Daily hassles abound

Daily hassles abound


Credit: DH

According to the Prosperity & Inclusion City Seal and Awards (PICSA) Index, released recently by the Bilbao Institutions in Spain, Bengaluru emerged as the top-ranking city in India. It is placed 83 out of 113 cities across the world, ahead of Delhi (101)  and Mumbai (107). This is the first of its kind survey which recognises not only economic growth but inclusive growth, much talked about in India.

The new model of evaluating cities called Inclusive Prosperity Cities (ICI) Index is based on three pillars: prosperity, social inclusion and spatial inclusion. Prosperity is measured using criteria such as per capita income and increased access to opportunities(like education).

Social inclusion refers to non-income factors like well-being of different social groups and citizen engagement. Spatial inclusion includes the state of infrastructure and services, and quality of life indicators such as access to housing, transportation and jobs. While each of the pillars is self-contained, they are also inter-related. Better access to housing, for instance, can lead to better economic inclusion.

Viewed in the Indian context, Bengaluru’s performance is no doubt creditable. It has done relatively well in comparison to other Indian cities in terms of per capita income, education and human capital, technology, air quality and access to jobs. However, in the global arena, it is far below the performance of cities in developed countries. 

Zurich in Switzerland ranks first with a consolidated score of 78.2 followed by Vienna in Austria with 72 and Copenhagen in Denmark with 70.5. Among Indian cities, Bengaluru has a score of 34.7 (less than half of the first three), Delhi 22.5 and Mumbai 18.6.

The gap between what are categorised as developed cities and emerging cities is pretty wide. Another notable fact is that large cities in the developed category like London, New York, Paris and Tokyo figure in the 30s, well below the medium-sized cities in the west.

It may seem an irony that while Bengaluru enjoys a pre-eminent position as a global technology hub and a centre of talented human resource, its image locally presents a very different picture. We are still preoccupied with day to day hassles like filling potholes, collecting and disposing of garbage, finding a safe pathway to walk, crossing the road without falling under speeding vehicles and of course, struggling to reach our destination in time amidst the chaotic traffic snarls. 

Hardly a day passes without the civic authorities were subject to the wrath of the High Court for their apathy, negligence and inefficiency.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the performance of the city administration in providing good quality infrastructure and services is nowhere near global standards. There may be some plausible reasons like lack of adequate resources and growing population, widening the gap between demand and supply.

It may also be argued that the criteria used by evaluating authorities in the west are more relevant to the developed countries. For instance, within the country, the cost of living in Bengaluru is considered high but by international standards, it is not so; in fact, our rental housing rates are said to be low. But it is also true that our city governance leaves much to be desired.

We must realise that the IT capital of India faces enormous challenges to retain its brand image. These are days of intense competition where cities, nationally and globally, are vying with each other to attract investments. 

The desire to become more prosperous must be accompanied by a will to provide necessary infrastructure and other facilities for businesses and institutions to function smoothly. When industries and talented individuals want to relocate, they don’t think so much in terms of India vs China, they think about Bengaluru vs Beijing or Shenzen or within India, Bengaluru vs Delhi or Hyderabad. Similarly, the competition is between New York vs London rather than US vs UK.

Each major city has its own distinctive features which make it an attractive destination, what the urban scholar Jeb Brugman calls ‘the legacy of urban advantage’. In his book, Welcome to the Urban Revolution, writing about Bengaluru, he says that in the 1990s, “it became a world-changing city, seemingly from nowhere, but its growth into a leading centre of the high-tech industry was built on a centuries-old foundation of developed urban advantage”. From its geographical location and favourable climate, the lakes and parks developed over centuries, the growth of industries beginning with textile production and later the industrial townships with large public sector undertakings, the establishment of scientific, research and engineering institutions and finally the development of IT industry and software export business - all these have contributed to the unprecedented growth of Bengaluru and its rising prosperity.

Mind boggling changes

In this age of mind-boggling changes taking place across the world, we must think both globally and locally. Two years ago, the JLL City Momentum Index Report rated the Karnataka capital as the most dynamic city in the world, overtaking London. It also pointed out that for a city, to retain its competitive advantage, must address what is called the ‘future-proofing capacity’, that is the capacity to sustain the dynamic attributes in the long-term.

For this, we must take action to create necessary local conditions by focusing on bridging the deficits in sectors we lag behind like basic infrastructure, social and spatial inclusion and making the city more livable. 

The state government and the city authorities must gear up to deal with the dual challenge of global competition and local development. There is a need for a coherent vision and a strategic plan to guide the future growth of the metropolis. 

Unfortunately, the civic institutions in their present state are constrained and seem to lack the capacity to fulfil their tasks. It is imperative to strengthen them with the required financial and human resources with a clear mandate to deliver goods. The sooner, the better or else, our beloved Bengaluru may fall behind.

(The writer is a retired Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)

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