Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cost of Development

I was listening to music on my phone and enjoying my small nap in the cab. But the nap was irritating because the interiors of the cab had gotten too hot owing to a sunny day. Sweating, I opened the window of the cab a little and peeped outside….

The site that I saw was ghastly. A huge tree, probably the last in that entire stretch, was being razed down with bulldozers. Almost the entire road had been barricaded and dug up and the vehicles were moving on a narrow single lane strip, which had spread over to the footpath. The pedestrians had no space to go but along with the crawling vehicles listening to the loud noises of the engine and taking in all the smoke. The buildings on either side of the road had been demolished and only the dilapidated skeletons stood in place of what could once be called as hotels, shops and houses. Each one of these structures had a story of plight to tell. They just lay there, being mute witness to all the “development” that was going on around them

On my last birthday, I had written a post titled “Language treat” where I had mentioned about a particular poster which had opposed the metro train coming on MKK road. I had laughed about a train coming on a road then. That seemed quite funny and hard to comprehend. But today, anyone who passes through MKK road will definitely agree with me that the metro train has virtually run in to the lives of everyone on that road, destroying everything on its way.

The MKK road from Navrang to Malleshwaram has gone awfully bad. In fact, vehicles are just happy crawling on what remains of a road filled with potholes and dust. Pedestrians are in an even worse situation. They can’t even walk on the road, let alone cross it. This story is the same everywhere in Bangalore. What were once the prized greens of Bangalore have now been reduced to dusty rubble.

If you have been in Bangalore for more than 5 years and have been to places in the heart of the city, your heart can definitely feel the pain. The erstwhile MG road lined with pink bougainvillea flowers, parts of cubbon park, the dense canopy covered Sheshadri road, the tree lined Nanda talkies road are now history. Everywhere green barricades have come up with the signs of “Namma metro” on them making us dream of the day when eventually metro becomes operational.

Maybe in another 3-4 years, Bangalore might be completely different. With all the infrastructure/ construction projects coming to an end, the city might be a lot better than before. But the people who have lost their livelihoods because of their shops being razed down, the ones who have suffered due to the ongoing construction work, etc will never be able to appreciate the metro even when it becomes operational. Also, the harm done to the city’s fragile ecosystem is irreparable. We have already lost lots of the city’s bird species and lakes owing to pollution and the real estate boom. The metro work is already straining the city’s roads to unbearable proportions. Thousands of new vehicles are added to the roads everyday adding to the city’s woes. We are treading on the path of development by burdening our resources.

Even though we could not reach a conclusion to the Copenhagen summit on climate change, one thing that is clear from the attention to his topic is this – we, the developing nations cannot take the “high carbon” path towards development like the “Industrially revolutionized” developed nations. This will put a tremendous pressure on the natural resources and cause irreparable damage to the earth in the long term. Already, we can feel the climate change happening around us. Bangalore’s much acclaimed weather has slowly deteriorated over the years and is expected to go worse. Natural calamities are occurring more frequently than before. The signs are ominous.

It is now clear to us that the development for the “third world” comes at a price, a large one at that. What are the ways in which we can bring down this cost in a way that causes least harm to the nation? I was reading the book “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani and he has highlighted this issue. He says that the most efficient path towards progress with least harm to the natural resources would be to have “Carbon trade” – ie, put a price on all carbon emissions and by encouraging innovative solutions to the infrastructure problems. This can be done by corporate involvement in the public sector projects. When private sector companies are provided incentives by the government to save on emissions, they come up with novel approaches for cutting down emissions.

The cost of development is no doubt, high. But we have to make sure that the above schemes are also implemented so that even nature does not lose out. It is everybody’s desire to crave for a life of luxury and comfort. The approach we follow at this point of time might eventually give our future generations a developed world. But, only a careful and well-thought out approach will make sure that they will enjoy the benefits without suffering the consequences.