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21 October, 2016

Bengaluru's growth is irreversible


Bengaluru needed a plan in place in early 1990s when we knew we would reach this stage in urbanisation. How come we woke only now? Pic: Ameen Ahmed
I recollect those frequent return daily train trips between Tumakuru - Bengaluru between 1999-2002. All the discarded radio sets were slowly crawling back thanks to the couple of private FM channels that broadcast the latest songs. The Kannada Sanghas were equally active even back then. The newspapers would frequently report their demonstrations against the handful of FM radio stations airing Hindi songs that catered to the large influx of non-Kannadiga techies immigrating into the yet Garden City. The Arasikere-Bengaluru passenger train would slow down as it approached Yeshvantpur Junction. Mathikere tank adjoining the railway track to the north was still a decent wetland. I remember sighting flocks of Purple Moorhens running over the hyacinth leaves. And also the migratory waders from far off lands in a feeding frenzy on its shores. And one of those days I noticed people dumping garbage and construction debris in it. The pace increased over days and months. The huts came up then. One a day. Two a day. No one to stop. Last week I took a train trip from Tumakuru to Bengaluru after about 8 years since my last one. I saw this tank again and I wished I had not done so.

As 2000 passed, Bengaluru ate away all its sand and much of timber. In our drives around Tumakuru and neighbouring districts we could see the day light looting of the resources- chiefly sand and timber, for the buildings coming up in Bengaluru. Around the same time hundreds of thousands of mature indigenous British-era trees were chopped for Atal Bihari Vajapayee's pet NH Golden Quadrilateral project across the country, Bengaluru being no exception. Many of them ended up in newly set up brick kilns, some of them not far from the highways. The kilns were churning out bricks for a city that was engulfed in a construction frenzy.

Another British-era roadside tree that was felled for the expansion of National Highway No: 4 near Dobbspet in Nelamangala Taluk, Bengaluru District. Pic: Ameen Ahmed
Things started slowly appearing in the media in 2007-08 when villagers in neighbouring districts realised there was no sand in their streams and with that no water as well. People died as well, after sand caved in near many villages nullahs and water courses The trickle of sand laden lorries had turned into a torrent towards Bangalore. The demand was insatiable. Every one benefited. Yes, every one, including me. The sand in one of those lorries must have also been used for the construction of my apartment in 2002-03. The beneficiaries of this could also be many of our new tree huggers planning their next protest against the steel flyover.

Bengaluru needed a plan in place in early 1990s or at least in the mid-1990s when we knew we would reach this stage in urbanisation. How come we woke only now? Are we going to stop every new road expansion project in the city? Should the city's development come to a grinding halt just because we have realised our folly now? This steel bridge is an alarm call but it is not the last. No change in Governments can stop urbanisation. It is irreversible.

Yes. The process of improving public transport and universal access to it can (and should) be fastened. The weaning away from private vehicles to public transport should be gradual and time bound. The civil society can (may be it should) take a lead in it by ensuring vultures out to score political brownies are kept at a distance. Will it happen now when it has not happened in the last 20 - 25 years? Well, we can always try.