Bengaluru: The Congress in Karnataka has never been a slacker when it comes to making impossible promises. One of its chief ministers even said he'd 'make Bengaluru a Singapore'. The Congress manifesto released in 2013 was more modest, it merely promised to make Bengaluru slum-free.
According to the Karnataka Slum Development Board, in 2016, there were 3,69,711 people living in 597 slums in Bengaluru, down from about 700 slums when the Congress took charge in 2013. According to the KSDB survey, the state's slum population numbers 40.50 lakh which works to 22.56 percent of Karnataka's urban population. The KSDB has notified 2,397 slums in the state, of which presently 387 are in Bengaluru.
"We have succeeded in constructing around 70,000 dwellings for slum-dwellers across the state and 5,000 shelters for people living in slums in Bengaluru," says KSDB chairman PR Ramesh. "There is a lot to do. I was confident of making Karnataka, especially Bengaluru, free from slums but in vain."
Conflict of interest
He blames the central government for not cooperating with the state government in making Karnataka a slum-free state. "The central government's contribution was Rs 2.50 lakh per unit during the UPA regime but has been reduced to Rs 1.50 lakh by the NDA government. Though it is difficult for the state government to bear the additional cost of Rs one lakh per unit, Siddaramaiah was generous enough to allocate funds. So, we were able to construct 70,000 units across the state," says Ramesh.
According to him, the beneficiary has to contribute Rs 50,000 towards the construction cost. Each unit costs Rs five lakh. "We cannot ask the beneficiary to pay more than Rs 50,000. The state government is also not in a position to allocate Rs three lakh per unit," he says.
Traffic a mess
When it comes to traffic, it seems there is no end to commuters' woes. The government promised to ease congestion by widening roads but none of the major roads has been widened. Traffic jams are routine and if there's a rally anywhere in the city, whether from City Railway Station to Freedom Park or Town Hall to Bannappa Park or if a political convention is held at Bengaluru Palace Grounds, its arteries are choked for hours.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had attempted to widen roads by acquiring adjacent private properties but a lack of funds forced it to put all plans on hold. Commuting on Old Madras Road, Sarjapur Road or Mysuru Road has become a nightmare. It is true that Namma Metro has helped reduce traffic congestion on certain routes, but there is a lot to do to ensure hassle-free commuting in Bengaluru.
The traffic situation has gone from bad to worse, says MN Sreehari, a former professor at RV College of Engineering and traffic-engineering advisor and consultant to several corporate large builders in India. "Often, to travel from Vijayanagar, Bangalore west to Whitefield Bangalore east, it takes two and half hour to make a journey of 35 to 40 kilometres," he says. A recent study by cab aggregator Ola says that the average speed in the city has dropped to about 17 km/h, the lowest in the country in 2017.
According to the Transport Department, by December 2017 the city's vehicle population had crossed 72.58 lakh, out of which over 50 lakh are two-wheelers and 14 lakh cars.
Gardens, lakes a concern
The government also promised to make the management of gardens and lakes participatory, involving the residents' associations. However, residents have stopped expecting the government to act. A Sarjapur resident who is part of the Sarjapur Resident Welfare Association (SRWA) says that there are 26 lakes in his area which are about to die. "We are forming into a group by involving villagers, gram panchayat, environmentalists and local RWAs to start the rejuvenation of the lakes," says Joy VR, secretary of the SRWA.
Ashakiran Jain, a resident of Gottigere, says: "The lake was almost dying in front of our eyes. So, with the help of a group of volunteers from the nearby apartments, we started the rejuvenation work of de-weeding the lake. We want to continue this lake cleaning on a voluntary basis; we collect money and buy tools and other things required. We want to bring this lake back to its original glory."
According to a Karnataka Legislature Committee report, about one-fifth of lake area in the Garden City has been encroached upon. Of the total 1,547 lakes spread across 57,932 acres in both urban and rural districts, 10,785 acres have been encroached upon by both government and private agencies, it says.
When it comes to cleaning the water bodies in and around Bengaluru, the Congress government has done precious little. One may recall the froth menace that made commuters' lives miserable on Whitefield Road. The froth on Varthur Lake and fires on Bellandur Lake have made global headlines.
"We expected financial assistance from the Centre," complained Bengaluru development minister KJ George at a recent press conference. "The Union minister for environment had assured all help while in Bengaluru but has forgotten about it when the state government sought funds for the development of Bellandur Lake."
City lost 17,964 trees in eight years
Thousands of trees are felled each year for development projects across the city. According to the BBMP forest department, as many as 17,964 trees were cut down between 2008 and 2016 to make way for flyovers, road widening, and other projects. The BBMP claims to have planted 1,02,039 saplings against the target of planting 1,00,000 saplings in its eight zones in 2016-17.
However, environmental experts have dismissed these claims. "Trees planted in the city are only on paper. BBMP officials have faked the figure, says Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group. "There is no verification of these claims made by BBMP". The BBMP declined to respond.
The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: May 08, 2018 16:28 PM