Wednesday, August 19, 2015

City Infrastructure under strain

The rapid growth of the Bangalore city in the last few decades has brought in its wake a host  of problems. Though the agencies involved in town planning are making some efforts to meet the infrastructure needs of the city, they have not been able to cope with the pace of growth. Traffic management, maintenance of roads, power, drinking water, sewerage and housing are some of  the areas, which have come under severe stress.

The absence of a good mass transport system has resulted in an abnormal increase in the number of private vehicles. Six two-wheelers that can carry only twelve people occupy as much space as bus carrying about sixty people does. This leads to avoidable congestion on the roads. People choose to travel by their own two or four wheelers as they can’t trust the BMTC buses for reaching their offices/work places in time due to absence of punctuality and discipline among the BMTC staff. With so many vehicles on the roads, it is only natural that peak hours are plagued by traffic jams and blockades. The authorities concerned have tried to solve this problem by building flyovers and underpasses, by widening roads and by introducing a one-way system  on major roads. The BMTC, after it was made a corporation, has shown some improvement in its performance. It has increased its fleet and replaced many buses, which were not in good condition. According to BMTC  officials, they would have increased the fleet further, but bad road conditions are coming in the way. Another point to be noted is that the number of vehicles  plying on most of the roads are well beyond the number  they can be normally expected to ply. 

The bad condition of the roads increases the traveling time and as a result the vehicles are stranded on the roads for a longer time than actually necessary. To whichever area of the city one goes, it is difficult to find a stretch of road, which is not damaged. The surface has worn out almost completely on many roads. Apart from the normal wear tear, lack of coordination among different civic agencies, is also adding to the problem. Agencies like KPTCL, BWSSB, and BSNL dig up roads one after the other for laying cables and pipes, some times immediately after the surface is re-done. Though there is an understanding that the agency, which disfigures the road, should restore it to its original condition, many a time this is not done. And even when it is done, the repair work carried out found to be haphazard. The incessant movement of heavy vehicles, in areas where building of large apartment complexes are in progress, takes a heavy toll on the condition of the roads. While the civic agencies are asked to restore the original condition of the road, the builders who contribute substantially to its wear and tear are spared of this obligation. The authorities concerned should ponder whether it is fair to spare the builders of this responsibility. 

Two other factors, which have contributed to the traffic congestion, are encroachment of roads by shopkeepers & residents and unregulated parking. The encroachments result in narrowing the width of the road and thereby reduce the space available for the movement of vehicles. Corrupt officials close their eyes when encroachments are made and building laws regarding set off etc are violated. Many apartments and offices display the board, ‘visitors vehicles are not allowed inside’ and consequently we find vehicles being parked on the road. This practice come into vogue when there was a bomb scare on public buildings from the terrorists. Now that the threat has receded, at least in our part of the country, a re-look at the matter should be possible. The authorities should ask these apartments to accommodate the visitors vehicles inside their compounds when there is enough space inside and the road is a busy one. In response to the appeal by the traffic police, many schools  are allowing inside their premises, the vehicles of the parents and also the pick up vans. One wonders why efforts are not be made to persuade more schools to fall in line, especially the one’s located on busy roads. Some schools have staggered the class timings to avoid traffic jams. The matter should be taken up with more schools. Offices and establishments having large number of employees may also take a cue from this.

Most of the roads in the heart of the city were laid decades ago, taking into account the requirement of those days. To be fair, it should be acknowledgement that some visionary town planners then, had taken into account the future needs of the city. But the kind of development the Bangalore city has seen in the last couple of decades has upset the calculations of the best of town planners. For example, who could have foreseen, that the city would become one of the major IT hubs of the world, providing jobs to thousands of people?  It would be fair to remember this, when we are inclined to put the entire blame for today’s chao’s on our town planners. Of course, this does not mean that the authorities today can absolve themselves of the responsibility altogether. Their fault lies in the fact that they have failed to do even what was within their power.

The concentration of business, offices, schools, colleges, cinema theatres, marriage halls, hospitals, markets, shopping malls, multiplexes, large apartment complexes and even places of worship which attract large number of people in the heart of the city, makes people living in the sprawling extensions to rush to the city using every available means of transport. No wonder the roads, both the ones leading to the city and the roads cris-crossing within the main city are jammed to the point of choking. Such organizations and institutions, which attract large crowds, should be located away from the heart of the city, at least in future. This is possible, if the government has the will to direct and the citizens have the good sense to cooperate.  

Maintenance of sewerage lines and drains

Due to lack of proper maintenance, the  sewerage lines and drains get clogged and the roads are flooded with water each time there is heavy down pour. Apart from affecting the smooth flow of traffic, this has often proved dangerous and even fatal for the road users. The government should take up this matter seriously, and should define the responsibility of each official and also keep the people of the locality informed on whom to approach when a problem crops up.

Rain water harvesting is a new concept, which solve the problem of water shortage to some extent though this may not make a big difference. In the fast emerging scenario of increasing scarcity of water and the rapid depletion of ground water table due to indiscriminate digging of bore wells, any project for saving water in however small a measure needs to be encouraged. It should be made compulsory for all big building projects. The idea being comparatively new, a campaign may be launched to make the citizens aware of its advantages, whom to approach for guidance, the cost-benefit ratio etc. Let not lack of knowledge, stand in the way of the adoption of an innovative idea.

Remedial measures 
As the measures initiated so far for improving the infrastructure of the city have found to be inadequate, due to the scorching pace at which the city is growing, much more drastic and novel alternatives than the traditional ones have to be explored. Extra ordinary situations call for extra ordinary solutions. The authorities should think of arranging brain storming sessions with experts at regular intervals to take stock of the situation and find solutions to the city's ever growing needs. Promotes, developers and big companies, who playa big role in changing the landscape of the city should be involved in the process to see that they play their due role in the development of infrastructure. A recent report about the participation of IT companies (contributing 25% of the cost i.e., Rs.1OO crores) in the relaying of the road leading to the Electronic city is a pointer in the right direction. 

One of the measures that can slow down the growth of the city, which is growing by leaps and bounds, is encouraging the setting up of self-sufficient townships sufficiently away from the ever-growing extensions of the city. Joint efforts by the government and the private sector can definitely make this possible. In the meanwhile we can take comfort from some emerging trends. Recently, some statistics were published by newspapers that show that the growth rate of smaller cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Pune and Sholapur is faster than that of the bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. The authorities concerned should facilitate the acceleration of this trend, by attending to the infrastructural needs of such smaller cities promptly so that the pressure on the big cities may ease. 

The state government has been towing with the idea of a mass rapid transportation system since quiet some time. Different alternatives were examined, feasibility studies were conducted and estimates were made. But the work could not begin. Much time was lost, due to one reason or the other. In the meanwhile, the cost of inputs and materials has been moving upwards. Finally when the decision is taken and the project work starts, the cost would have increased manifold over the original estimate. 

Finally, one should have the sense and courage to accept the truth that the unseemly growth of slums, over crowding and traffic snarls that the cities and urban areas are witnessing today, are the result of great regional imbalances. If the rural and backward areas are provided with basic infrastructure and facilities for setting up of agriculture related and other industries are made available and avenues for gainful employment are opened up there will certainly be some let up in the mass exodus to the cities. 

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