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Branded but substandard

V Raghunathan, Jan 12 2018, 1:42 IST

Words. Words are how our politicians have always "solved" our problems. To us, the people, more often than not, change only means new words, new terms or new slogans.

We have changed the names of a lot of our cities - changes we all know to be literally only for name-sake, even as the cities themselves have continued to go from bad to worse mostly.

We even solved the population problem of the country by imaginative use of words, by calling it our "demographic dividend," when even a dimwit knows that if we keep producing babies at the rate we do, we are bound to have a young population. Our politicians simply converted the problem of a burgeoning population of youth into one of pride of being a "young nation" and an assumed "demographic dividend".

We are supposed to feel the pride of "making in India", when much less than a third of our GDP comes from manufacturing. Similarly, we close our eyes to the fact that 52% of rural India still defecates in the open because now we are "Swachh Bharat", never mind that our Railways are the largest official distributor of human night soil across the length and the breadth of the country's tracks under the open skies.

And now, Karnataka has gone one step further. Since renaming Bangalore into Bengaluru did not solve any of the woes of the city - traffic congestion, the average speed of traffic, the tonnes of unlifted garbage, the tag of the most corrupt city in the country, the ultra-slow growth of infrastructure projects, open manholes, potholes and craters, and what have you - now we are told that the city is going to be branded BengalurU - Be-U being the cute part. After all, Paris, Milan, Sydney, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore, Barcelona, Hong Kong, New York, Rio, Las Vegas, Rome, Florence, Copenhagen...are all brands. 'So, why not BengalurU?' goes the logic.

The irony is that "Bangalore" did come close to becoming a brand of sorts when the world started mouthing Silicon Valley and Bangalore in the same breath in the early 2000s. And rather than build on that opportunity and go all out to put our act in place, we chose to drop brand Bangalore in favour of Bengaluru. And now, we want to build brand Bengaluru, when the city is but a parody of how an international city should function.

Basic town planning, long-term urban planning, decent, broad, clean and properly paved streets and roads, walkable sidewalks, functioning drainages and sewerages, public aesthetics, world-class libraries, theatres, gardens, parks, smooth traffic flow, adequate parking spaces, green buildings and public transport, streets free of stray animals, etcetera, etcetera, are all non-negotiable - a given for any decent city on any international map today. And on these parameters, Bengaluru does not even get qualifying pass-marks when what is required is a distinction for 'Be U' to be an international brand.

Dysfunctional municipality

Even more importantly, for a city with ambitions to attract investments, tourists and high-calibre professionals, there has to be a functioning municipality, which is not rank corrupt. Unfortunately, Karnataka, in general, and Bengaluru, in particular, have been singularly unlucky in never having been able to realise their potential because of the sheer magnitude of corruption handed out to them by government after government, both at the state and the city level.

Only the other day, I met a person who described to me with complete evidence how he was allotted a parcel of land by Bangalore Development Authority in 1998, but has been fraudulently and systematically dispossessed of the land by the same BDA which unilaterally acquired the same land for some other purpose without either awarding him an alternate property or paying any compensation which he was entitled to, notwithstanding an award of court judgement in his favour in 2010.

Another citizen had to pay the same property tax four times recently. Because a fault in the BBMP's website prevented the credit-card payment from going through the first time as the web-page hung (or was it a deliberate ruse?), the property owner had no option but to make another attempt to make the payment, unfortunately with the same result. But within minutes, the owner got SMS alerts of both the amounts being debited to her account. She had to run around various offices of the BBMP to try to correct the situation.

At last, when a BBMP official tried making the payment from the official computer, the result was the same again! As a consequence, she ended up being debited Rs 16,338 (three times), while the property tax due was only Rs 5,446.

To add insult to injury, she was forced to pay the property tax yet again in cash (as their website was refusing to recognise the payments received), but without ever refunding the 3X amount collected (because if BBMP had not received the amount, the lady should have received a credit into her account in due course, which never happened), clearly because no palms were greased.

Sections of perfectly fine roads and sidewalks are being re-laid in a number of locations, and even at least one over-bridge being built over literally nothing - all of which are simple results of bald corruption in the rank and file of the city administration.

Rather than work assiduously towards putting the city's basic infrastructure in place and control rampaging corruption which has reached alarming proportions, where the entire government machinery is literally beginning to loot its own citizens and residents, the political establishment seems gung-ho on a "brand-building" exercise. One may be pardoned for one's cynical view that this must be only because it provides yet another opportunity for the ruling party to make some quick bucks in time for the assembly elections hovering around the corner.

(Raghunathan is an academic and author)

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