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Archive for the ‘Bangalore’ Category

Dateline Bangalore

Over the last decade Bangalore — the once laid-back, quiet, green city — has been on the throes of change. The speed at which the capital of Karnataka has metamorphosed has stumped everyone; it has been like a teenager outgrowing her clothes.

Being in Bangalore is a mixture of emotions: for some it’s the excitement of being transported from a small town to a glitzy fast-paced city; for others it’s the pangs of insensitive affluence trampling over human sensibilities; the pleasure and pain a city’s shift from anonymity to global stage. They are best captured in the accounts of those who experience them.

Dateline Bangalore hopes to be a collage of those accounts.

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Imagine, a flood in summer! That’s what happened in Bangalore on Saturday. On a night of heavy downpour, water entered houses and basements of apartment complexes, roads became unmotorable, streets resembled lakes, and one didn’t know if there was ground or drain under water. The tragic fallout: one woman was washed away. Surely it doesn’t speak well of a global Indian city.

More than the tragedy what matters are corrective steps. And, that’s where we draw a blank. Civic problems mostly stem out of violations of rules and regulations pertaining to construction of housing and commercial complexes. And, yesterday, chief minister H D Kumarasway, who visited some flooded localities, threw his hands up, and said he would have to handle the issue of encroachments with kid-gloves since it was a sensitive matter. Flagrant abdication of responsibilities? What else.

If a person has been legally paying taxes for an illegal property, and that too for years on end, then there is something surely rotten with the system. Worse, our inability, or better, our lack of interest to set an anomaly right. That’s what the CM’s statement indicates.

When a government official comes to take action against an illegally constructed building, then the building owner quietly flashes the receipts for the property and all other taxes he has been paying over the past so many years. “If this building is illegal, then how come taxes were collected, why no one told me about this till now? And, how can you take action, when I have been paying taxes for so long?” that’s what the owner will ask the government official.

This is typical of many hydra-headed government organisations, wherein one wing is completely clueless to what another related wing is doing. A society and its economy needs to grow, but not in an unregulated manner, like Bangalore has been growing.

The common premise is that one can get away with anything. The joke, “You can even get the governor’s residence legally registered in your name”, is an indication of the malaise we live with. While the government needs to be blamed for the lack of resolve, the citizens too should ponder over the willingness with which he has exploited the loopholes in the system for his selfish gains.

The runaway growth that has been allowed in Bangalore is like a killer monster that spews goodies. We are happy with the little goodies no matter if there is widespread destruction. If the growth is slowed down (i.e., if the killer monster is tamed and tethered) there may be some inconvenience (the killer’s goodies may not the available). But, Bangalore will emerge as a well-administered city.

But the moot question is are we ready to take the pains to put things order; or are we just content with complaining? The howl of protests whenever the government takes a corrective step forward to make this city better, is, sadly, an indication of the latter.

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The weather bureau in Bangalore was indeed right. Yesterday’s drizzle was also an indication of more to follow. It poured in most parts of Bangalore this evening, instantly spreading some cheer all around. Afterall, the city has been experiencing unprecedented summer heat. As the rain lashed, some willingly got drenched, others stood in the comforts of shade to watch drops collect into a puddle and flood the area. In everyone’s mind surely there was a sense of relief: one, relief from heat; and two, here’s the water that we are all thirsting for. Hope, we have a good monsoon!

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Economic boom and stray dog menace: Bangalore’s perfect showpiece of antithesis.

The paradox is too striking. It’s amazing that after so much of debate, we still haven’t found a humane method of ridding Bangalore’s streets of dogs. How easily the issue has shifted from the “stray dog menace” to the “killing of innocent dogs”. Not surprising — this issue, like many others, is handled in a reactionary rather than a constructive manner. It’s definitely not that there aren’t solutions.

I like dogs. I also have had an unforgettable, terrifying midnight encounter with stray dogs, with one of them biting me. And, I have to very often avoid stray dogs.

(I know I am not among the lucky people.)

Like at 11 in the morning, when I walk to the nearby department store or to the vegetable shop, I have to walk carefully in order to avoid provoking dogs. And, being bitten a second time.

