Bengaluru, the world’s most dynamic city ranks 58 in the Ease of Living index released by the Government of India. These rankings present a contrasting picture of the city and are precisely the reason why many Bengalurians share a love-hate relationship with it.
Bengaluru is said to have been founded by Kempe Gowda, a feudatory of the Vijaynagar empire. The transformation of the city from a barren plateau to being called as a ‘Garden City’ is remarkable and the hard work of successive kingdoms is to be credited for this.
In the 1970s, the city boasted a green cover of 68%! Splendid lakes, numerous parks, and lush green trees defined the city. It indeed proved to be a paradise for anyone who chose to live here. This was until the city underwent a massive socio-economic change. Till the 1970s, the city was predominantly involved in the manufacturing sector. The preferential treatment is shown by the Indian Government, post-independence, towards Bengaluru, certainly helped its economy with many PSU’s setting up their headquarters in the city. To add to it, the city was blessed with many prestigious universities and colleges. The state government’s initiatives in the IT sector like setting up of the Karnataka State Electronics Department Corporation and establishment of Electronic City further boosted the city’s growth.
Availability of quality education and emerging of new industries in Bengaluru meant new opportunities for the youth and this resulted in large scale migration into the city. The sudden influx of people created problems for the Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike who found it difficult to match the growing demands of the city. Numerous unplanned revenue layouts cropped up all over the city to house the rising population. Most of these layouts fell outside the purview of the city municipal corporation and were naturally neglected.
The liberalization of the Indian economy and the devaluation of rupee in the 1990s provided a new impetus to the already thriving industries of Bengaluru. The city was successful in attracting large scale private investment from across the world and this phase witnessed a significant rise in the GDP growth rate of Bengaluru. When India grew at an average rate of 7.93% between 1993-2004, Bengaluru clocked a GDP growth rate of 20.76% in the same period. The IT exports, of which about 40% is contributed by Bengaluru, has helped India immensely in bridging the trade deficit.
Masking the incredible growth story of Bengaluru is the infrastructural issues which have really affected the image of brand Bengaluru. Traffic congestion, deteriorating air quality, poor waste management, water scarcity, and poor road maintenance made life in Bengaluru very difficult. In the past four decades, Bengaluru has witnessed a reduction in water bodies by 79% and green cover by 89%. Overdependence on borewells has resulted in the depletion of the water table from 12 m to 91 m in the last two decades.
Even as Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike transformed into Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in 2007, the issues only continued to grow. A centralized city corporation system seems to have failed to address the issues of Bengaluru and it has been suggested by many that the only way out is by decentralizing the whole system. With greater autonomy and smaller regions to administer, it is widely believed that the city corporation will be much more effective and accountable.
Given the city’s ever-growing infrastructural issues and other bottlenecks, MNC’s are now sceptical about continuing their operations or establishing new branches in Bengaluru. IT-BT industries, the very backbone of Bengaluru’s economy, are now threatening to move out of Bengaluru if these issues are not addressed immediately. The numerous start-up friendly policies being doled out by the state government will prove to be ineffective in the absence of robust infrastructure which caters to the needs of the growing population.
While the city’s resounding success and growth rate has placed it firmly on the world map, it has also costed it dearly. The over-expansion and massive infrastructural projects have had devastating effects on its rich green cover and serene lakes. The city now finds itself at the crossroad. While the government is pursuing elevated corridors and road expansions to decongest the city, vigilant citizens groups, wary of further tree cutting, are opposing it vehemently.
Problems are aplenty and solutions are very tricky. Very often, the solution to one problem creates an issue of its own. What Bengaluru needs is an action plan which while addressing the present issues also accommodates future challenges. With the right intent and will power to act, the government has a great potential to change the way things are currently looking for Bengaluru. It needs to take on board the urban planning experts and citizen’s groups to find a sustainable solution for its problems.
The next few years will determine Bengaluru’s future. With the intricacies involved, it will be Winteresting to see if Bengaluru will overcome its unique challenges and truly become the city of dreams where millions of people realize their goals and enjoy the rich experience it offers.