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Is not Bangalore ailing?

A city, where people walked for pleasure and cycled to work, has become a metropolis with motorized mobility at high speeds, which has made crossing the road a nightmare. It was once full of lakes, but today it draws water up 300 metres from the Cauvery river, as a result that the water supply agency is the largest electricity consumer in the state

Flying in to Bangalore's HAL Airport was such a pleasure. As you approached the city, you could distinctly see lines of road over earthen dams holding water in what Bangaloreans call 'tanks' or 'keres'. Even during summer, these keres, though considerably depleted, held enough water to keep the downstream green. You could spot tree farms of different varieties, and of course vegetable farms, that kept the countryside green. As the plane went over the city side, one saw housing complexes, usually ground-plus-one constructions on plots with trees on the margins or setbacks. You also came across highly dense construction with common walls and narrow streets, but depleted of trees. On landing, as you stepped out of the aircraft you got the whiff of typical Bangalore air, charged with ionized moisture from the Bellandur Tank within which you could accommodate another airport! This was as recently as five years ago. The garden city of Bengaluru used to be a town of 'keres' and mosquitoes. Today only the mosquitoes continue to thrive!

With the new Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) coming up at barren Devanahalli, the first casualty was this refreshing air, pregnant with expectation of a pleasant stay. Perhaps efforts to make the surroundings green and creating lakes will make this far-out airport a pleasant experience in the future, but since 'development' dominates over 'environment' most of the time, the whole approach road will get habited in the next 20 years, if not earlier. Already, the shining beer bottle façade of L&T factory is barely visible at Byatrayanapura now.

I used to traverse the Bellari Road, the National Highway NH4 about 25 years ago and the 15-km ride used to be such a pleasure on the bike-an eagle hovering above going past the Hebbal Lake, undulating land forms that make the greenery very visible from the road lined with rain trees, wonderful cloud formations and once in a while the bonus of a rainbow in the distant horizon as the sun began to descend. There were two railway level crossings where you waited for about 10 minutes to grab the opportunity to enjoy the surroundings and this had a very calming effect.

What do we have today? You whiz past the Hebbal Lake and I noticed the absence of the eagles who used to dive in to catch a fish or two. I see multi-story buildings along the NH4, vehicles speeding to and fro and hardly any conveniences for the benefit of people living on either side to get across to the other side of the road. NH4 is being widened further and an elevated road is being added as a direct connection to the airport. I am told that this road has a very high accident rate! However, I am optimistic and feel that the entire approach to the airport will become a pleasant experience in the years to come. They may provide semi-underpasses, semi-flyovers to let people cross the highway as they have done on Mumbai's Western Express Highway as an afterthought.

BIA has what other airports in Indian metropolitan cities lack considerably. And that is bus transportation to different areas of the city. At BIA you get the Volvo AC buses plying to various far-flung areas such as HAL Main Gate (East), JP Nagar 6th Phase (South West), White Field (Far East) and HSR Layout (South East), and these ply at regular fixed times. In comparison, Mumbai has a dismal bus service, whether it is to South Mumbai or to suburban Borivli, or adjacent Thane and Navi Mumbai. Delhi has one service to ISBT and the Metro to Connaught Place has just commenced I understand.

Majestic Circle is an integrated transport hub comprising of Karnataka State Road Transport (KSRTC) Station, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) Bus Station and the Bengaluru City Railway Station. Buses of KSRTC cater to essentially intercity travel, while the BMTC, the Bengaluru City and its satellite towns like Yelahanka, Kengeri-Bidadi and Jigni. BMTC runs a variety of buses-air-conditioned, and non-air-conditioned, Pushpak the express service and the big-10 and the BIA services. It also has a Rs40 travel-as-you-like day ticket on non-AC buses in the entire BMTC operations.

