A kinder, gentler Bengaluru, please

A kinder, gentler Bengaluru, please

That’s all we need. Sell not dreams of Singapore to us

Bengaluru is a failed city in nearly every sense of the term. Credit: DH Photo

For about a quarter century now, one Karnataka Chief Minister after another has been promising Bengalureans the moon – or rather promising to turn it into a Singapore, a Dubai, a ‘Smart City’, or other dreamscapes. In reality, though, Bengaluru has remained closer to a cratered moon and every aspect of the city and life in it has deteriorated over the years. We are rapidly hurtling toward a point of no-return. Recently, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who attended a meeting with prominent entrepreneurs, announced that his government would evolve a new ‘Bengaluru Agenda’. In fact, Bommai has only followed the template set by his predecessors—meet the captains of industry, pose for a photo-op, make tall promises, and quickly forget them. We have seen this with the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) of S M Krishna’s time and the Agenda for Bangalore Infrastructure and Development (ABIDe) of B S Yediyurappa’s time. The city’s common populace did not benefit from their work. Grassroots citizen welfare groups, NGOs and urban think-tanks have all along complained that the city’s development got skewed towards an unsustainable path.

Bengaluru is a failed city in nearly every sense of the term. Not even a single stretch of road is free of potholes, walkable footpaths are non-existent in most areas, building violations and illegal constructions are the order of the day, waste management is a disaster, lakes are fast disappearing or are utterly polluted, the stormwater drain system has been destroyed by the builder-official nexus and the city gets flooded with every downpour, and potable water is still a pipe dream for many. Even Namma Metro continues to progress at a snail’s pace and will not have the extensive presence it must have to relieve the city of its traffic mess until well after 2030. Civic bodies and utility agencies remain rampantly corrupt and inefficient and promises to reform them remain unfulfilled.

Instead of falling into the usual trap of setting up an elite group to dictate the city’s future direction, Bommai should involve citizens’ groups, grassroots NGOs and urban planning experts to make Bengaluru a city where everybody from the street-vendor to the billionaire can live and thrive; a city that is climate change-aware, taking action to reverse it as well as to become resilient to it; a city that ensures health, education and mobility to vulnerable sections; and a city whose diverse population lives in harmony, and where we can all joke about each other and laugh at our own follies and foibles. In short, if Bengaluru can once again become the gentler Bangalore of the earlier decades, that should be enough. Don’t promise to make this a Singapore or a Dubai, please.