Priorities misplaced at Bangalore?

In the last two decades, Bengaluru has opened up to new people, businesses and ideas – all of which have transformed the city. But the pace and trajectory of its growth has not been met with innovative, farsighted social planning. As one expert put it, we’re always playing catch-up because we still have the ‘small city’ approach. The result has been a growing social discomfort – not enough security, income disparity, expensive healthcare, and unmet social expectations, among other things.

A recent study done at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) showed how poorly Bengaluru scored on the urban sustainability index. Mirror has been running a series on the ‘indicators’ of sustainability: economic, environmental, social and governance. Together these indicators can give a fair idea of how sustainable a city is. This article focuses on the social indicator for Bengaluru.

According to the above-mentioned study by Balachandra Patil, issues of sustainability are inherently interconnected, and any approach that needs to be implemented requires the administration to think across various sectors, that is, education and workforce, health, poverty, housing quality, equity, safety and access to basic needs; and then act collaboratively to construct feasible sustainability plans.

“Under the dimension of social sustainability, Shanghai has the best index values for the categories of demographics and health, and Singapore obtains high values for the categories equity, safety and access to basic needs. London tops in categories such as education and access to basic needs, which it shares with Singapore. Bengaluru obtains relatively high values for indicator category such as education. However, it occupies only the third position among five cities with respect to equity and fourth position with respect to other two categories,” say the findings.

The researchers pointed out that the city did not seem particularly safe because it had a relatively low number of police personnel per 100,000 population. Except for Singapore (which got the ideal score of 1.0), all other cities (that were part of the research) fared poorly — Bengaluru and Mumbai obtained values less than 0.2 (1 is an ideal value and 0, most deficient).

The maternal mortality rate is also low at 125 per 100,000 population. Further, figures reveal that while the number of hospital beds per 10,000 population is 22, the number of physicians per 10,000 population in the city is five. “The results suggest that Bengaluru can further improve its social sustainability index values by focusing on issues related to the safety of citizens and development of the health infrastructure,” said Patil.

According to Anitha Kurup, social scientist at the National institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, traditional indicators such as literacy levels under education, number of hospitals and housing quality is no longer sufficient to ascertain the total social sustainability of a city.

“In terms of looking at where Bengaluru stands, there is yet to be a complete assessment. Traditional indicators are limiting. Also, the social sustainability indicators will be significantly different for urban and rural Bengaluru. Inequitable distribution of population and gap in equality is a big issue in the city. That needs to be studied properly,” she said.

Kurup said migration also affected social indicators in a big way and that is one aspect which was often neglected. Bengaluru holds a big draw for young job aspirants.

Basic facilities in the city, Kurup said, are stretched out too thin because of unplanned growth. “Over the last two decades, Bengaluru‘s economy has undergone a significant transformation, with service industry playing a major role in economic development. Our planning always comes after the problem and this is a dangerous approach,” she says.

Health services have become expensive. Government services are not able to match the demand, nor are they efficient. So people are forced to look at private services. What planners need to look at is creating urban neighbourhoods beyond the city, so that people are not forced to migrate to Bengaluru for basic facilities, which the city anyway lacks, said Kurup.

Aneesha Ahluwalia, health expert from the city-based Institute of Public Health, pointed at a common concern for most cities: migration. “Bengaluru also faced such a sudden inflow of migrants due to the economic boom. The city grew tremendously in terms of population, but the infrastructure did not grow in the same proportion. The IISc report says that more than half of the population (58.7 per cent) lives in rented houses, indicating that a majority of them are not locals. The private sector on the other hand is highly unregulated, specially the private practitioners. There is no regulation on pricing or quality, among others,” she said.

Ahluwalia said while health in the report has been measured in the form of indicators such as birth rate, mortality rate, these indicators are just numbers that cannot solely represent the health of the population. “Health should be seen from the system thinking lens. There are various elements that are involved. Urgent attention must be paid to the increasing pollution, be it air pollution, the ever-increasing traffic or the water pollution due to encroachment of water bodies — they all affect the health.”

“Another area is waste management. This city is generating so much waste; garbage dumps are being created near residential areas. This needs immediate government attention. Thus, just having public health services do not ensure good health. What is needed is to understand health as a whole,” she said.

“Work is promoting unhealthy patterns in lifestyle and, thus, diabetes and hypertension are on the rise. This needs intervention from corporates, employees and public health sector. Also, being a city of migrants, loners and increased work pressure, mental health of people needs immediate attention. Again there is a need for intervention and corrective measures,” said Ahluwalia.

Experts say equity can come only as a result of improvement of all other social spheres. Measures need to be taken to reduce income disparity and people from the lower strata must be included in all spheres. Equity will come when need-based services are provided. It should be the long-term goal.

Bengaluru‘s problem, according to Revathy Ashok, CEO and managing trustee of Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC), is its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 4.5 per cent from over the last decade.

“It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It has the highest per capita income in the country. However, this economic prosperity has brought with it immense planning challenges. Our social infrastructure growth has not been able to keep pace with this economic growth and corresponding growth in migrant population. Water, mobility, waste management and power are key issues plaguing the city. Of late, the safety of women and children has also become a serious concern. All these issues require immediate attention,” she said.

Ashok said as far as access to basic needs was concerned, the Metropolitan Planning Committee functioning has been an utter failure. “We need bold, far-reaching, visionary steps to deal with some of the issues. To several civic matters, we still have the ‘small city’ approach. As a result, we are constantly playing catch-up.”

Large cities covering an area of about 740 sq km require robust public transport system, with good last-mile connectivity. Bengaluru‘s Metro implementation has been far too slow and inconsequential so far. The city needs at least 200 km of Metro, well-functioning suburban rail system and good inter-modal connectivity,” she said.

Credits Bangalore Mirror

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