The two Bangalores

Print edition : November 04, 2005

The State government is eager to please the fast-growing IT industry with all sorts of concessions, but half of the city's population of seven million lives in "shadow areas" with hardly any infrastructure.

PARVATHI MENON in Bangalore

The working classes and other groups that service the corporate expansion of Bangalore live in abysmal conditions in 700-odd slums, grossly under-serviced settlements that have developed in the interstices of the big city.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

IT is 8.30 on a mid-week morning in Bangalore, and Surjanjan Das Road, which connects Old Madras Road with Airport Road, is jammed with vehicular traffic. An accident has just taken place - a van carrying call centre employees to a nearby Information Technology (IT) establishment hit a scooter-borne employee of the nearby Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), killing him on the spot. Just three years ago this was a narrow, quiet, tree-lined avenue. Today, it has become a bottleneck, but the quickest way nevertheless to connect to the Whitefield area, a burgeoning suburb that has International Technology Park Ltd (ITPL) with a large presence of multinational software companies.

If traffic flow during peak hours is any indication, then all roads, it would appear, lead to IT parks and hubs in Bangalore. And yet the demand that the State government construct more, better and bigger roads has been at the centre of a loud campaign for better infrastructure started by heads of industry, particularly from the IT sector, in recent months. Industry captains threatened to boycott Bangalore IT.in, an annual event showcasing the achievements of the IT sector in the State. They called off their threat only after getting specific commitments on road and infrastructure improvement from Chief Secretary B.K. Das at a meeting between them and senior government officials on September 15.

The quick official response to the demand for better roads and infrastructure from the powerful IT lobby is not surprising. The State government has nurtured the IT sector with a substantial range of concessions that have contributed to Bangalore's position as the leading IT centre and outsourcing destination in the country. There are over 1,500 software companies in Bangalore, which together employ 26,000 professionals in IT and IT-enabled services (ITES). The sector generates export revenues of Rs.22,000 crores from the city alone and its presence has spawned an entire subsidiary service industry. The convoys of Toyota Qualis cars that transport call centre employees to their workplaces in the large software establishments on the periphery of the city is a common enough sight. Wider and smoother roads that can ensure faster and unhindered travel are essential for this sector. Indeed, the growing clout of the IT sector in governance and urban policy planning is seen as being responsible for the pro-IT bias in infrastructure planning by the State. The Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), set up in 1999, represented largely by big corporate groups such as Infosys and Wipro, has left its imprint on the governance agenda in the State.

Substandard roads and traffic congestion, issues the corporate sector is making such a hue and cry about, represents only one part of the infrastructure crisis facing the city. The unexpectedly heavy rains the city received in September-October exposed just how poorly serviced large parts of Bangalore are in respect of basic infrastructure such as drainage and sewage disposal. Newly constructed apartment blocks and housing colonies in several areas were flooded. "Water entered my house through the kitchen drains," said M.R. Narendrababu, secretary of the residents association of the 29th ward of the Rajarajeshwari City Municipal Council. "We pay our taxes and development charges, but where are they going? Less than 10 per cent of our ward's roads are tarred. In 2003 we made a complaint against the builders of an unauthorised block of 100 apartments. They have connected their pipes to our drainage system and during the rains our entire colony was flooded."

Slum residents, however, bore the worst impact of the rains. Bangalore has a garment export sector that generates an annual revenue of Rs.4,000 crores, a fifth of what IT/ITES generate, but which employs 300,000 workers, a number far greater than the IT/ITES sectors. Most of these workers live in the 700-odd slums, grossly under-serviced settlements that have developed in the interstices of the big city.

Chief Minister N. Dharam Singh and Deputy Chief Minister M.P. Prakash (centre) with Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayanamurthy.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Recent government documentation on city development plans has renamed slum settlements as "shadow areas", and indeed there is little sunshine in the lives of those who live here. A "shadow area" is defined on the basis of two criteria, water supply deficiency and the deficiency in the number of teachers. A ward that has fewer than 70 connections for running water per 1,000 inhabitants and fewer than one teacher for 37 pupils is designated a "shadow area". Half of the population of Bangalore's seven million lives in "shadow areas", according to the government's figures. Infrastructure for these areas - housing, roads, lighting, drainage and toilet facilities - are grossly inadequate.

