A cover story on Bangalore can’t be complete without talking to Kelachandra Joseph George, the man who has the mandate to make this city a happy living and working place for its original residents, millions of migrants from Karnataka and all across the country and people from around the globe.
KJ George probably holds the toughest portfolio — Bangalore Development and Town Planning — in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, because Bangalore has doubled its population in the past 10 years and is expected to double again by 2032. George is known to be the chief minister’s most trusted man and he is also close to the Congress High Command in New Delhi. Earlier, he was the home minister of Karnataka. He spoke to Financial Chronicle on a wide variety of issues revolving around the challenges the city has embraced with its rapid, unplanned growth and the measures his ministry has been taking to settle these while working closely with various administrative entities on issues ranging from traffic, road infrastructure, drinking water and sewage, garbage management, mobility, city greening etc. Excerpts:
What is the biggest challenge you have at hand in managing Bangalore?
Bangalore has seen an unprecedented growth. No other city in Asia has grown at this pace. The population has more than doubled to 10.2 million in the past 10 years and is expected to cross 20 million by 2032. This is the fastest grown and fastest growing city in the entire Asia. The city was only 210 sq kms and in 2006 it was expanded to 810 sq kms, by the last government, adding some 110 villages from the outskirts. However, the then government did not have the finance or feasibility plan ready to accommodate such huge urban expansion. Also for the first 2.5 years of Congress administration, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was under the BJP.
When we took over the administration of BBMP, it had liabilities of unpaid bills worth Rs 2,500 crore and also many of its buildings were mortgaged to raise funds. Our CM has done a complete review of the BBMP’s financial status, made a solid revival plan and also released Rs 7,300 crore and later Rs 2,500 crore. Following the plan over the last 15 months, we have cleared all dues and also released the pledged properties. During the last government, 11 BBMP properties were mortgaged and
a loan of Rs 1,645 was taken. We have got all these including Kempegowda Museum, Mayohall Properties, Malleswaram Market and Johnson Market released from mortgage. Also execution of various new projects, including construction of storm water drains, and garbage management, etc are underway.
Your government has been talking about building a holistic Bangalore. What is your ministry doing for this?
Bengaluru is a city of opportunities. It is the IT capital, the health capital and also startup capital of the country. It is cosmopolitan and progressive and the 5th biggest city in the country. Brand Bengaluru is absolutely distinct given the varied traditional/ modern hues it has nurtured over the years. But with over 1.2 crore population, the city has its own share of solid challenges. In our quest to maintain Brand Bengaluru, all entities including Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) are playing a vital role. Under the master plan 2031 project, holistic development of Bengaluru is being planned. The entire look of this city will change. The project is being envisaged by subject matter experts and details of execution are being worked out.
The garden city Bangalore is now known as garbage city. How is the government handling the garbage menace?
Bangalore Metropolitan Area currently generates 6,233 tonnes of garbage a day. Proper handling of it is a humongous task. Till a few years ago, all city garbage was thrown out into nearby villages and the villagers were suffering and protesting. Now we have set up, through private players, seven garbage processing plants. We are also filling dozens of granite quarry pits around the city using garbage and mudpacks (it is done scientifically) to create tree parks and play grounds on these quarries. Ideally each ward should have its own waste-to-energy plants. The government is willing to buy the power generated out of garbage. Garbage generated by the city will go up to 13,911 tonnes (64% wet waste, 27% dry waste and remaining will be domestic hazardous and inert waste) a day by 2031. We are gearing up to handle this mammoth task as well.
Indira Canteens are a runaway success in Bangalore. How have they made a difference to the lives of migrants here?
Bangalore city has 198 wards and each of these wards is planned to have an Indira Canteen. These serve quality, fresh, nutritious and tasty food at affordable price for all sects of people, so much that these have been a new food point for migrant workers, daily wage labourers, drivers, security guards, students and the general public. Breakfast is just Rs 5 and lunch & dinner are served at Rs 10 each. These canteens already serve over close to 300,000 meals a day. We have plans to expand this scheme to other parts of the state and we will have over 300 such canteens in Karnataka. We are also opening Indira Canteens in government hospitals to serve the poor and needy.
Give us a brief account of the city road development work your ministry has taken up in the last 4/5 years?
