Thursday, 15 September 2011

Time for Change in Bangalore

For most of us, the town or city where we grew up has a special place in our hearts. Bangalore, which has been my home throughout my life, has undergone a metamorphosis in a relatively brief period. When I was growing up, it was a clean, laid-back city with beautiful, tree-lined roads. Bangalore exuded grace that defined everything, from its theatres, food and music to its academics and architecture; it had a soul that set it apart from other cities. Then, the city experienced the IT revolution, which propelled Bangalore on an explosive growth trajectory for which it was just not geared.

The IT boom not only redefined the city but also the country, offering us the opportunity to realize our economic capabilities – both at the individual and national level. Today, Bangalore is the heart of the Great Indian Growth Story – renowned across the world for its IT and biotech industries, deep knowledge reserves and its cutting-edge research. As an entrepreneur, this is an exciting time to be in Bangalore.
However, the momentous growth in population and economic activity, compounded with unplanned development, has also brought civic chaos evidenced by depleted green cover, bad roads, shoddy infrastructure, unruly traffic, and footpath encroachments. The city’s woefully inadequate infrastructure has lagged behind its economic development and threatens to stifle it. I am pained and infuriated with the apathy of the authorities who have, by acts of omission or commission, let this happen.

Grappling with an infrastructural crisis, businesses are forced to set up their own power-generating stations to compensate for outages and stagger working hours to bypass horrific traffic jams. Bangalore contributes 36% of India's software exports – expected to touch Rs 2,61,200 crore in 2010-11 – and is the top biotech city accounting for one-fifth of the country’s biotech revenues. Quite clearly, a lot needs to be done to ensure that the city’s economy does not suffer and that its people have a city to be proud of.
Today, Bangalore stands at the crossroads. It has attained global stature in the economic sphere through its industry and entrepreneurship. Now, its citizens and leaders also need to ensure that it emerges as a global metropolis – a great city with a high liveability index in terms of civic amenities, roads, infrastructure, and cleanliness.

It is not too late to make this possible – yet. We need to make several decisions to help integrate the development work that has finally taken off in Bangalore with the unbeatable spirit of its people and the strength of the corporate ethos. Even as my love for the city attracts me to help it overcome civic challenges it faces, I also realize that a CEO's interest helps expedite matters and make things happen. Some of the ways we can do this is by supporting the government with management resources and financial support to help develop the city, improve environment, healthcare, education and transportation facilities. Corporate organizations can help by investing in basic infrastructure like roads with the active co-operation of the government. Political will must play a key role in this endeavour and the administration must shed its lethargy to make this happen. Together, we can create a city that is a joy to live and work in.

I believe we need to make a concerted effort in three specific areas. Bangalore urgently and desperately requires an effective multi-modal public transport system. Such a mass transport system needs efficient interchange stations in which the metro, monorail, buses and private vehicles co-exist and complement each other. A high-quality road network is also critical to its success.

Slum development is another area through which Bangalore’s liveability can be enhanced. Adequate housing, sanitation and water – and other basic services like schools – are essential to ensuring that the dire needs of a sizeable section of the city’s population are addressed. This will also help ensure that the city is cleaner and healthier.

A third important area is urban healthcare and health insurance. The administration should focus on ensuring that all citizens have access to affordable healthcare through a public-private-partnership model. Micro-credit institutions can be roped in to deliver health insurance in urban areas. Corporates can work with the civic administration to ensure that adequate primary healthcare facilities are accessible to Bangalore’s poor.

Cities are a conglomeration of people and their ideas and actions. Even as we, as residents of Bangalore, invoke nostalgia for what was, we cannot stop at that. This nostalgia needs to take the form of a campaign to make change happen for the better. Together, we can make Bangalore beautiful again with prosperity for all.

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