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Karnataka Elections: An Open Letter To The Incoming Chief Minister To Save Bengaluru

A Bangalorean pours his heart out for the new elected Chief Minister of Karnataka.

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The New Chief Minister

Karnataka Date: May 14, 2018

Dear Sir,

Now that you have been elected, I am taking this opportunity to lay down some suggestions for our capital city of Bengaluru which your successive predecessors have neglected for the last 15 odd years. These are the expectations from a tax paying, law abiding, an ordinary but fully engaged citizen of this city we have chosen to call our home.

When a voter exercises his franchise there are two considerations uppermost in his or her mind: ideology and issues. I will concentrate only on the issues facing us and the expectations from you as our duly elected Chief Minister.

First, please get just the basics of elementary governance right. And that is to provide your citizens with water, sanitation, sewage, proper waste management, cleanliness, regulated traffic, transportation, footpaths, uninterrupted power, street lighting…….and a mosquito free city. Please restore our lakes, water bodies and green cover. Years of cumulative, criminal neglect have created this situation and your active leadership is required to solve it. This can be done if only you, as the leader, show the political will to do so.

Being from the corporate world and trained in Kaizen – a Japanese management philosophy for organizational improvement - in the early part of my career, I give immense importance to benchmarking as a work ethic. You may wish to do this with your counterpart from Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee. Kolkata is today rated as no. 2 in the urban governance index in an ASICS study of 23 Indian cities: Bengaluru is no. 23 whilst Pune is no. 1 and Tiruvanthapuram is no. 3. In Kolkata, a 250-year-old city with the obvious problems of an aged city, today one can actually time oneself on local travel, broad roads and flyovers dot the city, traffic is totally streamlined and disciplined, there is 24-hour water, surplus electricity, and it is mosquito free! Even 5-7 years ago successive generations, including mine,  considered this state of affairs to be a utopian dream. The strong-willed political leadership of your counterpart, along with empowered local bodies, police and transparent governance, did the trick.

If Kolkata - 250-year-old city and a basket case of few decades in urban governance - can do this in this short span, surely we can too! Do remember Bengaluru has the highest citizen engagement platforms for a fairly long time with more than 25 bodies that I am aware of - from BPAC to Janagraha and Namma Bengaluru. Our bureaucracy at the senior levels is as good as those elsewhere and the intellectual prowess of the citizens who choose to be engaged are indisputably the foremost in the country - from Nandan Nilekani to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw to Ramesh Ramanathan and many others.

This brings me to the second point: so what really is the problem that your predecessors have left you with? The problem very clearly is a lack of a political vision of Bengaluru as a global city, a lack of political will to tackle the tough issues and a complete lack of ability to execute at the ground level by the civic agencies mandated by law to govern the city. If you just start by acknowledging this, the team below you would get the message - again think of the metamorphosis of Kolkata bureaucracy woken up after decades of a decadent communist philosophy of no work and maximum pay. Once this is done, the citizen groups will be much more effective in helping the government do its job. Citizens can help with strategic inputs, policy formulation, structured planning, technological roadmap, robust processes……..but execution must be done by your team. I am sure citizens can’t be expected to do this too… bono…..whilst the government agencies collect their paychecks for their mandated work.

Thirdly, the dichotomy of Bengaluru is stark - it’s private sector, and the face of its global city tag, is bubbling with energy and moving to increasing levels of innovation in its workplace ( Honeywell, GE, Boeing, have their innovation centers here) whilst the civic bodies are stuck in an age-old construct of ruling the masses vis a vis governing the citizens. Please use your citizens’ youth, exuberance and leadership to build a modern work ethic for your governance model. Public-Private Partnership (PPP)  models for infrastructure would be ideal provided the management model of Vidhan Soudha is radically transformed to the new paradigm. Your colleagues Chandra Babu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, Shivraj Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and our PM, Narendra Modi have successfully demonstrated this over years. Many others are following suit and we cannot afford to be left behind.

In the name of PPP, kindly do not mortgage our future to the real estate lobby in the city – the prime reason for haphazard planning, dubious approvals and encroachment of land apart from host of other environment-related transgressions including vegetation cover depletion, excessive land use over last two decades, burning lakes and flooding in the city with just a few hours of rain.

Do recollect it was only good governance in the past and openness which has resulted in creating the edifice for what Bengaluru is today – the finest academic institutions, the Software Technology Parks and the BioTech policy, etc. And neglecting Bengaluru due to the electoral math of 28 seats out of 225 is just not sustainable for a city which provides 60% of Karnataka’s GDP – by this count, none of the capital cities of Hyderabad, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Chandigarh or Chennai would attract any political attention!

And lastly, please do not use your mandate to polarise the vibrant, culturally rich and welcoming social fabric of our city on the basis of caste, religion, sub-religion, language and the completely fictitious north-south divide.

The Bengaluru I and my children call our home is far above all such petty partisan politics.



A law abiding, tax paying, ordinary but engaged citizen who simply loves Namma Bengaluru

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Prabal Basu Roy

The author is a Sloan fellow of the London Business School and a chartered accountant. He has previously been a director/ Group CFO in various companies. He now manages a PE fund and advises startups / corporates.

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