"Nobody gives their daughters in marriage to our families as there are no toilet facilities for women. We have to find places to relieve ourselves in the darkness, either very early in the morning or at night," said Shahina, a young mother of four girls and a boy. Shahina lives in Ward 45 of Azad Nagar, a sprawling slum off Mysore Road. Workers from garment factories, head-load workers who work in the nearby City Market, autorickshaw drivers, agarbathi workers and construction workers live in this slum. Shahina rolls agarbathis at home, for which she earns Rs.10 a day. Her hut is one of 100 such dwellings that are surrounded by stagnant drainage water. The heavy rain brought water into the huts and when the water receded it left behind an infestation of caterpillars that caused skin rashes and sores among the children. "Our councillor is a good man, and when we complain he gets the area disinfected, but the problem reappears. When you write, please say that our main demands are toilet facilities and good drainage," she told Frontline.

In Kamakshipalaya, a slum area to the west of the city occupied by people employed in a range of unorganised trades and industries, the situation is only marginally different. The recent rains brought dirty water from the nearby drainage canal into the homes of squatters, leaving distress and disease in its wake. "Our children always fall sick, especially after the rains," said Sanjivamma, a resident of the slum. She said: "Hospital bills are our biggest expenditure, and every day we spend Rs.2 on mosquito repellents. There are no toilets for us, nor drinking water supply."

A study conducted by Solomon Benjamin, a specialist in urban economy and governance with Delphi Private Ltd., reveals a startling picture of lopsided infrastructural development. The data show that infrastructural investment in poor, working class slums in central, west and south Bangalore differed by a factor of 1:40 when compared to Whitefield, an area with a concentration of software companies and large residential layouts. With "off site investments" such as dedicated expressways and high-grade services included, the ratio is 1:60.

Benjamin said: "A key problem we witness today in `globally' connected cities such as Bangalore is that of unequal access to public investments for infrastructure and services. The vast majority of small firms and trades, despite providing almost 80 per cent of the jobs, remain in what are called `shadow areas' where residential and work environments lack even basic infrastructure and services. In contrast, the hi-tech areas have access to publicly provided and subsidised high-grade infrastructure, services and land. As important, such publicly serviced land shore up land values."

THE State government has made it clear, in both intent and action, that attracting foreign and Indian corporates to Bangalore through the promise of high-quality infrastructure and concessions in the purchase of land will continue to be its priority. There are currently three mega development projects in the pipeline that were offered major concessions in the purchase of land. Land for the 138.6 sq km IT Corridor to the east of the city, first conceived in 1999 and still under development, was acquired under the single-window clearance scheme of the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) from small farmers in the area at very low rates (several landowners in the area have challenged in the High Court the acquisition of their lands at rates they allege are well below the market value).

The IT Corridor has been provided with high-grade infrastructure and services, connectivity and dedicated water supply channels. Feverish construction activity is taking place, within its limits, of giant software establishments and massive high-end housing projects. The second major project, for which the State government has acquired 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares), is the proposed new international airport at Devanahalli, which is to be constructed at a cost of Rs.1,355 crores. The area is now under the jurisdiction of the Bangalore International Airport Planning Authority. Around 40 per cent of the total area will be allotted for real estate development to fund the public-private partnership that will build the airport. Here too land was acquired from farmers at relatively low rates.

The third major project is the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC), a six-lane-111-km highway connecting Bangalore and Mysore. The KIADB notified over 29,000 acres (11,600 ha) to be acquired on behalf of the private company that is constructing the BMIC. The project has been mired in a corruption scandal over land acquisition ever since work on it began.

