Editorial - Living in Bangalore

As any other big cities, Bangalore has got its own set of issues. There may not be a better term to define the housing scenario in Bangalore than ‘anarchy’. The situation can be well understood when the competent authorities say that ‘gated communities’ are not legal but not illegal. Bangalore has got its infamous concept - ‘B khata’, were in reality no document exists which is known as ‘B khata’. 'Khata' is an account of assessment of a property for payment of tax. What came to be known as 'B katha' is nothing but a register maintained by BBMP of illegal properties for the purpose of tax collection. Whether it's affordable flats or luxury villas you may end up buying properties without valid documents. When the administration moved from Sanitary Boards to City Municipal Council and later to BBMP many opted not to switch because of high betterment or improvement charges; obviously residents could not see any betterment or improvement of civic amenities.

One of the main reasons for all the anarchy is that the dividing line between politicians and land mafia has become obscure. The extent of corruption and malpractice can be understood from the story of a software professional who found that the plot allotted to him by BDA had been overtaken by someone and a building was constructed on it when he returned from onsite after 3 years. And that was a clerical mistake! It is time for the authorities to come up with scientifically prepared Master development plans for the city and regularise all the structures which can be accommodated in the plan. Compensation for regularisation, if required for developmental activities has to be partially borne by the builders. Also, it has to be taken care that in the pretext of development the poorest of poor do not get displaced. Evacuation and displacement are major concerns since even the land allotted for Economically Weaker Sections are grabbed by the affluent by making use of state machinery as it happened in Ejipura.

Our political bosses when tired of exemptions from an Act will repeal the Act itself similar to what happened to the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976. Absence of land ceiling leads to hoarding and excessive holding of land. Speculative buying of land and properties pushed the prices to new levels that majority of people, urban poor as well as the middle class in the city could not afford for proper housing. Read it with the fact that 25% of Bangalore city’s population lives in slums. Accumulation of ownership of land in lesser number of hands has made it dearer even for well paid knowledge workers. Speculative buying has resulted in the situation of high property values even when huge number of houses is lying vacant and there are clear signs of oversupply. Additional higher tax for second homes as done in Singapore or China can be thought of by the civic authorities to curb speculative buying.

As a city which has been attracting job seekers from other states, Bangalore has got a huge population who are temporarily settled in the city. From the lowest to the highest paid workers form part of that group. Unreasonably high rent rates across the city is increasingly claiming larger portion of the monthly budget. Also, there are numerous cases of deposit not being returned or a big portion of it being kept by the owner. For being want of help most are helpless in these situations and silently endure the torment. Authorities need to take steps to ensure only reasonable rents and deposits are collected and grievances are addressed. It is also sad that in a city which boasts to be cosmopolitan and modern and a vast majority having access to latest technology and information, search for a house becomes difficult if you belong to certain religious communities.

To conform to the recommendations of Economic Administration Reforms Commission and the National Commission on Urbanisation, Karnataka Rent Control Act, 1961 was replaced with the Karnataka Rent Act, 1999. The claim of ‘regulation of rent’ mentioned in the introduction of the act has turned to be a mockery with the act itself being redundant with practically no one approaching offices of House Rent Controllers. The provisions for fixing the rent, revision of rent, limiting the maintenance charge to 10% and amenities charge to 15%, registration of middlemen and agents – all the provisions are useless as the Act is applicable only to those residential buildings older than 15 years earning a rent less than Rs. 3,500 per month in city corporation areas and Rs. 2000 in other areas. To serve the interest of large section of population who greatly contribute to the economy of the state, government should introduce an effective act with rent regulation linked to the actual price expended by the owner on the property and various price indices and inflation, along with reasonable exemptions to certain types of properties; exemption not being as given in the current act.

The spurt of growth seen by IT industry was directly related to the degradation of quality of life in Bangalore. City's green cover is reduced from 71% to 12% in last forty years. 59% of the carbon emission is caused by the high rise buildings. The development of Bangalore can be seen as good example for distorted developmental concepts and priorities. Flyovers, great shopping malls or international airports are part of city planning, so too are the breathing spaces, gardens and public spaces. Garden city is now sewage city with frequent leakages, clogs and overflows.

News reports tell that Bangalore is producing 3,500 tonnes of garbage every day. Since August 2012 the garbage issue came to the forefront. The increased quantity of garbage in the landfills of outskirts of Bangalore naturally invited violent protest of the residents of those places. It is evident that BBMP too do not have any clue on resolving the problem effectively. Another set of people are even sure that corporators of BBMP are collaborating with garbage contractors. Experts say that there should be a separate civic body to manage the garbage by installing effective machines at the landfills and developing compost development units. It should also work towards bringing down the garbage produced by industries, hotels and real estate. On the other side Solid Waste Management Round Table and City Connect are of the opinion that waste management is the responsibility of all citizens and to ensure that they will reduce the garbage and segregate the waste at source.

The depletion of water table may be the most concerning problem; short term as well as long term, for the people across Bangalore. Proper scientific analysis and planning with definite time bound action plans are to be undertaken for keeping the city liveable in the future. A many-fold approach has to be taken to tackle the issue; major water sourcing projects from outside the city like Cauvery, utilizing the local resources efficiently like rejuvenating the 150 plus lakes or to ensure that the major part of rain received is added to the water table. Well implemented rainwater harvesting system can quench the thirst of the city at least for a few days. Being at higher altitude pumping water from outside source is costlier and hence rejuvenation of lakes assumes much importance. The voices asking for revival of Arkavathi river and Hesaraghatta and Thippagondanahalli (TG Halli) reservoirs can’t be neglected without merit.

All these point to lack of adequate and scientific planning for the city’s development. When the power is wielded by vested interests and rules are made for them the imminent danger becomes unavoidable. The more we shy away from our duty of day to day engagement with our own environment and society the more unlivable the society becomes. It is the moral responsibility of the section who has benefited more out of a city to give back something. A master plan prepared with the participation of its residents and other stakeholders is the need of the hour.

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