Do Bengaluru’s ministers care about voter agony?

Among the top issues that worry Bangaloreans are water, transport and garbage collection. Will voter views and concerns matter in the not-far-off assembly elections for Karnataka?

Assembly elections are going to be held in May 2013. Parties are beginning to announce their candidates for various constituencies. Each constituency’s report card will start showing up, with ‘progress’ of various kinds highlighted. Bangalore has 28 assembly constituencies, each MLA will flaunt his or her scorecard.

But what is topmost on Bangalorean voters’ mind? Garbage is raising stink for last three months, Cauvery is the bone of contention again, even as phase II, stage IV, shows signs of  materialising and traffic woes still top all discussions about the city.  What are our ministers in-charge saying and doing about these issues?

Unconvincing ministers

Deputy Chief Minister R Ashoka who holds the Home Minister portfolio and that of Bangalore in-charge was much in the news when villages around landfills like Mavallipura and Mandur were protesting the garbage dumping. In his effort to clean up the city, there was even a move to have police escort the garbage trucks to Mavallipura and ‘divert’ some of it to Mandur, (TOI, Aug 24).

The health minister Aravind Limbavali, was conspicuous by his absence during the entire episode. After all, the residents of Mavallipura and Mandur were citing health issues caused by the illegal dumping of garbage. Even the piling of garbage within the city was posing health hazards, biggest of them being, dengue.

All Limbavali had to say was “Garbage cannot be dumped here in my constituency.” Mandur happens to fall under his Mahadevapura constituency. By his own admission, the garbage is being dumped in Mandur since 2005. (BM, Aug 28) Why the health minister was not able to convince the Bangalore in-charge minister or the three Chief Ministers who have walked in and out of Vidhana Soudha in the last four years, to take action in this regard, is a bit of a puzzle.

The only time we saw the current chief minister Jagadish Shettar, (third in four years) in action on the garbage mess, was when he intervened and convinced Mandur villagers to allow the garbage to be dumped there. The Mandur residents agreed to this only for a month though.

Even ex chief minister B S Yeddyurappa tried to use the garbage issue as an agenda of his political comeback vehicle, (TOI, Sep 11). But apart from criticising the earlier governments and serving platitudes on the importance of ‘scientific disposal of garbage’ nothing much came of it.

HC governing the city?

Nothing seems to move in Bengaluru without PILs or protest off late and garbage mess was not an exception. Responding to the latest PIL on BBMP not disposing the waste properly, High Court actually said that it could ask the State government supercede the Palike, if it fails to clean up the city.
The result was the grand plan with very little concrete action plan on the ground.
Even earlier, it was only HC’s intervention that set things in motion for waste management. Urban Development Minister S Suresh Kumar had said “We are in an unusual situation where HC has to interfere and direct the public to segregate waste.” Why waste management did not figure in the urban development agenda in the first place, is a question that has been not been answered so far. He went to say that there will be strict action against those who do not segregate (NIE, Sep 12).  This threat has now been repeated by all authorities since.

Cauvery nammadu

Chief Minister Shettar, however garnered much press on the issue of Cauvery. Statements like ‘Manmohan Singh is acting as an agent of TN’ and ‘injustice of centre’ have been issued over the release of water to Tamil Nadu. While the finer details of the water situation remains obfuscated by official machinery, closer home, Cauvery water connection is still a pipe dream for many.

Originally meant to be launched by March 2012, the revered Cauvery Phase II, stage IV, will now hopefully be launched in November. Will this be the answer to all the water woes of the city? Hardly. But BWSSB has already listed this under ‘achievements’ on its website.

In July 2012, Centre for Science and Environment released a report on untreated sewage water and the enormous leaks in drinking water supply, in the city. According to the report, a staggering 40% of the water is lost in leakages. The reason? Nearly a century old piping system. In the same meeting where the report was released, Gaurav Gupta, Chairman BWSSB said “little money is available to replace the assets …”

While the farmers in Mandya protest for weeks, face lathi charge, call for Bandhs to retain water on this side of the border, 40% of the 900 mld water allocated for Namma Bengaluru is wasted. None of the ministers have so far resolved to fix these leaks. But Cauvery stage 4 is definitely going to be the voter calling card in the coming election.

Will the traffic ever land government in a jam?

The infrastructure projects going on the city was one of the reasons cited by Gaurav Gupta for damaged water pipelines. But, despite all these infrastructure projects which largely include road widening, flyovers, underpasses and Namma Metro, there are very few motorable roads or jam free stretches in the city and public transport commute is still an expensive nightmare.

Metro project that has practically turned the city inside out has only managed to connect MG Road to Byappanahalli, a small distance of 6.7 km, so far. The other phases are still in various stages of implementation with the Phase II completion date set for 2017. While citizens wait to see if all the trouble, including loss of tree cover is worth it, it sure is going to feature on politicians’ report card, under their ‘achievements,’ till 2017 and many elections after.

But the real heartache for Bangaloreans are the never ending road widening and flyover projects and the not fully efficient public transport system. Minister Ashoka who is also in-charge of Transport department, has made plans to build nearly 50 Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMC) in the city. TTMCs are nothing but fancy name for large bus stops. Of the 10 already built, only a few are fully functional and generating revenue as per the minister’s predictions. But that hasn’t stopped him from announcing more of them.

Plans for flyovers on the other hand are aplenty. Some of the plans sound like they are straight off a Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi movie sets. In May this year, BDA floated tenders to build two flyovers  – one six-lane one from Hotel Le Meridien till Cauvery Junction and one from Airforce main gate, both these will stand above and over the new flyover at the BDA junction and the railway bridge near Windsor manor, (TOI, May 13) New age transport, literally reaching the skies!

There are many more such projects in the pipeline. And each of these project is under one or more ministers’ must-flaunt list.

But is the ordinary, tax paying Bangalorean happy about any of it? Is the Bangalorean going to express his or her frustration through voting? Or are the politicians are hoping that the ‘public memory is short,’ theory, will hold up this time too?⊕

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