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As Bengaluru continues to lose its edge in all benchmarks of quality, its fall from the 7th position in the list of clean cities to 38th is an indication of prolonged neglect by the administration.
This dubious distinction follows another failure – of not being considered at all in the top 100 smart cities list, not being even eligible to be counted in the competition.
The fall of Bengaluru is gaining momentum with frustrated citizens wondering whatever happened to its erstwhile titles of “garden city” and “lake-city” given its current popular description being “garbage city” or “potholed city”!
The plunging image of the City is symbolic of a massive trust deficit among citizens who feel betrayed by successive apathetic and corrupt administrations. Corruption and lack of accountability are now synonymous with Bengaluru! Precious lake beds are encroached by unscrupulous builders; potholed roads managed by corrupt contractors across the city; a garbage crisis that refuses to go despite crores of taxpayers’ and public money going into funding it; and state agencies operating without transparency and financial audit for years together. The final blow to citizens comes in the form of an ill-conceived Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). The Karnataka Government which made tall promises of a corruption-free administration, has managed to disrupt and undermine the functioning of the Lokayukta by setting up the ACB. The new ACB is a corrupt attempt to weaken the Parliament sanctioned institution of LokAyukta and will only further the rampant corruption and abuse of discretion the people of Karnataka and Bengaluru are witnessing today.
In the 2014-15 budget, the city’s civic agency BBMP was allotted Rs. 2160 crore for road infrastructure projects. Accounts show projects worth Rs 1,000 crore were approved, of which no details exist of how Rs. 461 crore was utilized. In 2015-16, BBMP’s allocation for roads and storm water drains was Rs 1882 crore; where is the money going as bad roads and open drains continue to take innocent lives? BBMP spends huge amounts on Solid Waste Management; Rs. 415 crore was reportedly allocated in the budget for 2015-16 but as Bengaluru continues to face a garbage crisis, nobody knows where this money has vanished.
Bangalore’s citizens face misery on another count. The city’s lakes are dying and are in urgent need of rejuvenation. A report by Prof TV Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore - Pathetic Status of Wetlands in Bangalore, reads “Citizens of Bangalore allowed the development in the region with utmost good faith - contaminated air, land and water are the penalty citizens have to pay for exercising tolerance with good faith. Numerous para-state agencies with un-coordinated actions, inefficient regulatory agency and negligent industries have converted the garden city to unlivable city. Clean air, water and environment are the fundamental rights of citizens as per the Constitution of India (Article-21)”
Bellandur Lake, the city’s biggest waterbody put Bengaluru in the global news for the worst reason possible – once a lake full of life; it has gradually transformed into a sewage tank. The case of Bellandur Lake is one of fundamental neglect and decay for the last twenty years. While most of the public discourse on Bengaluru is focused on roads and traffic, the silent destruction of this Lake and unabated pollution of other lakes in the city has dangerous consequences for public health and environment, the cost of which will be borne by future generations.
Citizens of Bengaluru and the administration must go beyond transportation issues, for while these cause short term inconveniences of a few hours a day, the lakes getting poisoned and destroyed is a critical environmental problem that will damage the city irreversibly and permanently.
This should not appear as a mere account of the dismal state of our City, but an urgent wakeup call to action that the Government must take seriously. Bengaluru is the fastest growing metropolis after New Delhi where its population has risen by 30 lakhs in 10 years or 47% during 2001-2011 estimated at 10.1 million in 2015, but its social indicators have nosedived. There is no lower the city can fall and it is time the administration rose to perform duties that it is supposed to.
I had earlier reached out to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for putting in place a long term plan for the city. Bengaluru needs a proper statutory long term plan, including a financial plan. The Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) is working on a plan, but that process needs to be made transparent involving citizens and NGOs, and then placed before the Bengaluru Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) where again it must be discussed transparently.
Bengaluru, more than any other city in India, needs to wake up to the looming danger of irreversible damages to its environment and public health ecosystem in addition to its other challenges of mobility and public services.
This article appeared in The News Minute on July 21, 2016