Bengaluru's growth: Moving forward or fizzling out? – Deccan Herald

Rajeev Khushu recollects travelling to Bangalore in the 1980s. “The airport was nearby, and the roads were pretty good. The infrastructure was definitely much better than many other competing capitals in the country,” says Rajeev, who is the director of corporate affairs and government relations at Texas Instruments and also the chairperson of India Electronics and Semiconductor Association.
About four decades ago, in 1985, Texas Instruments was the first multinational company to set up shop in Bengaluru. It was also the first global technology company to build a research and development (R&D) facility. Fast forward to today, as many as 400 R&D centres have been established in the city by multinational companies, Fortune 500 firms and semiconductor design houses. The city has evolved into a multi-lingual, multi-cultural cosmopolitan hub, attracting and retaining the best talent from across the country. 
Companies increasingly chose the city “due to the availability of talent and ecosystem at that point of time,” explains Rajeev. With engineering colleges and premium institutions like Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in the city, it was a natural choice for Texas Instruments too, he adds.
From a humble beginning of 13 companies accounting for Rs 16 crore worth of software exports in 1991, the city today wears the crown of being India’s IT capital, contributing Rs 6.3 lakh crore in software exports in 2022.
Bengaluru’s tryst with the burgeoning growth of the software industry began about 30 years ago with the establishment of the first tech park in India in 1990. 
In the three decades that followed, ‘Bangalore’ has become ‘Bengaluru’, and the city has transitioned from being labeled a ‘city of lakes’, ‘garden city’ and ‘pensioners’ paradise’ to the IT capital of the country.
Over the years, Bengaluru also earned a couple of other monikers — ‘Silicon Valley of India’ and ‘unicorn capital of India’, considering its booming entrepreneurial culture and the fact that it is home to 40 of the 102 billion-dollar-valued startups in the country.
Contrary to this promising picture, though, in July 2022, the city ranked 146th out of 173 in the Global Liveability Index 2022 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, making it the least liveable city in India.
Soon after, in September, glaring infrastructure blunders came under the scanner when the city was brought to its knees with large regions inundated with water. Some areas in the IT corridor remained waterlogged for almost two days, owing to encroachments and haphazard constructions by various IT parks that blocked the stormwater drains.
Price of growth
The rampant growth in the last three decades came at a price. It has led to the dwindling of hundreds of lakes and wide expanses of green belt, one of the reasons that initially drew IT companies to the city.
Due to their self-contained townships and transport fleets, the growth of the public sector between the 1960s and 1980s did not disrupt its organic flow, says Leo F Saldanha, coordinator and trustee, Environment Support Group. “Unlike public sector growth which supported organic evolution of the city into a metropolis, the growth of the IT sector has been rather extractive,” he adds.
The initial decades of IT growth saw the then chief ministers of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu doling out heavy subsidies, tax holidays, resources and infrastructure to woo foreign investors.
This took a heavy toll on the city, with the sector giving nothing back in return. Tax holidays meant that the IT capital did not earn anything for the massive support it extended to the sector. 
Growing population
With the IT boom, Bengaluru saw an inflow of people looking for opportunities. At 1.36 crore, the city’s population, today, has grown to more than three times what it was in 1990. The UN’s World Population Review further predicts that the population will grow by more than 30% to 1.8 crore by 2035.
Over the years, increasing congestion in the city has also handicapped its mobility infrastructure. “Bengaluru, which was already struggling with weak public transport, was forced to divert its bus fleet to cater to the demands of the IT Sector. The industry, neither independently nor collectively, pooled resources to build their own bus fleet,” says Saldanha.
With weak mobility, the employees with increased disposable incomes began to use private vehicles, contributing to the present day’s ill-famed traffic jams.
Some point out the incompetence of the city’s development executing agencies. While there is a huge need to focus on infrastructure, and the government spends money for its improvement, agencies executing the projects are not up to the mark, says Karnataka Digital Economy Mission Chairman B V Naidu. He was one of the founding members of the Bengaluru Tech Summit, Asia’s largest technology event.
Bengaluru has become a global city, but it does not have the governance that is needed for a global city, Naidu adds. 
“BBMP is doing a terrible disservice to the future by destroying lakes and kaluves (stormwater drains) with their concretised development. It disregards the progressive directions of the high court,” he says.
Efforts for change
The non-profit organisation Environment Support Group had submitted a proposal to then CM, S M Krishna, to develop alternative information technology and biotechnology hubs by using railways to connect the metropolis with neglected towns in the state. 
Under S M Krishna’s government, the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), a public-private partnership, was set up to bring in business and civic leaders to chalk out a development roadmap for Bengaluru. However, the initiative did not yield many benefits.
After the BATF, successive governments set up different bodies under various names, including the Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force and Bangalore Vision Group (BVG).
The groups need to have a multi-pronged approach, says Suresh Heblikar, an environmentalist and member of BATF. “They must look at cities from multiple perspectives, including protecting grasslands, drinking water sources, lakes and the catchment areas around them,” he says.
Although a few of these bodies went on to make improvements to the city’s infrastructure, their members were often people from the corporate sector.
While the groups were staffed with some people with good intentions and activists, they often included people who were not representative of the entire citizenry says Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Citizens For Bengaluru, a grassroots people’s movement for civic rights.
For instance, the BVG, which was formed in March 2014, faced a petition in the high court, which called the group “extra-constitutional”. The HC then asked the government to form the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC).
While the MPC was eventually formed, it has not met till date. “The committee needs to meet regularly and take inputs from the demographically and geographically diverse population of the city,” says Tara.
The way forward
With the glaring infrastructural gaps drawing widespread criticism from all civil quarters, the situation hints at a possible saturation of the city, forcing authorities to develop alternatives beyond the IT hub. 
Industry experts unanimously agree on the need to space out developmental activity to allow Bengaluru room for sound growth. “We need to have maybe six Bengalurus around Bengaluru,” urges Harish Bijoor, who runs a brand consulting firm in the city. “There are towns and villages which can become part of what I would call a greater Bengaluru,” he elaborates.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairperson of pharmaceutical major Biocon Limited, believes that we need fresh thinking, collective effort and innovative solutions that deliver good mobility, a pollution-free environment and sustainability-driven economic policies.
“We will need to leverage the city’s unique ecosystem of institutions of scientific and technological excellence to transform Bengaluru into a world-class, future-ready city,” she says.
There have been some initiatives by the state government to decongest the city. Rajeev cites Beyond Bengaluru as an example. 
“With Beyond Bengaluru, what we are trying to do is ask some companies who have set their hub in the city to expand to regions beyond Bengaluru,” says Naidu.
He points to companies like IBM and Kendryl, which have started looking outside the city in regions like Mysuru and Mangaluru. “They found that 30% of their talent comes from other regions to Bengaluru. So, they thought of keeping the talent in those locations and taking the companies there instead,” he adds.
Bijoor believes Mysuru could prove an example of a new, sustainable model. Having learnt from the mistakes of Bengaluru, Mysuru has a different development model, he adds.
Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan, former director of IIIT-Bengaluru, highlights interdepartmental rivalry between government bodies in the process of development in Bengaluru. The many developing authorities and agencies work in silos, he notes.
Civil society and trade unions should unsparingly address the crisis and demand structural corrective measures built on equity and equality, Saldanha says. 
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