Under the Chief Minister’s Nagarotthana (City Development) Project, some Rs 11,000 crore has been released for the development of roads & infrastructure in BBMP limits. We have developed 268 roads, 350 kms in length, and constructed several grade separators. Underpasses & Flyovers were constructed to reduce traffic congestion. Some 44 projects were taken up to develop arterial, sub-arterial roads between 2013 and 2017. We have developed 25 kms of inter–connectivity roads. We have also developed tender sure roads to ensure pedestrian safety and ease of traffic. These include Residency Road, Nrupatunga Road, Commissariat Road, Museum Road, Cunningham Road Richmond Road, St. Marks Road, Mallya Hospital Road, KG Road, Modi Hospital Road etc.
Your government seems to have given a big face-lift to pourakarmikas (safai karamcharis) in the city? How will it impact the quality of their living?
Till recently, pourakarmikas were engaged under a contact system. We have abolished that and brought them directly under the BBMP to enhance their quality of work. We have introduced biometric systems and identified some 20,000 pourakarmikas. They will get a basic salary of Rs 17,000, with ESI and PF benefits. We may regularise another 5,000 of them soon. All of them will get new garbage pushcarts, uniforms, protective gears and midday meals. This is a historic change in the city. Breaking away from the tradition, pourakarmikas now are direct employees of the BBMP and are free from the clutches of the garbage mafia and middlemen.
A recent BBC report said Bangalore will run out of water soon. What are the challenges on the water front and what measures are being taken by your ministry to overcome these?
The city receives 1,400 MLD (million litres a day) of Cauvery water and another 400 MLD ground water. Together 1,800 MLD is the daily water consumption of the city. Of this, we generate waste water of 1,400 and 80% of is treated while the rest 20% will also be treated by 2020. This will recharge the water tables and will significantly improve the ground water scenario. The recent Supreme Court verdict on Cauvery issue has been a big boost to the state. On the storm water front, the government is in the process of doubling the city’s storm warm drains from 400 km to 800 to control floods, also to improve ground water scenario. Multiple STPs (sewage treatment plants) are being established across the city. By 2020, waste water management capacity of our STPs would be 1,766 MLD up from 800 MLD today. Under the Mega City Project, Rs 1,290.36 crore has been allotted to set up 4 Mega Waste Water Recycling units. Some 400 MLD processed water from Bangalore will be used to fill 126 lakes in Kolar and Chickballapur. On the drinking water front, our government has started free drinking water supply for people living in slums. A family will receive 10,000 litres of water a month. This costs Rs 24.50 crore to the state exchequer. We have added around 250,000 new waterlines in the last 4 years, a 35% more connectivity compared to previous government. The Fifth Phase of the Cauvery project is planned to meet the remaining drinking water issues of the city. Rs 167.60 crore has been spent on the repair and maintainence of the pipes supplying water from the sources. This has drastically reduced the water loss during transportation.
The city will also start getting 12 MLD (million litres a day) water from the TG Halli Reservoir, after a gap of six years. The state government will spend Rs 5,500 crore by 2023 to increase water availability for Bangalore to 2,175 MLD from the current 1,400 MLD.
What mobility issues has your government fixed so far?
The first phase of Namma Metro (metro rail) covering a distance of 42.5 kms including 8.8 kms underground stretches were ready by July 2017, at a project outlay of Rs 13,845 crore. BEML, the maker of rail coaches will hand over six additional coaches to Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) in the next two months. BEML is readying another 150 cars, which will be delivered to BMRCL by June 2019, to double the capacity of trains from current three to six coaches. The first car in these six-coach trains will be reserved for women. Currently, Namma Metro has a ridership over 400,000 a day. To meet the peak hour rush, BMRCL has increased the frequency of trains from 5 to 8 minutes to 3 to 3.5 minutes. Earlier, BMRCL was operating 161 round trips a day and it has been increased to 171 schedules recently. The government is looking at providing scientifically designed solutions to the city’s ever increasing connectivity needs. We want to ensure reduction in traffic density. We are also working on sub-urban rail networks, to connect various points including the Kempegowda International Airport. Interestingly, Karnataka has the best and the largest bus network runs by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC). It currently has around 7000 buses while the fleet will be increased to over 9,000, by buying 1,500 new buses and leasing some. Most of these are high quality, sleek, low door Volvo buses. The city will also add double-decker buses. Some 1,610 additional bus shelters are also in the making.
What’s the magic happening with city lakes, with water catching fire?
Lake restoration and development is a special priority for our government. We have allocated funds for the upkeep of lakes. In the past four years, 17 lakes have been developed. Water treatment plants have been established in 10 lakes. There are 90 lakes under BBMP jurisdiction, and all these lakes are being developed in a phased manner. We are introducing sluice gates to control stagnation or entry of dirty water into the lakes. Our water and sewage authority, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is currently cleaning and treating the Bellandur Lake, which had a fire incident.