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I have lived in Bangalore for a really long time and over the years, I have witnessed how the city has changed in terms of its politics, economics and demographics. What started off as a conservative, retirement paradise has grown into a metropolitan, competing with other international cities in terms of services, infrastructure and lifestyle.

A few days ago, the internet caught whiff of an Indian Institute of Science report that read: ‘Bengaluru will be an unlivable, dead city in 5 years’. If saying things nicely all this while hasn’t been getting the attention of the masses, being radical definitely gets the job done.

Excerpts from the report talk about a growth rate in built up area of 525%, declining vegetation by 78% and a 79% decline in water bodies. While these numbers present a behemoth image, what needs to be highlighted here is that these figures span across 40 years.

There is no doubt that the city is moving along the wrong path, but a cry for attention is not very well received when statistics are far-stretched. When presented with the 525% built-up area growth from 1976 up until 2016, I am forced to be critical about the numbers for the sake of rationality. Back in 1976, Bangalore was still a quiet little city where the number of industries were limited, large scale offices were barely a handful and most importantly, the growth rate in terms of GDP and per-capita income was low. Everyone was happy and if you look at photographs of the erstwhile city, you will realize that it was nothing short of paradise on Earth.

With any Tier 1 city in any part of the world, growth is rarely ever linear. The rise (or fall) of a city is always triggered by single or multiple factors that either occur naturally or are man-made and can be socially, economically or politically motivated.  In such cases, it becomes inevitable that the city is going to see a growth rate like it never has before.
The biggest problem with growth in the case of any economy and society is the lack of ownership for that growth. For example, the city of Bangalore began to see an unprecedented growth when the Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing companies set-up shop; with the government allocating large tracts of land for business parks and Special Economic Zones, foreign investors started moving into the city. This type of development was embraced by everyone who was benefited by it – the employees and investors of these companies and also, the landowners, contractors and architects who also benefited from all the sprawling tech parks.

As the years went by, ‘Brain-Drain’ continued to rise and a large portion of people from different parts of the country began immigrating to Bangalore. It goes without saying that they were welcomed by their employers who hired them, developers who built their homes and the government who taxed them. Apart from the hassles of living in a new city, all the employees were content because they were paid well and were given their share of perquisites.

Looking back at how the city has really grown, one will understand that even today, someone who has to travel daily to Whitefield for work might be fed up of the commute but would not want their employer to shift base to another city. This only goes to show that even with issues such as the average speed of traffic in Whitefield dropping to 5 kmph, PM 2.5 and PM 10 (Particulate Matter 2.5 micrometers and 10 micrometers) levels going way above stipulated limits by the World Health Organization, acute water shortages and booming land prices, we are still not willing to let go of the golden goose.

Needless to say, it is understandable for anyone benefiting from Bangalore’s Frankenstein monster to not want to let go of it all.
However, when a report from a highly acclaimed institution such as the Indian Institute of Science goes to say that Bengaluru will become a dead city in 5 years, I am hoping they have done a really good, foolproof study. What was startling was the fact that with such a controversial report, no media outlet or even the IISc for that matter, has publicly published this report. It is obvious that if you pull up on data from decades ago and compare it to data today, you are going to see bizarre numbers. To put things into hindsight, the growth in petrol prices has increased by 786% in the last twenty five years. (Source)

Bangalore is in trouble, no one has ever doubted that – it’s getting hotter each day and the water table is heading deeper. But reports like these are the difference between assuming the lump on your testicle is malign whereas in reality, it’s just syphilis. What we need are desperate policy changes and a governance that sees eye-to-eye with community outfits that are contributing to more than their share of social change.

We need to change the mentality of a people to ever see drastic change in the city. For instance, most of our traffic problems can be solved with lane discipline. We’d have safer roads if more people weren’t concerned about helmets messing up their hair. The city would have cleaner air and lesser traffic only if we believed in car-pooling and sustainable driving habits.

If all builders, developers and the individual home owners satisfied the stipulated parking requirements, we’d have fewer cases of clogged streets and by-lanes.
It is saddening to see how Bangalore, a city that to a large level was inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s ‘Garden City’ concept is reeling under the wrath of mindless deforestation and construction. The city was never designed to nurture technology and industry giants from around the world. Back in 1985 when Texas Instruments set up base in Bangalore, the city was still waking up from its dreamy slumber.

With what the city has become and where its citizens have come since the post-independence era, it becomes only too easy to point fingers and play the blame game. While in reality, most destruction has been politically influenced, it becomes imperative that the present populace of the city looks at mitigating disaster for as long as possible.
It becomes extremely important that the peoples of the city begin to look at themselves in this scenario as ‘We‘ and not ‘Me’. Bangalore is going to face some difficult times and that is most certainly unavoidable. The best we can do is try to slow down the countdown to ‘doomsday’.

“We are the change that we seek.

 

Read more about the Bangalore photo-documentation series here. Images from the series here.

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