Bangalore: For Suman Chatterjee, who drives 50 minutes to travel 2km every evening from his event management firm in Indira Nagar to his rented home on Old Madras Road, the charm of the city lies in its gardens, though these are fast disappearing.
Chatterjee’s daily bumpy rides and traffic woes have only aggravated as he drives down the four-lane Old Madras Road, which has recently turned into a giant construction site to make way for the first line of the Rs6,395 crore Metro rail project. The city’s first mass rapid transit system is already nine months behind schedule, its deadline having been stretched from March to December 2010.
By the winter of 2011, the entire Metro rail network of 33km is expected to be laid above the city’s potholed roads, and carry around 1.2 million people every day.
Chatterjee, 32, who has just been promoted as account manager, stayed back in the country’s technology hub after completing a master’s in business administration programme from Garden City College nine years ago, refusing a couple of plum offers from hometown Kolkata.
Losses log: Trees felled for widening a road in Bangalore. The project includes widening of 140 roads. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Bangalore was a green city till even three years back. Things changed once they began widening the roads and then, the trees started disappearing,” says Chatterjee.
With plans to widen 140 roads across the city, Bangalore is set to lose the title of Garden City. Various reasons have been cited for the massive road widening exercise, including a burgeoning vehicle population. Bangalore had 3.1 million vehicles on its roads in April, according to the website of the city traffic police.
Ramachandra Guha, historian and a resident of Bangalore for the past 15 years, says he has seen the city transform over the years from its distinct architecture of low-rise, colonial buildings to nondescript, glass-façade buildings, riding high on the information technology (IT) boom. “I am not nostalgic about the past and all for the economic boom. But there is a problem when a city like Bangalore gets culturally impoverished at the cost of economic growth. There isn’t a single, decent public library here.”
Guha says in earlier days he used to walk 4km from Jayamahal Extension to MG Road. “I tried taking a walk some time back and found it rather hazardous. The pavements are gone, some even have craters, and the traffic is unbearable. This used to be a great example of one of India’s best walking cities. Not any more,” he says.
Though Bangalore contributes nearly 60% to Karnataka’s gross domestic product (GDP), the general perception is that successive governments have ignored the city’s development. But following delimitation—or redrawing of assembly constituencies—in 2007, the state assembly now has 28 representatives from Bangalore instead of 16 earlier. The city’s constituencies have become too important now for any political party to ignore.
Karnataka’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP-led government realizes this only too well. In the state’s annual budget presented in July, chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa announced a Rs1,880 crore package to resurrect the crumbling infrastructure of the city.
Infrastructure woes, especially power outages and bad roads, over the past decade have been threatening Bangalore’s status as India’s technology capital.
A May report of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, or Assocham, said Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Chennai were being tapped most by IT firms for expansion.
But, thanks to the ecosystem it has developed, Bangalore continues to attract technology professionals and firms.
“In no other city in India you can find a person as easily as in Bangalore to work on the most complex technologies. The city has the best network of professionals,” says Ashok Kumar Manoli, IT secretary of Karnataka.