Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dunce of the Millennium

A friend's blog states in the header: Dunce of the Millennium, awarded to the fool who destroys the planet he lives on.

That's a cool statement. Saving the world. Forests, weather and energy for our children. Keeping Wall-E at bay. We know it, yet we don't do anything about it. After all, we are but one person. What can we do? How can it matter what we do? What's the government doing?

One of my all time favorite movies is "Brazil". It's Terry Gilliam's vision of an Orwellian world, where free speech is punished and bug-ridden machines rule (he knew about Microsoft Vista?). The unique factor of the movie is how this society is enforced not by an all-powerful dictator or a ruthless "big brother". It is every day people like you and me, doing just their daily jobs, their "duty". In itself, each man's work is harmless; each man believes in freedom and love. But together, as cogs in the "system", they work to destroy the very ideals they hold dear. They unknowingly (really?) create a totalitarian state themselves, instead of a power-hungry "villain" commonly seen in this genre.

This post is not about a totalitarian state, although recent events with churches and taxi-drivers would not place that too far in the future either. This is about my favorite topic: Bangalore infrastructure.

The topic has been done to death by everyone already. IT honchos, industrialists, expatriates, journalists, students and even politicians have commented and accepted that the infrastructure is crumbling and something needs to be done soon. One day, they even decided to raze some randomly selected illegal buildings (randomly sparing all civil-servant bungalows) in Koramangala, that left some innocent people homeless (the officials who authorised the illegal construction sold and vanished years ago). The locality remains as congested. Then they came up with magic boxes to create signal-free routes and ease the traffic flow. With no drainage and narrow service roads, most magic boxes flood within 1 hour of rain. The signal-free routes, meanwhile, have no pedestrian bridges. Unnecessary lives are lost each time people attempt crossing in front of cars doing 100kmph. You might think these were common-sense factors that any city plan would provide for. But this post is not about all that either.

No, this post is about something much more "you and me". Something so visible and yet so invisible.

My landlord is making a commercial complex near Lalbagh. That's a crowded stretch of road, yet one of the "freshest" areas in Bangalore thanks to the botanical garden and dense trees of Basavangudi nearby. This 4 storey complex will house a supermarket, restaurant and offices. In other words, it will host an estimated 45-60 people at a time, daily. For all the additional business that it will generate, there's basement parking provided for about 12 cars. When I asked him how will that work, he reassured me: "Oh there's lots of lanes around the place, customers can park easily!".

Well, that is true. After all, he is not in the business of making MLCP (multi level car parking). How can he justify cost of an extra basement to park more cars? Anyway, parking another 6 cars will not solve Banaglore's traffic woes. The government must do something about that!

After this incident, I began to notice other new construction. There's a new Big Bazaar opposite Ragigudda temple in Jayanagar. This is a busy intersection, often gridlocked. On Wednesdays, people throng BB for the weekly discount. About 15-20 cars can be parked inside, twice that number line the narrow roads leading in and around the complex on busy days. Another hypermall by Mantri is coming up soon, banking on the same lanes for parking.

The fancy Innovative Film City on the outskirts of the city has over 15 attractions and costs Rs.700 for a full-day tour. They plan to open a 21 screen multiplex, a shopping arcade and a hotel. The cars and tour buses must park outside the main entrance, going all the way up the sylvan hillside. While this works fine today, I shudder to imagine what happens when another theme park opens next door. The optimist in me believes the car park may be under construction. The cynic looks at their earlier disaster, the multiplex at Marathahalli, and is afraid the parking may again be sufficient for a tenth of the capacity. If it exists, at all.

The same story is repeated in numerous new malls (viz Garuda Mall, where parking is a joke!) and apartments coming up around the city. I can understand planners did not anticipate 4-wheeler growth 10 years ago and older buildings must struggle with insufficient parking space. What gets my goat is when the administration approves new projects with obviously insufficient parking. More so when these new ventures are otherwise aping the American model of mega stores like the Walmart that have parking lots larger than the store size itself! Two years later, the BBMP is conveniently going to blame builders for not providing enough parking, and absolve themselves of any blame for increased floods, jams and fires in the newly "developed" areas.

I am sure fire safety laws are being flouted in a similar vein, with cramped escape routes and
no access for fire engines. They will jail another Ansal Builder for 2 years, while another 80 innocents perish in a fire. Would you believe these malls and multiplexes came up after we allegedly became conscious of the need to "do something about it".

The point of all this ranting is how we "save money" in our little projects, comfortable in the thought that one more car parked on the road won't hurt anyone. And, smart IT executives and investment bankers like you and I, we continue to agitate for better infrastructure and world-class facilities from the government.

I wish we'd just save the neighborhood before we save the planet.


Anonymous said...

I understand your concern of your city. The story is pretty much the same in Delhi. The disparity in the growing population and the inadequate infrastructure is appalling. It is time we citizens do something about it (of course hoping the government wakes up too) something like car pooling. In Delhi the metro is a boon, I try to maximise my use of it.

G said...

With the corruption on the rise (which apparently India is now known for) it finally does boil down to individual contributions for a better tomorrow.
Small changes in everyday lifestyle can still make a big difference. The one change that has been much read about, advertised and ignored to criminal proportions is 'Say NO to plastic'. Why is it that we ignore it so much inspite of the high level of awareness that we have today? Ever thought of this before you scold your children and say 'kitni baar kaha hai, lekin manta hi nahin'?

G said...

sorry, published the earlier one before I could finish. So continuing the previous comment .....
But somebody also said 'Easier said than done' and so today we are really in a situation of The Right vs. The Easy in not just infrastructure issues but everything including healthy living, professional practices and family life.

Vidooshak said...

well said, G. one could easily blame it on illiteracy and say Indians deserve what they get because they are just so uneducated about basic courtesies. but then, most of what is wrong with the world, like plastic and wasted fuel, is caused by over-educated, affluent and allegedly "aware" citizens like those of us who blog....

which brings me back to my friend's blog's header :-)

Mama - Mia said...

its indeed sad how fast things are deteriorating. and while we can always say we are only one, if each one stops thinking that he alone cant do much, we can actually get lot more achieved.

i used to be manical about plastic! and then cubby's potty filled diapers come along and i was horading plastic like crazy! :( till then my saying no to plastic i must have made some point % difference! and we should all just do what we have to do in any case!

irrespective of whether govt or fellow citizens support it or no!

not wasting paper is another thing! or water! i am almost anal about these things and i hope we can teach our kids the importnace of it too!

till we do that, we can keep blaming the govt which really isnt gonna do anything! period!