In comparison, Mumbai has the Rs25 and Rs40 day travel ticket for normal and express non-AC services across the entire network. While the maximum bus fare on Mumbai's BEST AC Express Service for the 50km stretch is about Rs 90, Bengaluru's BMTC charges Rs180 for about 40km on the airport service. In Bengaluru, the cab fare is about Rs600 for this distance from BIA, compared to Rs400 in Mumbai.

Is Bengaluru really ailing?
Firstly, there has been tremendous growth in the number of personal motor cars in daily use, thanks to the growth of the IT industry with the high salaries paid to a large number of young people and financial institutions giving car loans through very attractive packages. Most roads are about two-and-a-half-lane width on either carriage-ways and with a mixed traffic of buses, cars, goods carriers, autorickshaws, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles and indiscriminate stoppage and parking cause severe road congestion. So, the traffic police has decided to make some roads like JC Road, Nrupathunga Road, Residency Road and Richmond Road, one way, thereby making available five lanes and traffic can move at higher speed. The flip side is that it is near impossible to cross these roads without endangering one's life and limb.

Bengaluru also has its inner and outer ring roads, with three-plus-three lane main carriageway as well as service roads along particular stretches and several flyovers and underpasses. No doubt speeds have increased, but there exist bottlenecks which negate the time gains.

Road widening and the Metro Rail Project-Namma Metro-have resulted in the cutting down of so many trees, robbing the city of its coolant. Today, the city is barely cold in winter, compared to what it was 35 years ago, when even in the summer you had to protect yourself against a possible sudden drop in temperature due to rain showers.

Together with the speed of vehicles, honking too has increased, but autorickshaws have contributed tremendously to the noise pollution. In quieter residential areas, the traffic police have marked out one-way streets to smoothen the vehicular flow on the main roads. The result is not only have speeds reached undesirable levels on the narrow footpath-less bylanes, but also added to the misery due to noise pollution. A city where people walked for pleasure and cycled to work has 'advanced' to a motorized metropolis where children risk their lives while playing in these now dangerous bylanes. A case that comes to mind is the 100-foot road in Indiranagar and the 13th and 14th main roads.

The modern buildings with glossy, glazed façades are energy guzzlers. Bengaluru is at about 900 metres above mean sea level. While it was thought it was great to draw out water from the Cauvery river that flows some 300 metres below Bengaluru, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has turned out to be the biggest consumer of electricity, which it needs to pump the water up the height.

In an era when we need to conserve energy, lest we contribute to global warming and climate change, I see no evidence in Bengaluru on this score. If Bengaluru is not ailing already, it is undoubtedly racing down that road.

[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]




5 years ago

Metro will solve everything. It runs on electricity and reduced pollution will mean cool city. Lakes are being restored, everyone talks about it.


6 years ago

I agree that Bengaluru has become an urban nightmare. In my last visit I found to my horror that all the beautiful old trees in most of the shady avenues have been cut.
The same thing is happening in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, which is vying with Bengaluru in all fields, even to the extent of destruction of lakes and parks and avenues.


6 years ago

Yes, Bengaluru of old days the writer is talking about was a heaven for we north Indians too. I used to visit regularly on govt duty at least once in a quarter and thoroughly enjoyed the cool climate & serene atmosphere, a walk on MG Road (now a concrete jungle) and sitting in blossoming parks used to rejuvenate me. Not any more.

Nagesh KiniFCA

6 years ago

I had thought amchi Mumbai was sick.
Namma Bengaluru is sicker!
I've been a constant visitor professionally as statutory auditor of State Bank of Mysore, HAL and a host of private sector companies.

Yes Sudhir is right, the pre-landing circling over the airport was great sight and the journey into the city from the HAL airport was so pleasant.

Now with the cars and two wheelers of the ITO and BPO kids it is a night mare.

True Mumbai's BEST,CR, WR and friendly taxiwallahs have been making intra-city travel faster and cheaper.

The rude 'to shed' three wheeler autowallahs of Bengaluru are a pain!

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