India’s urban challenges

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Posted on:11-01-15

As I sat in my car, fuming at the delay, I reflected upon what had happened to my adopted home, Bangalore. I had first come to the city when I was sixteen years old, in the mid-seventies and was struck by its charm. Fourteen years later, Bangalore still was a beautiful place, but priced beyond my modest pocket. So, my wife and I decided to buy a plot of land far outside the city, twenty four kilometers to be exact, in the sleepy suburban village of Whitefield. Even as we built our mud house there, people questioned our sanity. We were warned of the lack of water. ‘Dacoits from Andhra Pradesh attack houses there’, we were told.

 

Then, Information Technology happened.

 

The meadow opposite our house, which was owned by an eccentric, who owned horses – Whitefield was full of eccentrics - is now a ‘value’ mall, which houses shops that offer competitive prices. That means that people who come there actually buy stuff, besides watching movies and consuming junk food in the Food Court. Looming over our house, we can see gantry cranes working on building an ultra-luxury block of flats, that offer ‘global living’; whatever that means. Between Whitefield and Bangalore, lay the green-belt indicated in the City’s spatial plan of the day. That area has diminished to patches of dying agriculture, owned by farmers who are still holding out. The rest comprise of IT Technology parks, gated communities and schools, and congested settlements of the people who actually work to keep these islands of prosperity look world class; the maids, guards, drivers, construction workers and suchlike.

 Through Whitefield runs the sewage of Bangalore, on its onward journey to Tamilnadu, where its waters are used for irrigation. Occasionally, the water froths due to the pollution – the suds rise several feet into the air and overwhelm the bridge across the tank weir.

 There is no doubt that Whitefield is an urban disaster. Every urban service; transportation, roads, sewage, water supply, streetlights, garbage collection and disposal, is under severe stress and barely function. It is not as if money is not being spent on improving these. However, even as the roads are resurfaced, the optical fibre wallahs, the Water and Sewerage Board and the Electricity Supply Company dig these up. Trees are cut to widen the roads, but the additional lanes are used for car parking.

 Sadly, every city has its Whitefields; rural suburbs that urbanized so fast that its residents were unable to cope with the change. Yet, there is no doubt that these peripheral areas of cities are where the action is happening; the energy and feverish activity here is what drives India’s growth engine. Yet, the young people of India continue to suffer life in such dusty and polluted surroundings, even as they financially prosper.

 

The next set of blogs will look at some of the issues that plague India’s urbanization. Why do we need to live like this? What does it take to change? How quickly can that happen?

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