‘New Bengaluru’ misconceived, needs a fresh approach

‘New Bengaluru’ misconceived, needs a fresh approach

Heavy traffic jam on Seshadri road during the six protest in Freedom park along with two procession of Savitha Maharshi Jayanthi at Vidhana soudha, in Bengaluru. DH Photo by Janardhan B K

The budget for 2019-20 presented by chief minister Kumaraswamy gives a big push to urban development and Bengaluru. An amount of Rs 8,015 crore has been provided for what is termed the ‘Nava Bengaluru Kriya Yojane’ or New Bengaluru Action Plan. The money is to be spent on infrastructure projects such as road development, transport, pedestrian facilities, elevated corridor, expansion of water supply, LED lighting for streets and waste-to-energy plants. Separate provision has been made for suburban rail, metro rail and new buses, altogether leading to an investment of about Rs 60,000 crore over several years.

Projects to upgrade the city’s infrastructure is one thing, creating a new city is totally a different proposition. A ‘New Bengaluru’ would need a new plan. There is no mention of any planning perspective in the budget.

In fact, the draft Master Plan-2030, prepared by BDA after several consultations with stakeholders, is gathering dust. Investment in huge infrastructure projects should be based on the requirements of the city, determined according to the vision outlined in the city development plan. What is happening is ad hoc development, which is likely to accentuate chaotic growth. The proposed elevated corridor, for instance, will only encourage use of more private vehicles. If the chief minister and the state government are serious about transforming Bengaluru, they must first spend some time to understand the present state of the city and set a vision for its future growth.

Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy will do well to recall that Bengaluru became ‘Bruhat Bengaluru’ — expanding from about 235 sq km to over 750 sq km, making it the largest municipal area in India, during his last stint as CM 12 years ago. The huge territorial expansion, which included 110 villages, has created more problems than it has solved. Without the necessary resources and manpower, BBMP has been struggling to manage such a vast area and growing population, so much so that there were serious efforts by the previous regime to reconstitute BBMP into three or more smaller corporations. This proposal has now gone to the backburner.

Be that as it may, keeping in view the dictum that politics is the art of the possible, it would be best if the present government can redefine its vision of ‘New Bengaluru’ and come out with a  comprehensive plan by including all projects pertaining to the metropolitan area, instead of confining it to projects covered under the allocation of Rs 8,015 crore.

The real challenge lies in effective implementation of the plan. Past experience shows that execution is tardy and several projects remain on paper. This is mainly because of lack of three factors — adequate resources; capacity and expertise in urban institutions; and effective coordination and monitoring.

If the funds available under various schemes such as Smart Cities Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT, etc., are pooled with budgetary resources, the resultant kitty can be substantial. Improving tax collection by local bodies can augment resources. The challenge would then be one of spending rather than seeking more money.

The major constraint in government, particularly in local government, relates to institutional capacity. Lack of professional and trained manpower is a major problem in urban management. There are a number of vacancies at different levels. The recruitment process is tardy and personnel management is poor. Frequent transfer of officials and political interference have adversely affected the quality of project management and efficiency in delivery of civic services. Unless these issues are addressed seriously, officials’ performance will continue to be lacklustre.

An issue that begs to be fixed in large cities is that of coordination. An OECD study showed that a lack of coordination caused by the fragmentation of metropolitan areas and activities can reduce economic growth and lead to other undesirable consequences. It has also been found that dedicated metropolitan authorities can help in overcoming the coordination problem and improve outcomes.

Call for coordination

Let us take, for instance, the need to integrate transport and spatial planning. Transport infrastructure has a significant influence on the decision of people to choose their location for the purpose of residence or other activities. Similarly, land use patterns have a bearing on citizens’ commuting choices. Hence, it is important to assess how land use decisions affect the demand for transport and ensure coordination between these two. This calls for a great degree of coordination between the planning authority that determines land use (BDA) and the transport authorities (BMTC/BMRCL). A Metropolitan Land Transport Authority for Bengaluru was set up to act as a coordinating agency some years back. However, it has been non-functional. It should be revived and given the mandate to deal with all related matters.

At the political level, coordination for a large and growing metropolis like Bengaluru can be achieved only with the intervention of the chief minister. The Metropolitan Planning Committee under the chairmanship of the CM and comprising political representatives of different institutions and legislators is already in place. The CM must now take the initiative to activate this constitutional body and give a proper shape to the concept of New Bengaluru, set clear targets, time-frames and monitor progress periodically. At the grassroots level, ward committees must be empowered to deal with local issues like waste management, sanitation, maintenance of road infrastructure and redressal of people’s grievances.

Decentralisation is imperative to ensure transparency and accountability in politics and administration. The state government must also shed some of its powers over local authorities and pay more attention towards policy-making and strengthening coordination among multiple civic agencies.

Let a clear and coherent plan for New Bengaluru be published for the information of citizens within three months.

(The writer is former chief secretary, Government of Karnataka)