Bangalore: A Vibrant and Dynamic Indian City With An Uncertain Future?

Bangalore is perhaps one of the most prominent examples for urban growth and vibrant economic activity. M H Bala Subrahmanya explains the city’s ascent to success – and its downsides.

Bangalore, the capital city of Karnataka State in India, has been gaining increasing global recognition for its vibrancy on multiple fronts, the most significant one being technology and innovation. The most recent recognition was its identification as the most dynamic city in the global economy by JLL’s City Momentum Index in 2017, and the earliest recognition perhaps came in 2001 when the UNDP named Bangalore as one of the 46 “Global Hubs of Technological Innovation”. Today, the city is considered the hub of scientific and technical (S&T) personnel and is quite often compared with Silicon Valley in the US.

The foundation for the repeated recognitions bestowed on the city since 2000 was laid about five decades prior to 2000, that is, immediately after India’s independence in August 1947. Over the period, (i) public policy, (ii) private investments (both foreign and domestic), and (iii) a coordination of both have played a vital role in steadily strengthening the foundation and building the edifice for the emergence of the city as it has been observed since 2000.

Urban Growth Puts Pressure on Infrastructure and Utilities

Today, Bangalore is perhaps the most preferred destination in India, (i) for employment for the ever growing number of young technology workers, and (ii) for investment for the Fortune 500 Companies when they decide to enter India. However, in the process, there is mounting pressure on urban infrastructure and public utilities, resulting in a gradual but steady deterioration in the quality of life of the average person. These two developments represent cities’ “growth achievements” by attracting more and more people on the one hand, and its downside of negative consequences of growth on the other hand.

But how did Bangalore assume its vibrancy and visibility, nationally and globally? Given its current trend of growth that is resulting in an increasing demand for infrastructure and public utilities, what are undesirable consequences of growth? And what do these portend for the future?

The Success Story of a City

The foundation for the emergence of Bangalore as a modern city was laid in the late 1940s and 1950s when some of the premier Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) [in the machinery and electronics industry sectors] were set up as part of India’s Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) strategy. Along with this, industrial estates for the growth of Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were established across the city. Both generated employment and thereby attracted the S&T educated workforce, as well as skilled and unskilled workers to the city.

During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the city became widely known for its salubrious climate, and it was nicknamed “pensioners’ paradise”. The government bureaucrats from across the country, after attaining superannuation, used to settle down in Bangalore. The city used to be cooler both absolutely and relative to all the other metropolitan areas in India. This largely holds true even today, despite a rise in pollution.

In the 1980s, the rise and growth of IT industries followed by BT industries, as well as the entry of multinational corporations (MNCs) and domestic industries onto the scene, further augmented the already increasing inflow of S&T personnel into the city. In the 1990s, the city obtained another nickname, “Silicon Valley of India”. The city emerged as the highest contributor (in terms of value) to India’s software exports, a distinction that it consistently holds on to since then.

Soon MNCs realised the value of the city in terms of availability of talented but low-cost S&T personnel for their research and development centres. Since the late 1990s onwards, more and more research and development affiliated staff of multinationals have been coming to the city. This enabled the city to acquire yet another nickname, namely, “S&T Capital of India”. The fertile and vibrant S&T ecosystem provided the ideal environment for tech start-ups, supported by its strong links with the rest of the world (through MNCs as much as internationalised domestic firms), particularly the Silicon Valley.

As a result of all factors, many of the S&T and management educated Indian youngsters today dream of leading a life in Bangalore. Thus, it has become a “dream city” for the younger generation. Today, Bangalore is home to citizens from every state of India, and to citizens of diverse nationalities, from the West to the East.

The Downside of Growth

However, the expansion of Bangalore has its flip side as well. Its steady and uneven growth in terms of area and population has led to increasing pressure on urban infrastructure and public utilities. Air pollution, land pollution and water pollution have emerged on a considerable scale and have lead to health problems of various kinds.

The number and size of lakes have shrunk and many of the existing lakes are polluted. Indiscriminate dispersal of waste in residential and commercial areas has become a common sight causing foul smell all around. Clean air, land and water have become more rare and dear. Traffic density has increased, resulting in frequent traffic jams and a slow pace of traffic movement. Smooth movement within the city is a major challenge, despite the recent introduction of two metro rail-lines and improvements in public road transport.

What Needs to be Done?

If Bangalore is to retain its dynamism in the future, regional and local governments have to become more responsible, efficient and responsive to the needs of the city. The challenges for the city administrators and policy makers are five-fold:

  1. Provision of potable water to the ever growing population,
  2. Preservation of existing water bodies in and around the city,
  3. Adoption of scientific process for the collection, recycling and reuse of city waste,
  4. Significant improvement in metro rail lines covering the entire length and breadth of the city, with proper connectivity by road transport, and
  5. Planting of trees through public-private partnership initiatives to improve the “green cover” of the city.

If these issues are not addressed within an extremely narrow timeframe (within about five to ten years), the city is likely to experience a significant decrease in liveability that will cast doubt on whether Bangalore has a viable future.

M H Bala Subrahmanya

M H Bala Subrahmanya is a professor specialised in Industrial Economics with a focus on start-ups, SMEs, innovation, and entrepreneurship. He has extensively researched on Bangalore and its entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition, he has carried out research and consultancy projects sponsored by international organisations such as the EU, IWMI, the World Bank, and national organisations such as DST, ICSSR, and UGC.
M H Bala Subrahmanya

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