Lawrence Liang, lawyer and civil rights activist, said: "Under the S.M. Krishna government, a major change took place in the way the KIADB Act was implemented. A high-level committee set up a single-window clearance agency. This enabled companies to approach directly the committee, which could then sanction the acquisition of land by the KIADB for the company. Large blocks of land were cleared for acquisition by individual companies. Land developers had the potential to create dummy software companies which could acquire land that was then used for real estate and speculative purposes."

The response of the State government to the recent uproar from the corporate sector for better infrastructure has been to intensify the corporate-oriented urban development path that it has initiated. The draft Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) released by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) in June envisages as one of its objectives "hi-tech development by earmarking land for 375,000 new jobs related to IT, software, electronics, telecommunications and other emerging knowledge-based industries by the year 2015". There is no package for "shadow areas", indeed they are not even mentioned in the main recommendations of the CDP.

Officials of the BDA made public presentations on the salient features of the CDP every day for 60 days. "We received over 7,000 suggestions. Over 94 per cent of these were individual grievances and the rest were on policy issues. An independent committee will look into these suggestions before the CDP is finalised," said M.N. Vidyashankar, BDA Commissioner.

There was criticism from civic and environmental groups on the envisaged shrinkage of the green belt around Bangalore from 739 sq km to 400 sq km. There was also criticism of the plans for a peripheral ring road, which overlaps in some sections with the BMIC road that is under construction. The two roads run almost parallel to each other over a 46-km stretch, with a minimum gap of 1.6 km and a maximum gap of 3.3 km between them within this stretch.

The State government is nevertheless going ahead with the construction of a peripheral ring road for heavy vehicular traffic, a 109-km, eight-lane highway expandable to 22 lanes at a later stage, at a cost of Rs.1,100 crores. It will be the longest highway in the country and the project is expected to take eight months for land acquisition and 30 months for construction, according to the BDA Commissioner.

The other major development proposal that has received Cabinet clearance is a High Tech City in Phase 2 of the IT Corridor, beyond Sarjapur, for which Rs.491 crores has been earmarked. The State government will acquire 997 acres (about 399 ha), of which 500 acres (200 ha) will be earmarked for IT and biotechnology companies. Companies can acquire between one and 50 acres for the construction of offices and residential layouts for their employees. Tenders for layouts and roads have already been invited. The occupation of the High Tech City, entirely funded by the BDA, will commence only after the CDP is approved.

Work on a long-pending mass transport system has begun. The Central and State governments will together fund the Rs.6,500-crore metro rail project equally. "Nine hundred new vehicles are added to the roads of Bangalore every day and by March-end 2005, Bangalore had 25.6 lakh vehicles on its roads," said K.N. Shrivastava, managing director of Bangalore Mass Transport Rapid Transport Ltd. (BMRTL).

"The metro rail project will definitely help in traffic decongestion, reduced fuel consumption, less strain on roads, saving of travel time and reduction in accidents. The profitability of such a transport system will only occur over time," he said. A metro network of 36.5 km will be completed in five years in Phase I of the project in the central business district. The envisaged project has its fair share of critics who point to the enormous costs and inevitable delays in mega projects, but the success of the Delhi metro rail has been a shot in the arm for the State government and city planners who are backing the venture.

"There is a limit for the growth of any city," Deputy Chief Minister M.P. Prakash told Frontline. "Bangalore has a 7 per cent growth rate, the highest in Asia. There is a floating population of 15-20 lakhs every day in the city. The misery of people has increased and we see islands of prosperity amidst oceans of poverty," he said.

Prakash sees two solutions to this. The IT/BT sector, he says, should spread to other parts of the State and "they should contribute some portion of their profits for infrastructure maintenance". This is justified by the concessions they have got such as "tax breaks, land at very cheap rates, good water and electricity supplies, health care and educational facilities. My government's obligations are to provide minimum facilities of drinking water, toilets and drainage, and education and health to slum areas". These are obligations long overdue.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×