Easy to lament, but tough to see reason. So, I look around and I find that not all dogs that appear stray, are so. Many belong to people — from lower middleclass to absolutely poor — who live in houses that aren’t secure. Their houses and huts have no boundary walls. Their dogs are their only safety, both at night time and day time.

Some of these tents and huts that house construction workers, are within or beside upmarket residential layouts; and dogs freely roam around the place.

Dogs, as we all know, are very conscious of territory. So, when I walk to the nearby department store, I am worried about what the dogs that are sleeping under the tree think their territory is, and whether I am encroaching their area.

(Of course there is an easy solution: don’t walk to the department store, just take the car.)

When the Animal Birth Control programme was launched the logic was: the population of stray dogs will progressively reduce, and Bangalore will be rid of dogs. It should have. But the population of stray dogs has only increased.

We haven’t been able to stop encroachments. We haven’t been able ensure clean surroundings. We haven’t been able to regulate the growth of Bangalore.

Can we rid the city of stray dogs?

True, it’s meaningless to round up at random dogs from the streets and kill them arbitrarily. But, we don’t have any other way either, do we? So much for our human and monetary resources. So much for the progress we have made.

People are held to ransom daily in one way or the other, so what difference does a few stray dogs make?

When one looks around, sometimes, it’s so difficult not to feel helpless. We have to put up with stray dogs; because Bangalore has found no humane way to rid the streets of them.

Accept this reality.

(If you can’t travel by car, just keep away from stray dogs.)

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A four-year-old boy, Manjunath, who was playing hide-and-seek with his friends, was chased, attacked and mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs in the BEML area of Bangalore on Wednesday evening. This is the second time in the recent past a child is succumbing to attack by stray dogs.

Like last time, the death of Manjunath too will unleash fierce arguments. Like last time, the government will try to remove the stray dogs from the streets, but animal rights groups will oppose that. The government will, in all probability give up, and it’ll be status quo.

It’s a shame that Bangalore’s administration hasn’t been able to effectively rid the city of stray dogs. I don’t think there is any major global city where small children and two-wheel riders in the night live in danger of being bitten and killed by dogs.

I love animals. I had at one time 12 cats, spanning three generations, in my house. Till very recently, till we moved into an apartment, we had four cats in our house. Once we also adopted a stray dog, and looked after it till it died. But, still, I don’t understand the animal rights-human rights conflict here, if at all there is one.

No one is blaming the dogs. 1) Be it a pet dog or a stray dog, if provoked it will bite. 2) Small children are always attracted to animals. Some birds, like crows, attack small children, especially if the children have eatables in their hand. Animals tend to get closer to small children. 3) Animals need to be treated with respect, just as human beings are. Just because they can’t talk like us, we shouldn’t show our brute power on them.

It’s precisely because of these reasons, that I would like Bangalore – in fact any public place – to be rid of stray dogs. Stray dogs are a menace to people. The city abounds with stories of how much of nuisance they cause. Two-wheel riders are a major target. I was myself surrounded by half a dozen dogs, one night, and bitten by one of them. Worse than the bite or the money I had to shell out for the anti-rabies vaccine was the scare that these dogs gave me. The worse point that night was, when for a brief while, I thought a dog, really a ferocious one, would just pounce on me.

At night, I am scared not just about the criminals who might mug me, but dogs too. I don’t blame the dogs, never; not for one moment. I blame the civic administration, the state government and organisations that are committed to providing dogs a dignified life.

Animal rights activists, and many animal lovers, should first accept that Bangalore’s streets and public places shouldn’t have stray dogs wandering around. No, we can’t have stray dogs on Bangalore’s streets. There has to be, first, an agreement on this single point.

How to achieve this objective? Shooting at random may be too harsh; and some innocent, non-violent stray dogs, whatever that means, may also get killed. Round them up, take them away. To where? Keep them in well-managed kennels.

Do we have enough of them? We should; a large number of kennels. Treat the dogs well there. They can put up for sale, and people, who are looking for pets, can buy them. There can only be pet animals in a civil society, not stray and wild animals.

NGOs that are involved with animals receive crores of rupees of funding for protecting animal rights. This money has to be productively utilised. The funding agencies, like the government, should find out what’s happening to the money that’s disbursed. The government should work alongside these NGOs and put an end to this situation that is at one level demeaning to dogs themselves, and at another, threatening the lives of people.

