How Bangalore Went From A Honeymoon Destination To Urban Dump

Posted by Ranjeet Menon in Environment, Society
May 24, 2017

The growth and development of humanity in the modern age was kickstarted from the time of the Renaissance. The hub of all new thoughts and ideas was Europe and it was the Silicon Valley of sorts, back in the days. Colonial powers carried the ideas with them, as they travelled and took control of lands across the world. It intensified, as we made rapid advances in technology in the late 19th and 20th century.

But something else also happened at that time. Humanity went completely out of sync with nature and we declared war on the ecosystem that had nurtured us from the time we created it. The consequences have been nothing less than disastrous and no place can exemplify this better than Bangalore.

My tryst with the city started way back in 1997 when I made an impromptu visit to meet an alumnus from college. It was to get some ideas about the project I had to do in my final year of engineering. It was raining heavily that morning and after I reached my friend’s house and removed my shoes, I couldn’t keep my feet on the floor. It was that cold. I was in the city only for a day and the little bit I saw of the city was all lush green. One thing I remember distinctly is MG Road, one of the busiest roads of Bangalore, being a two-way road. Millennial kids would find this impossible.

From then on, I have been in the city every year till I moved and stayed here for 6 years. Through those years, I have seen and felt the city starting to change and lose its grandeur. When I eventually moved out of the city, I had the inkling that the city was starting to become unlivable. I was back in the city after 5 years and what I had foreseen was not wrong.

Before I go into the forlorn part of my story, let me relive the glory days of the city. From my childhood, I had heard of people going on honeymoon trips to Ooty, Mysore and Bangalore. As I dug deeper and spoke to more people, the city’s past blew away my mind. It seems the peak summer temperature in Bangalore used to be around 17-degree celsius in the 1960s and 1970s and people used to sit on their porches and balconies, hoping to get some sunlight. I will never be able to wrap my mind around this.

A Metro Rail project site at M.G Road. (Image Credit: Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images)

Someone told me that black sweaters used to turn white with snowflakes after riding on a scooter for some distance. Bangalore used to be a no fan zone in those times. All these stories came from people who used to work with the armed forces and were stationed in Bangalore during the 1970s. One interesting story I heard from them was that Indian armed forces were looking for a place to set up their bases that was beyond the reach of neighbouring hostile countries, and that is how they zeroed in on Bangalore.

Large areas of Bangalore city is still under the control of the armed forces and in spite of that, the peak summer temperature is hovering around 40-degree celsius now. The fact that the temperature has rocketed up by more than 20 degrees in three decades is astounding. The incredible aspect of this is the amount of wanton destruction of nature we can engage in when it is the same womb that nurtures us.

It all started in the early 1990s when the central government decided to open Software Technology Parks (STPIs) to promote India as the Silicon Valley of the East and sought Kerala as the location. That plan did not materialise. However, Bangalore, which harboured a highly educated population, started attracting major IT companies in the early 1990s. This is how the whole saga of the mindless destruction of the city began.

When I came to Bangalore to meet my alumni in 1997, his workplace was a house that was used as office space. That is how it started. IT companies started moving in and started to function out of any available buildings and real estate went into overdrive. The vast swathe of agricultural land in the southern Bangalore was the prime target. It swung the state government machinery into a frenzy as well to provide roads, water, electricity and other amenities to the new office spaces.

The primary problem of Bangalore is that from a calm and peaceful city for honeymooners, it has become a totally unplanned city of chaos in a blink of the city’s timeline. People from all over India have moved into the city, bringing with them their unique culture and way of living, and the city has had to imbibe all of it in such a short span of time. The result is booming business, from food to attire to everything else to cater to all cultures, adding more chaos to the situation and piling on more pressure on the city’s resources.

Land and trees had to go to make way for roads and when roads couldn’t manage traffic anymore, flyovers had to be built. Now that even flyovers are not able to manage the ever burgeoning traffic, metro rail is getting built. That, in a way, has been the final nail in the coffin. Whatever greenery was remaining on MG road had to be cleared for the metro. As the work keeps expanding to connect all corners of the city as per the plan, it will devour most of the feeble natural resources the city has left in its belly.

There are two more significant issues. The cost of land has shot up so astronomically, most local residents of Bangalore have chosen to sell off their properties and move out of the city. The other one is the exodus of fresh graduates who finish college and move to Bangalore every year. The government has sold education to the private sector, and neither the government nor the private sector is able to keep up with the increasing demand for jobs with each passing year. Bangalore has become the de facto place to hunt for jobs for all graduates now and every year, the city’s resources are getting stretched further at its seams to the point that apartment buildings are getting constructed even over sewage systems.

Bangalore is in a rush to adopt two issues that are plaguing the major cities of India: Water and garbage. Both issues are in direct correlation to the fact that Bangalore is an unplanned city. When I say water, it is not just access to clean drinking water. Most of the lakes Bangalore used to be proud of till two decades back have disappeared. I remember one particular bout of rain on a day in 2004 when I was in office. The city was clogged everywhere. The water bodies, where the water could have been drained off, were all gone. There was no earth left to absorb water. Concrete and tar do not absorb water. Where else will the water go? This is what caused the flood in Chennai in 2015. The memorable part was when the lakes surrounding the office premises of Infosys overflowed and water was flowing down the stairs of the building like a waterfall.

The amount of garbage humanity produces in a single day is mind boggling. Adding to that is the fact that a lot of the garbage is not biodegradable, which means nature cannot or will take considerable time to recycle them.  Near the banks of the Kaudenahalli lake where I used to go for my morning walk, there are waste bags floating around with foul smell emanating from them. I don’t know how much time is left before the fishes and birds disappear from the lake.

People throw their garbage openly near the pavements on the streets. Everything lies scattered for the corporation employees to come and clean up the mess every morning. They don’t even stop to think for a moment that the city is being maintained with the same money they are paying as taxes. But then what happens to all the garbage? It gets dumped on the outskirts or some other parts of the city, thereby spreading the dangerous affliction of the city and polluting those areas as well.

Time has proved my decision to not buy an apartment in Bangalore as correct. Recent reports suggest that this place is hurtling towards the notoriety of becoming the first dead Indian city in the next 5 years. I have to cover myself up completely, including my face, every time I step out to get some respite from dust and pollution. Repercussions from nature are not so far away. Unless the government takes firm measures to offload business to other places and water down Bangalore’s reputation as a job seeker’s paradise, the situation will only keep deteriorating. Any further inaction and they can get ready to rule the first dead city of the country.