Why Bangalore's Sarjapur Road is a tragedy of commons

How will neighbourhoods in such places evolve?

 |  3-minute read |   18-06-2015
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Public good creation in Bangalore is heavily constrained, and often unable to keep up with the city's rapid growth. Therefore, it is not unusual to find places built almost entirely through private enterprise.

An example of this can be seen on Sarjapur Road, in south-east Bangalore. Once one crosses the Iblur junction towards Sarjapur, public infrastructure more or less vanishes. There are some main roads and power lines, but there is a striking contrast between the heavy presence of residential skyscrapers and corporate campuses and the absence of footpaths, drains or sewage pipelines. Almost everything seems to be the result of private activity with thriving markets in borewells, water-tankers, generators and sewage treatment plants substituting for public infrastructure.

Unfortunately, these public failures are compounded by a number of market failures as well, a striking example being that of the water table in the area. With no public water supply, almost everyone is dependent upon groundwater, either mined directly through borewells or purchased from water-tanker companies. The result is a classic example of what Garett Hardin called "The Tragedy of the Commons". With public agencies unable to strictly monitor usage, it is easy for many people to install borewells and mine groundwater, causing levels to drop. A point must be made here about access inequality-poorer residents of the area who cannot afford to install a borewell are forced to depend on expensive water-tanker companies with no alternatives.

Amidst these myriad interactions, the predominance of residential complexes and gated communities also raises an interesting question - how are the residents of these complexes, who presumably have welfare associations and other similar forms of organisation, coming together to address these local problems? There are already collective initiatives underway on Sarjapur Road to tackle issues such as the declining water table. One residential complex, Rainbow Drive, is being feted in local circles for its aggressive water conservation efforts, while others are adopting a wide range of water conservation, sewage treatment and waste management techniques.

Furthermore, there is now a movement of the private out into the public. Citizens across the area are coming together and organising themselves to address critical common issues. One such case is that of residents getting together to rejuvenate a historical, interconnected lake system in their area, not only to conserve water but to also create new public spaces. Recently, the rejuvenation of Kaikondrahalli lake was celebrated with the first iteration of a city-wide lake festival. While the rejuvenation was citizen-led, organisers also acknowledged the important role played by local government agencies. Efforts like lake conservation are therefore becoming opportunities for multiple stakeholders, both private and public, to collectivise and shape the city.

Places like Sarjapur Road hold many lessons for those studying urbanisation processes in India. They illustrate the convolutions of economic processes, and how multiple forces and incentives intertwine within small geographical spaces. How will neighbourhoods in such places evolve and what roles will communities play in these complex contexts? Witnessing these processes at work should be interesting.


Amogh Arakali Amogh Arakali @amogharakali

The writer works with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and is a resident of Bangalore.

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