(This was originally written as an entry for a contest conducted by Citizen Matters Bengaluru – a website run by Oorvani Foundation to bring together people who are concerned about Bengaluru. The contest has invited essays on “What would you do if you were Bengaluru’s next Mayor?” The contest is open till 28th September 2018.)
We’d start from our quarters near Silk Board at around 8 AM in the morning on my father’s Bajaj scooter. In 10 minutes, we’d take a turn near the erstwhile Elgin Mill and head towards Shanti Nagar to eventually reach Richmond Road near Pallavi Talkies. The route was dotted by Gulmohars, or Mayflowers as we know them, fallen on the road, bogged down by last night’s showers. The fallen flowers and a wet looking road were the only signs of overnight rain in those days. We’d hit the first busy signal at Hudson Circle (now known as Corporation Circle). At about 8.15 AM, a car or two were accompanied by 20-odd two wheelers at the signal, all vehicles waiting for a minute or so without honking or losing patience. Some Samaritans on two wheelers didn’t hesitate to lift their arms up to signal that there’s a red light when approaching it. Once green, my father would accelerate to hit 95 kph on Kempegowda Road all the way till Janata Bazar and then again between Upparpet Police Station and Shantala Talkies. I’d finally reach school in M.G.Railway Colony by 8.35 AM after enjoying my joyride of 13kms.
Those were the early 90s and I vividly remember what Bangalore used to be. Another read at the opening paragraph would make you feel nostalgic, it’d also tell you what’s not very right with Namma Bengaluru. For a city of its size, in terms of area and population, Bengaluru needs, requires, demands and cries for more attention than it gets from the various stakeholders. What Bengaluru really needs is someone who understands the city, loves it and embraces it.
It’s widely known that the position of Bengaluru’s Mayor is a little more than ceremonial in nature. While Indian cities have a long way to go to free themselves from the clutches of State governments, and hence will continue to be at the mercy of Chief Ministers for want of funds and investments, a willing and strong-willed Mayor can still achieve a lot in the year long tenure. And these are things that wouldn’t require as much support from the State Government, from a defunct municipal corporation or from a corrupt bureaucracy. I say this with some confidence because I believe in those who call this city their own.
As a Mayor, I’d like to dedicate my energies to these five-point somethings for a better life in Bengaluru –
- Traffic: Bengaluru’s choked roads need immediate attention and our bureaucrats and governments can only think of widening the roads because that’d fill their coffers. I’d launch a massive education campaign involving schools, startups and IT companies to promote public transport and work out ways to reduce private car usage. A citizen driven initiative has more powers and can have a lasting impact on the future generations. Remember how BBMP forest cell joined hands with citizens and RWAs to plant avenue trees everywhere in the 80s? I’ve only read about it and was inspired.
- Innovative Spaces: We need pedestrian friendly roads. I’d want to engage with the trader associations of key market localities including Commercial Street, MG Road, Brigade Road, Church Street, Jayanagar 4th and 9th blocks, Gandhi Bazar and Malleshwara 8th cross into pedestrian-only roads on weekends (includes Friday). I’d encourage traders to organize fairs and utilize the roads as a platform to promote art and entertainment while facilitating trade.
- Water: Education shouldn’t be limited to reducing car usage. I’d also launch an incentive based campaign to implement rainwater harvesting in every household, not by rule but in spirit. I’d do this by trying to instil a sense of ownership and pride among the people, stress the need to revive our lakes and rivers through citizen initiated projects. Rainwater harvesting in every house will act as a small step towards recharging our groundwater while also reducing or reliance on Cauvery. There’s a need to educate our citizens about sustainability.
- Social Inclusion: Bengaluru’s rapid expansion hasn’t given enough time for its citizens or its administration to think much about its periphery. The newly added areas (CMCs and 110 villages) have seen very little in terms of development. Development here means two different things – infrastructure and social. Infrastructure development is reliant on collection of property taxes by BBMP as well as on funds granted by the State government. On the other hand, social development is in the hands of the people. Active engagement of citizens from these newer areas is required, especially in the Northern and Western parts of the city where the influence of IT is less. A sense of belonging should be instilled among people from these parts so that these localities don’t turn into an eyesore due to the lack of attention from the administration. I’d work towards engaging citizens from newer localities and promote socio-cultural activities, green drives, walkathons and marathons.
- Green: There’s a bit of green in everything I proposed above. Yet, we must pay attention towards the loss of green cover in the city. While we have little control over rapid pace of development, we should try innovative methods to ensure there’s greenery. I’d promote community farming and composting as the first step towards a greener Bengaluru. Community farming by means of using empty plots or even terraces of buildings will ensure urban dwellers grow their own veggies, thereby promoting a healthier lifestyle. This will also ensure there’s a demand for high quality compost which the community itself can generate from its kitchen waste. A monthly reward based programme to promote such innovation and community living would be a key project. The programme would also envisage to offer tax rebates to properties that adopt solar lighting and vertical gardens.
There are many things a Mayor can do outside her day-to-day business. In an administrative setup where the Mayor gets to talk less and work lesser, a Mayor should rise above party politics and think of ways in which the same objectives can be met. The Mayor should love the city and breathe it, the Mayor should feel its pulse. Above all, the Mayor should lead by example and I’m already doing that in my own little ways.