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While Bangaloreans fret and fume over the lack of parking space, city administrators, unable to offer any workable solution, look the other way. Saturday evenings are the worst in the city centre — every parking lot is chock-a-block with vehicles.

In these moments of ordeal, some security guards of multi-storeyed complexes have found an ingenious opportunity to make a fast buck. After office hours, they offer basements or the pavements (that are usually not open to the general public) for parking, at a price of course.

The rates are arbitrary and depend on a variety of factors including the supply-demand economics: bigger the crowd, the higher the rate. It also could depend on the financial status of the security guard at that moment. If he has had a lot of cash flowing in, probably you could be lucky to get away with as little as Rs 10 or Rs 15. But of course, you may have to shell out more if you bring in a swank limousine.

Some guards have ingenious ways of measuring the urgency of the vehicle owner. Already having gone around a few circles, the annoyed drivers, wouldn’t mind being asked a few questions like: “Where are you going, when will you come back?” From the answers and body language, the guards make a quick assessment and charge accordingly; the rates sometimes as high as Rs 40.

Call this a creative business model or exploitation of hapless citizens, but surely city administrators can learn a few lessons: turn vacant public lands into paid parking zones; work out win-win business models with private parties who have space to let out.

Over to commissioner K Jairaj and administrator Dilip Rau.

(Published in Salt and Pepper column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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Spiralling apartment prices in Bangalore has made good shelter quite a dream for the average man on the street. Probably the city’s administrators can look to New York for some clue on how the runaway realty boom can be reined in to some extent.

On Wednesday, December 20, the New York city council approved a plan that would induce apartment developers to build tens of thousands of apartments for people other than the well-heeled. The developers who want tax breaks would have to make one out of every five apartment they make affordable to lower income people. The most striking feature is that these lower-priced apartments will have to be included in each building and can’t be built elsewhere in the city.

The programme to make shelter affordable to the poor is not new – it is 35 year old — but the new clauses to make it more beneficial to the people are. The revamped plan includes raising a $400 million trust to fund for developing low- and moderately priced housing, especially in New York’s 15 poorest neighbourhoods, including Soundview in the Bronx and parts of Bushwick in Brooklyn.

If New York can, why can’t Bangalore?

(Published in Salt and Pepper column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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An account of The Economist American editor’s visit to Bangalore. Excerpts:

  • The traffic congestion was bad enough last time. Now it is worse. There is the standard Indian chaos of cars, three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis, bicycles and nonchalant cows―with the crucial difference this time that no vehicle seems to be moving.
  • Paradoxically, although the best firms are inundated with job applications, the biggest challenge facing every company in Bangalore is how to hang on to workers after hiring them.
  • Three years ago call centres were very much at the heart of things. Now real decisions are being taken in Bangalore and higher-value-added work is being done here.
  • Reuters has outsourced some journalism here, and Bloomberg is expected to follow suit. How long before my own job is being done, for a fraction of my scarcely adequate salary, by an Indian in Bangalore?

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One-way thinking

Act and think — the worst way to do something, but a practice quite routine with Bangalore’s civic utilities. It was in evidence again while Cauvery water pipelines were being laid beside the Rail Line Road, near Bypanahalli railway station, East of NGEF, over the last 10 days.

The busy road is broad enough to allow just a bus and a car cross each other. As workers dug up one side, traffic slowed down; and with a bus stop too on that road, lengthy pile-ups and flights of temper became commonplace. After laying the pipes, trenches were covered loosely with soft mud. And the inevitable happened: on two successive days, two lorries had their left wheels sinking into the soil throwing traffic to total chaos.

After days of chaos, it dawned on someone to make the busy road one-way; and a board came up at the U-turn in front of the NGEF. The motorists were relieved, never mind the potholed alternative route through the residential layout.

But interestingly, now after the pipes have been laid and workers have left, the one-way board is still standing. Only the motorists new to the area are taking the potholed diversion.

Why the one-way sign still? Only the teashop owner in the vicinity seems to know: “They are making use of this chance to retar the roads.” Wishful thinking?

(Published in The Times of India, Bangalore, Dec 18)

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Refresh Bangalore

Refresh Bangalore – Putting the bang back in Bangalore.

A campaign launched by The Times of India, Bangalore, today.

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