worth it.
Today’s Bengaluru, which is identified with its frothing lakes, has certainly paid a price for its development. Linguistic divide and xenophobia is suddenly an emerging theme in public debates and conversations. But what angers me the most is the poverty of vision that killed the city’s functional ecosystems. Bengaluru derives its name from Bendakaluru, whose translated meaning represents the city being located originally in a semi-arid region. Thanks to Bengaluru’s founder Kempegowda, the city was the beneficiary of environmental engineering of the best kind. The evidence of it was the provision made for numerous tanks and lakes that kept our groundwater sources alive and well fed, which ultimately resulted in the title of “Garden City”.
However, a grossly inefficient administration, spanning across successive governments, had let real estate and construction activities flout environmental regulations, leading to the destruction of Kempegowda’s planned city. Thus, for the very first time not only is the city heavily dependant on the River Cauvery for its water, but acute water shortage is making life in the city unbearable. Another side effect of the economic boom, which escaped the city administration’s foresight by a huge margin, was the corresponding rise in population and therefore traffic.
That sense of safety, that sense of community and that interaction with nature disappeared along with the tadpoles, lakes and sparrows. But of course, we made a lot of money!
Who is to blame? While the real estate and construction lobby would argue that they merely seized those opportunities that the government either expressly approved or approved by omission, the state itself has been guilty of negligence. The apathy for the common man’s daily struggles in an overcrowded, suffocated and dying city is obvious. Bengaluru is drowning in problems in the forms of exceptionally poor roads, groundwater sources being choked with concrete laden roads and unplanned pavement installation. In addition, the administration has failed to crack down on crimes related to xenophobia, gender insensitivity and lack of respect for a child’s right to bodily autonomy. One article won’t summarise how miserably we, as the state, failed to safeguard our most fundamental resources.
Reasons notwithstanding, when I see playgrounds being mercilessly substituted by parks, potholes making driving a nightmare and the governments across ages shamelessly preventing police from doing their jobs through frequent transfers and promotions, I now realise the city I grew up in is a city of my dreams. I felt safe as a child, trusted my neighbours with my life and interacted with nature the moment I stepped out of my home. That sense of safety, that sense of community and that interaction with nature disappeared along with the tadpoles, lakes and sparrows. But of course, we made a lot of money!
Bengaluru is fighting a losing battle to salvage its identity, both ecological and cultural. The absence of common sense in our collective thinking has inflicted such loss on us and yet we are not listening to voices of reasons that tell us to build wells, refrain from releasing sewage into storm water drains and avoid giving permissions to buildings that cannot sustain the city’s finite resources. The result is, Bangalore richer than ever before, but fighting for lung space, water and all things precious. If one wants to understand the pitfalls of development, look at Bengaluru.