Recognised as a city offering an abundance of opportunity in India, Bengaluru has witnessed significant increases in business investments and urban migration over the last few decades. Today, it is home to over 10.45 million people, contributes nearly 60 percent to Karnataka’s GDP, and is the fourth largest technology cluster in the world. However, this trajectory of unprecedented rapid urban and economic growth has brought with it the chaos of haphazard development that is negatively impacting human and environmental health.
The chaos is evident in the way mass media reports on the city. Stories about how the city will soon near day zero for water supply, school children stuck in traffic, lakes catching fire, and the devolution of Bengaluru from garden city to garbage city dominate the city’s news cycle. The rapid, unprecedented urbanisation of Bengaluru between 2001 and 2011 has led to enormous degradation of the city and its resources. Most of this growth has happened on the edge of municipal boundaries and on unserviced, unplanned land. This has led to self-provisioning mechanisms like drawing ground water, using diesel generators for electricity, and solid waste dumping practices that are damaging to the environment.
In Karnataka, a new government has taken charge, and has the mandate of delivering on development for all by 2022. The year 2022 also marks the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. The government needs to lay out a plan of action to meet infrastructure and service requirements in the face of increasing vulnerability to climate change. The way forward needs to tackle issues of water, mobility, housing, and other urban services, while taking into consideration new paradigms emerging due to technological innovations.
Bengaluru receives its water supply from the Cauvery river, 100 km away. This water has to be pumped uphill to a height of 540m. BWSSB, the agency in charge of water supply and sewerage services has expanded its infrastructure incrementally to source water from Cauvery since 1974 as the demand has increased with increasing population. Based on BWSSB’s estimate, while this water could meet 70 percent of the demand in the city, an astonishing 49 percent is lost in distribution.
Water supply and sewerage services have not been able to keep up with the pace of growth, forcing developments in the peripheral areas of the city to meet their water and sanitation needs on their own. Since large developments or townships are also required to maintain zero-liquid discharge, there is an on-going challenge for them to manage their wastewater streams as these systems are expensive to install and require technical capacity for to manage. Additionally, finding sufficient ways to reuse the treated wastewater on-site is challenging. Given this, can Bengaluru think of ways to meet its water requirements sustainably and efficiently? Could distributed models of service delivery be an option for the urban peripheries?
New technologies are already disrupting the way people move about in cities. Shared and electric mobility are leading to a reorganisation of ownership and delivery of transport. In Bengaluru, an estimated 80,000 taxis operate under the aggregator model, making 700,000 to 800,000 trips per day, and account for 3-4 percent of the mode share.
How would the city rethink mobility planning in this context? How do we ensure operators and consumers are not exploited? Who owns the data and information being collected? And most importantly, how do we ensure access for all?
Large Townships and Corporate Parks
Most of the development in urban peripheries has been in the form of large townships or corporate campuses. Since 2005, 10,000 new townships have emerged, and another 5000 acres is currently under development in the outer edges of the city. These new, large developments present a huge opportunity for the city to set in place systems for water, electricity consumption, and waste management in an efficient manner. At the same time, they place massive stresses on transport networks and land requirements.
Sprawling, gated communities make it difficult to develop a secondary road network. The traffic congestion in Whitefield, in many ways, can be attributed to the lack of secondary networks. In this context, should we be building resource-intensive sprawling gated campuses and communities? Can city agencies work with private developers and corporate parks so that public road networks can extend into such campuses?
Planning for People
In Bengaluru, as in other Indian cities, the power to drive action is held with State Government, and to some extent, with the municipal corporation. But given the rapid growth of the city outside municipal limits, and the need to solve problems like water-logging and waste management at the local level, there is a massive need to decentralise governance to empower the metropolitan and local wards.
How we empower ward councils? What practical steps do we need to strengthen metropolitan governance? Can common mapping platforms enable coordinated action? And lastly, how can we leverage the power of data and technology to assist in solving these problems?
WRI India is hosting Unlock Bengaluru this weekend to examine how good governance, inclusive planning, effective management of resources, and enhanced infrastructure and services aided by technology will improve service delivery and quality of life in a dynamic, ever-changing urban landscape.