Can Bangalore become a well-networked mega-city?
-Arunima Rajan

As Bangalore’s growth expands to newer regions despite infrastructural constrains, will the new congress government provide the necessary impetus for the city’s development?

With the new Congress government in Karnataka headed by Chief Minister Siddaramiah completing two months in office, its vision of developing Bangalore has come into focus.  The government’s plan for Bangalore is closely being watched as it is set to announce the annual state budget on July 12. Some of the key concerns expressed by business and civil society groups are regarding the state’s plans to address the infrastructure and transportation woes of the city and its suburbs.
Given the strong mandate the voters have given the Congress, how does the new government intend to shape Bangalore’s future?  It would be useful to look at the election manifesto of the Congress party to decipher its priorities. Congress’s manifesto has an 18 point “Charter for governance” for Bangalore which promises the construction of north-south and south-east long elevated flyovers, four botanical gardens, five auditoriums and five high-tech stadiums.
Interestingly, the manifesto promises that the government will enact a law exclusively for the Greater Bangalore Region (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara) which brings all basic service providers under a single agency. It further states that they will review the existing size of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) jurisdiction and organize it to administratively viable units. The manifesto also offers a special package of development programmers to improve the villages absorbed by the city corporation, BBMP.

Investing in infrastructure
Bangalore is the growth engine of Karnataka contributing more than half of the State’s GDP. Considering the city’s primacy, how much should the state government invest in the city’s infrastructure? And what are the benefits of such investment? A recent research study, titled “Sectoral and Spatial Spillover Effects of Infrastructure Investment: A Case Study of Bengaluru”, conducted by the London-based Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has analyzed how infrastructure investment may lead to considerable economic benefits. Its finds that investment in public infrastructure can stimulate investment in other sectors like commercial and residential building construction.

While infrastructure projects have also help alleviate mobility constraints, the reports finds that “the most noticeable effect of the infrastructure investment is seen on land value across the city”. It finds that developments in the property sector in Kanakapura Road, Magadi Road, Peenya, Bannerghatta Road and Mysore Road, have resulted from spatial spillover effect of a number of physical infrastructure projects.
However, the increasing demand for both commercial and residential space due to strong growth in Bengaluru IT and knowledge industry has outpaced supply and led to significant demand-supply mismatch. The report also finds that the growth of the real estate sector is thwarted by infrastructure bottlenecks caused by regulatory framework and government controls.  Hence it argues that “unless such bottlenecks are mitigated or removed, the desired policy outcome may not be achieved.”

Economic growth beyond the city limits
With concentration of economic activity in Bangalore often leading to dire consequences, the need for expanding the growth in Bangalore to the surrounding towns has been espoused by many experts. The Congress also seem to recognize this reality as its party manifesto proposes the creation of a Greater Bengaluru Region with infrastructure and administrative connections with surrounding cities like Kolar, Chikballapura, Doddaballapura, Ramnagara, Tumkur, Kanakapura.
What could further increase the economic growth of areas around Bangalore is the proposed 1,000 km long Bangalore-Mumbai industrial corridor. In its 12-point action plan presented to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) has backed the development of the industrial corridor as an alternative to the eight-lane road from Bidar to Chamarajanagar proposed in Congress’s manifesto. BCIC has urged for the development of various Sector Specific Industrial Zones along the corridor.
The British Government is keen on developing the corridor in partnership with India as was made clear by British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to India in February. On June 5th, the British High Commissioner to India Sir James Bevan, met chief minister Siddaramaiah and announced that India and the UK would jointly finance a feasibility study of the proposed corridor. The industrial areas that would be covered in corridor include parts of the districts of Tumkur, Chitradurga, Shimoga, Hubli, Haveri, Gadag, Dharwad, Belgaum and Bagalkot. A National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) has also been planned in Tumkur as a part of the project.

Connecting the sub-cities
Transportation may well be the biggest opportunity for the new Congress government to provide visible results of its vision for Bangalore. Congress’s manifesto promises to undertake a massive rapid transit system by developing a Circular Railway for Bangalore. The proposal for creating a Circular or Commuter Railway that joins Bangalore with its suburbs have been in the anvil for years, but has not received enough priority from the central and state governments. A Circular Railway that connects Bangalore’s suburbs where rail lines exist and Commuter Rail to towns like Tumkur, Yelahanka, Devanahalli, Hoskote, Hosur, Anekal, Kengeri, Ramnagara, Doddballapur can spur economic growth.  Such a Rail system has the potential to simultaneously decongest Bangalore while also developing surrounding towns.
The Rail Indian Technical and Economic Services (RITES) had conducted a feasibility study of the proposed project and the final report submitted in November 2012 batted for the commuter rail.  Compared to the Metro’s 250 crore per km and Monorail’s 175 per km rates, as per the report, it merely costs 15- 20 crores per km to build the Commute Rail. Even then, it covers a total of 405 kms and can carry 2 million passengers per day as per the RITES report. As it would be largely based on existing railway tracks, developing Commuter railway will save time and money and its operations would be flexible. An effective integration of the existing rail network and the metro with common rolling stock and ticketing is likely to transform the transport infrastructure of Bangalore.

As many studies have pointed out, the development of physical infrastructure and transportation facilities for the city and its surrounding areas has the potential to spur growth and increase economic activities. Will the Siddaramaiah government put the development of Bangalore as a priority and allocate sufficient funds for its development? Will it address the infrastructural and transportation difficulties faced by its citizens and fulfill the electoral promises? The announcements in the upcoming budget and the subsequent decisions taken by the state government will signal the approach the new government has towards the city’s development. 

The article had appeared in a newspaper called Post Noon, few months ago.