Bengaluru’s wishlist for 2021

From pedestrian infrastructure to mass transit systems, citizens and experts weigh in on what the city needs to improve quality of life

Last year, the pandemic either put on hold or delayed plans that civic and other agencies had mapped out for the city. But with the government now better equipped to fight COVID-19, improving the quality of life of citizens should not be de-prioritised, say urban planners, activists, and residents’ welfare associations. Some of the key areas that need improvement are better pavements and pothole-free roads, a well-connected and affordable public transport network, and a more robust public health care system.

Roads and footpaths

With more than 80 lakh vehicles in the city, motorable roads and wide footpaths are a priority. Most roads in the Central Business District are dug up on account of various infrastructure development projects, including white-topping and TenderSURE.

Roads in outer zones, especially in the 110 villages, are in no better condition as they have been dug up for laying of drinking water and underground drainage pipelines.

Most of these works have dragged on for months with authorities blaming the slow progress on the lockdown and exodus of labourers. Potholes and bad reaches remain a perennial problem. Though the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had established a hot mix plant years ago, it was only recently that it was commissioned.

It remains to be seen if the BBMP and other agencies will complete ongoing projects in a timely manner.

A cleaner, greener city

As the city, like most parts of the world, saw pollution levels drop to unprecedented levels as lockdown and work-from-home brought down vehicular movement and industrial activities, Bengalureans will wish the pandemic-induced restrictions away while hoping to preserve the gains from them.

For instance, the highly polluted Vrushabhavathi river got a brief respite during the lockdown. The city will hope that major polluters will start treating effluents at source.

As the quality of air saw a marked improvement, with reduced vehicular movement being a major contributor, citizens and experts will hope that the government finds ways to sustain this through measures such as strengthening the public transport system, which faces new challenges, while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a deeper level, with the threat of zoonotic diseases a glaring reality, they will hope for a new decade of environmental policies that factor this in while developing plans for the ever-expanding city as contentious projects such as the PRR are drawn up.

Focus on primary healthcare

Bengaluru’s healthcare facilities may be far better compared to those available in rural areas, but experts feel prominence is given to secondary and tertiary care, making primary care inaccessible to most. Although most of the bigger hospitals – both government and private – are situated in Bengaluru, the lack of ventilators and adequate number of Intensive Care Units (ICUs) has always been an issue. On several occasions, people have been forced to run from one hospital to another in search of a bed in an ICU.

People are often forced to visit referral tertiary care centres even for minor health issues.

Giridhar R. Babu, member of the State’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), said the city requires strong, accountable and responsive comprehensive primary health care. “It is also important to ensure continuity of care and feedback from higher centres to ensure that people are provided comprehensive services. Over-reliance on secondary and tertiary care by neglecting primary health care services is not tenable in the long run,” he said.

Public commute

Citizens are waiting for the much-delayed commercial operations of the extended Namma Metro on Kanakapura Road and Mysuru Road, which are expected to start this year. In the past, the BMRCL had fixed several deadlines but failed to deliver on its promises. Fed up with delays, Bengalureans are demanding that BMRCL prioritise Namma Metro projects on crucial corridors, such as Whitefield and Electronics City. This year, the BMRCL is likely to start work on the 55-km ORR-airport line after getting approval from the Central government.

Citizens are also hoping that work on the suburban rail network takes off as it has been a 30-year-long wait while bus commuters are looking forward to a more robust BMTC fleet. BMTC was unable to add new buses to its existing fleet in 2020. This year, the city might see operation of electric buses.

People relying on public transport also hope for authorities to introduce a common mobility card, which will help them to travel in various modes of transport.

A business boost

Micro and small businesses from the high-street retailer to the roadside dhobi carts need succour and sustenance. “Bengaluru in 2021 is a hungry animal. The hungriest of them all are the micro and small businesses,” said Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Industry experts estimate that 87 such businesses are on the negative list and have gone into de-growth or perished. Those who operate in commercial areas have lost customers due to work from home. Many expressed hope that banks and lending organisations will step in and lend a helping hand.

“Banks must step out of their brick and mortar space, and get proactive in their lending approach. The Equitas SFB and the Jana SFB are the type of lending institutions that must take this initiative. They are closest to the market and its problems,” he added.

The work from home culture which has now become the norm has also highlighted the need for better internet connectivity and power supply.

Tapping technology to improve policing

The city police is keen on tapping into technology in 2021. Ensuring the implementation of the Safe City Project, that will put 7,500 CCTV cameras on the city’s streets with live AI powered video monitoring and analysis systems, is high on the agenda.

“We are also keen on bringing at least 50,000 private CCTV cameras already installed in the city on board, and get their feed to our control room, under the Karnataka Public Places Security Act,” said Police Commissioner Kamal Pant. These measures will increase the surveillance capacity of the police many-fold, on the lines of London, capital of the UK.

Meanwhile, the city police also want to introduce a Cyber Crime Incident Report helpline where victims can call and register a complaint immediately so that accounts are frozen and transactions cancelled immediately, if possible.

They are also keen on implementing synchronisation of traffic signals to ensure smooth flow of vehicles. “Road conditions need to improve and the civic body needs to take up junction improvement works to help us improve commute,” Mr. Pant said.

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