The oligarchic republic of Bangalore?

As many as 33,000 people travel through the airport every day, while 10 lakh people travel through the Majestic area, using buses or trains. The investment on the airport is 100 times the money spent on Majestic. Where do the priorities lie?

The Greek word Oligarchy means ‘Government of a few rich people for their own advantage’. It was coined by the philosopher Aristotle 2300 years ago (he also coined the word Democracy). An Oligarch is a very rich businessman or businesswoman with a great deal of political influence. For convenience, we’ll shorten the word to Olly.

Karnataka politics has traditionally been funded by various lobbies of Ollys like the liquor lobby, the mining lobby, real estate lobby, and the contractors’ lobby (in urban bodies elections). When a politician needs money to fight an election, an Olly funds him, and the Olly in turn expects various business benefits when the politician wins the election. The Ollys in these lobbies have had power over the legislature and administration. They have been able to make laws to suit their convenience and violate laws with impunity by their money power. This of course is an old story.

Over the past decade, we have seen a new story being born, with a new generation Olly peculiar to Bangalore – the Bolly, or Bangalore Olly.

The Bolly wants Bangalore transformed into a ‘world-class city’ so that his clients get impressed when they visit his office in Bangalore, in the hope that this feeling eventually transforms into a purchase order and money. There is also the frequent threat from the Ollies that they will stop investing in Bangalore and move to Hyderabad, Pune or Gurgaon if the transformation to world-class does not happen pronto. Nobody knows what ‘world-class’ really means, although the term is used often in speeches and reported in the press. The Bolly sees the large resource hungry cities in the US and China on his travels abroad, and presumably has these cities in mind when he uses the term.

If this is so, the Bangalore that the Bolly sees in his dream is this: 10-lane freeways that have cars travelling at 100 kmph, without any slow moving traffic like bicycles, autos or buses. No pedestrian crossings, no footpaths. The airport and the Bollys’ offices and factories are the centres of activity, and these are linked by the freeways. The Bollys live in exclusive gated communities close to their workplaces. The rest of Bangalore is just incidental, existing just to support all this.



If you think this is an exaggeration, think again – The BBMP planned to widen 140 roads across the city, most of them to form signal-free corridors from various parts of the city to the airport. This would have involved the destruction of lakhs of homes and businesses, and cutting down of lakhs of trees. The plan has been temporarily suspended because of public protests, but will doubtless raise its ugly head soon.

The transportation ‘planning’ in the city is an example of the Bolly’s power. He said "I want a six-lane road to Electronic City" and the government made him one. He then said "But this has not solved the problem. I want an elevated freeway" and the government made him one, costing Rs. 1500 Cr. of tax-payers’ money. The Bolly said "I want a six-lane highway to the airport" and the government made it – a 35 km. long road with just five pedestrian crossings.

The Bolly then said (obviously not having learnt from the earlier mistake on Hosur Road) "But this has not solved the problem. I want an elevated freeway" and the government is making it. The Bolly says "It already looks like the elevated road is a mistake – I might want a High Speed Rail System from Cubbon Road" and the government is thinking about it. The Bolly said "I want high speed roads from various parts of the city to the airport", and long stretches of Bangalore’s most beautiful tree-covered roads were widened.

So you have this ludicrous anomaly: according to statistics from the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT), 33,000 people travel through the airport every day, while 10 Lakh people travel through the Majestic area, using buses or trains to enter or leave the city. The investment on the airport is Rs. 2000 crore – the six-lane highway, the elevated road, the widening of roads in the city for fast travel to the airport. Over the past five years, the investment on Majestic was Rs 20 Crore (Src: BBMP Budget)

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In sum, 30 times more people travel through Majestic than through the airport, but the expenditure on them is 100 times less. The per capita expenditure on air travellers is 3000 times more than that on train or bus travellers.

Bangalore is being redesigned and rebuilt to suit the Bolly’s ‘world-class’ city dream. So on the one hand there are power and water shortages, overflowing garbage, the state of the government’s educational institutions and hospitals is abysmal, and there is zero town planning. On the other hand, the government is spending enormous amounts of money on widening roads and building flyovers. In successive BBMP budgets the money allocation for road widening, flyovers and elevated highways is many times the allocation for health and education.

White elephant solutions like the Metro get precedence over quicker and lower cost solutions like an improved bus system, a commuter rail system, and cycling and walking. Why? Because the Bolly and his clients only see the airport and roads to the Bolly’s offices, factories and gated communities. It is enough if these are beautiful.

They do not travel by bus or train, or walk or cycle. They do not go to Majestic, Avenue Road, Shivajinagar or a hundred other areas the average Bangalorean goes to for shopping and entertainment. They do not visit areas where the average Bangalorean lives, with his non-existent roads, power cuts, water shortage, poor public transport, dysfunctional government hospitals and government schools.

Which brings us to the point of how long term these Bollys’ businesses are. The employees who work for the Bollys are the average Bangaloreans who suffer the consequences of the Bollys’ warped ‘planning’. Their efficiency at work is lower because of a poor quality of life – poorer health because of pollution, water quality, low quality hospitals, low quality schools, long commute times. A businessman thinking long term would ensure that his employees’ needs are met first.

