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Is the Bangalore story over?

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Even those who believe it isn't, admit the execution of infrastructure solutions remains patchy
 
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Chief Operating Officer,
 
As someone who thinks Bangalore is home and loves the city dearly, it is difficult to admit that the story is over. At the same time, it is difficult for anyone to deny that the infrastructure situation in the city is bursting at its seams.
 
Yet, infrastructure is not all about roads but clearing garbage, making sure untreated sewage does not mingle with drinking water and naked electrical wires don't kill school children.
 
Add to all this, the state of denial. The starting point of solving a problem is admitting that we have one. Recent statements by some imply that speaking about the civic infrastructure can lead to being labelled a "non-local". This is dangerous and must stop. We must start with not the city's infrastructure but the city's state of mind.
 
First, at the level of the government we have to be committed to the city and decide that this is a non-political issue. We must have a common minimum programme on which there is no compromise.
 
These are issues like garbage collection, sewage disposal, road repair, reliable electricity and safe drinking water. Whether or not there will be an international airport or a metro-rail, comes later.
 
The Bangalore experience proves there is a systemic limit to capacity building in any city. Beyond a point, trying to retrofit capacity is futile. Singapore's sewage disposal system was designed to operate at several times the amount of generation and the capacity was created such that treated sewage could be flushed into the sea at high tide! That's planning. Now, try stuffing Bangalore with a population larger than Singapore's on top of a non-existent drainage system "" it just can not work. At some stage, efforts become not only cosmetic, they amount to putting lipstick on a pig.
 
The solution, therefore, is to build newer cities, decongest and admit that sooner or later, a system of control must be exercised on who can live and work where. I see no running away from a future in which odd numbered vehicles can ply on allocated three days a week and even numbered vehicles on the other three days, with Sunday being free for all.
 
Then comes the issue of who should fix the city infrastructure and who should run it? A lot of talk about public-private partnership makes the rounds.
 
At the end of the day, running cities like New York or Singapore and Shanghai is specialised, full time work. Bangalore can not be an exception.
 
Citizenry can participate in policy planning, understand and contribute to the political system and pay taxes right. It just cannot pretend to run the system and the system cannot abdicate its responsibility, which must be exercised with transparency and sans corruption. That requires emotional security and a long term view "" two things we do not give our elected politicians.
 
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Bangalore is India's only global city. It exported $6.5 billion in fiscal 2005, targeted to reach $10 billion by fiscal 2007. With 250,000 people employed and growing at over 30 per cent, it is among the top two IT destinations in the world. It is a global brand, recognised all over the world, the place of choice for young Indians with possibly the best quality of life for a comparable city in India.
 
Bangalore's challenge is that it has grown at 11 per cent per annum over the last decade and the infrastructure has obviously not kept pace. Bangalore also has a vocal civil society that does not take bad infrastructure and an inadequate governance structure lying down. Therefore, we have the spectacle of protests from industry and civil society. This is a common problem across urban areas all over India but magnified by rapid growth in Bangalore.
 
The city is not losing its pre-eminence though the high expectations of investors and stake holders is not being met. Only the lustre is diminishing a bit. Bangalore needs help "" lots of it from the state and Union governments and its own citizens.
 
The was one such institutional mechanism, to create a governance structure. Its absence today is creating frustration and raising protest levels.
 
What is the remedy? The biggest problem is traffic. Industry has suggested a set of short and long term initiatives, all accepted by the government. These have to be implemented vigorously with the active participation of civil society. Investment is apace on the water and power fronts.
 
Drainage is a major concern and once again execution holds the key. The plans have been chalked out. All stakeholders know the challenges and the solutions. What is lacking is execution. The state government derives 70 per cent of its revenues from Bangalore and needs to plough back a bit more to make the city better. If the city prospers it will generate resources and a better life for all.
 
For their part, Bangalore's citizens should form groups like Janagraha to identify issues and work with the government to execute projects. Industry is doing its bit but needs more from all stakeholders. This is not a fight between industry and the state government, but a call by tax payers for better performance and governance.
 
The bureaucracy is willing and has shown its commitment. The political leadership has to rise to the occasion and accelerate the pace of change. The situation is not desperate; but the inflection point has come. It is up to all of us to work together and make it happen.
 
If Bangalore succeeds then there is hope for our young people. If the doomsayers succeed, it is the last great opportunity lost for India.

 
 

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