In some ways the Bolly is more dangerous than the earlier lot of Ollys, because his influence on government is not obvious, while the influence of the other Ollys was transparent. A lot of poorly thought out ideas have been pushed through by innocuous-sounding Bolly clubs like the now-defunct BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force) and more recently, the BPAC.

Just a couple of examples would suffice to illustrate the selective, contradictory efforts of the BPAC. In its agenda, the Committee recommends implementation of something called the Karnataka Information Communication Technology Group report. This has 12 sections, of which 11 talk about improving the IT sector. No other industries or businesses are even mentioned. Eleven sections for improving IT, one section for improving Bangalore.

Then again, Section 12.3.1 says at least 60 per cent of people must be ‘encouraged’ to use public transport. Section 12.3.3 is all about building high speed travel corridors, elevated roads, flyovers. The latter would only encourage private transport. There is NO mention anywhere in the document of discouraging private transport or target numbers for reduction in automobiles. Moreover, Section 12.3.16 asks for enhanced car parking space (notice it is only ‘cars’, never two-wheelers), while sensible cities worldwide are reducing parking space, to discourage private transport. And there are more such examples of contradictions.

Democracy pits a few with money power against the many with participation power. In a true democracy the latter has the upper hand. In Bangalore (as in the rest of Karnataka, actually) money power is winning, making the state a business enterprise to maximize the wealth of a few rather than to ensure the welfare of its citizens.


  1. Skanda Tejaswi says:

    Hmmm… It is only when you see the whole city as an organism and have the ability and intelligence to diagnose its problems does a meaningful and intelligent solution begin to appear. It’s a different matter that the self-interest and greed of each individual/group always prevails over the greater good, and even simple and easily implemented solutions are deliberately abandoned. “To hell with the people and the city”, right? Belonging to no one, the ‘society’ is orphaned, all the time. With the article eloquently commenting on the DIRECTION of public spending, a crucial aspect regarding the spending itself is worth noting in the footnotes – to all appearances, the government builds these roads and flyovers not just to pander to the Bolly but perhaps more importantly, to serve an even higher cause. More projects, more spending, more money, more money, more money… Sitting in the public office is a moment of supreme opportunity to thieve and rob, and we are a people that is used to both robbing and being robbed over many generations – it is business as usual for us.

    Thought (and cynicism too) provoking indeed.

  2. Manoj Gunwani says:

    This article has more rant than insight. Instead of root causing the pathetic state of affairs, it just tries to vent frustration against a loosely defined section of the community which is an easy target. There are better articles on Citizen Matters which dig deeper into what prevents good governance in Bangalore.

  3. Muralidhar Rao says:

    The cattle-class treatment meted out to rail and bus travellers (as also to pedestrians) is indeed pitiable. The reason for this perhaps lies in their being operated by government monopolies, and as such, the answer may lie in properly instituted PPP’s. Further, if I understand correctly, the elevated carriage-way between Silkboard junction and Electronic city has been put in place on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Basis for the NHAI, by a consortium of Soma, NCC, and Maytas. So, the state exchequer is not burdened. And, I believe it has served a useful purpose. As such, as long as these projects are pursued on well-instituted PPP basis, there should not be a problem. Metro in that respect is worrisome, though from long-term perspective, it may be justified.

  4. Sridhar Raman says:

    Thanks Das for writing this piece.

    @MuralidharRao, the E-City elevated corridor has actually been a disaster. Not only have the number of private vehicles increased on this road, there has been an increase in the number of accidents up and down.
    Not to mention the sense of entitlement that it bestows on the private vehicle users.

  5. Nanda Ramesh says:

    I did not see it as a “rant”. I found the article fairly well presented as far the issue at hand is concerned, ie, more investment/resources is being used for a smaller number of people while the larger more urgent needs are being ignored. I agree with that premise. The lobbies are winning out and democracy is at stake, I feel. People participation is only on paper. They are unable to get their demands met (as seen above) even though they are in the majority. This is true not just here..but all over the world. Solution? nothing I can think of…barring a miracle of a truly caring and balanced person coming to power.

  6. Swami Rajagopalan says:

    Truly the might of the bolly’s. Sample this, there were 2, not 1 flyovers built within a few years of this very Eco friendly space. I am still trying to figure out why?. The might of these bollys are in their foot soldiers (read nanos and sumos) who have scant respect for the average bangalorean on the road or their traffic rules!!

  7. Swami Rajagopalan says:

    Correction yards not years, and indicas not nanos

  8. Manoj Gunwani says:

    Lobbies – yes. Monopolies – yes. But you are chasing the wrong people. What subverts good governance, sustainable development and equitable living in Bangalore is not the globally aware businessman (who may have actually experienced these somewhere else) but a fickle political class and a corrupt bureaucracy. And these are creations not of the Bolly but an apathetic, not so educated society in general. But that is not very palatable, is it? It is so much easier to blame those rich guys in their gated communities.

  9. Harsha Gatt says:

    instead of building floyover, road widening etc. If the govt planning agency had some sense , they should have improved access roads to ITPL, EC and other IT hubs. Right now, there are only 1 or 2 access roads to these pockets. Making them 10 or 15 lane wont change the picture. Instead of that, provide access from other corners of the city.
    Ex: EC can be reached only via Hosur road. Why not South of Bengaluru, Jayanagara or East part of Bengaluru have to travel upto Hosur road to reach EC?
    can’t we use the internal road network and widen them ?

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