|Bangalore - Karnataka State capital, Garden City, India's Silicon Valley and one of Newsweek magazine's "Top Ten" hi-tech cities. Not too long back the city was gradually sliding downhill. Literally falling apart. Ruling governments did nothing to arrest this downslide. Instead they rode piggyback on the IT boom. Patting themselves each time stories appeared on the rising software exports from the State. The ride ended when a new Chief Minister took charge, Shri S.M. Krishna - whose vision went far beyond the portals of the magnificent Vidhana Soudha. He was quick to spot the declining trend. He mooted the idea of a Task Force to take "Bangalore Forward". He wanted a dedicated professional to head this group. Aptly called "Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF)". No chafe, but wheat of the hybrid variety. He didn't have to look far. He found his man in Nandan Nilekani, Managing Director of IT giant Infosys Technologies.
In an exclusive interview with www.koramangala.com, Nandan spoke to us about his views and how he and his team of dedicated people, senior government officials and other government agencies are working towards achieving their ultimate objective of making Bangalore a Singapore-like city by the year 2004.
Koramangala.com: Why would a person like Nandan Nilekani want to involve himself with cleaning up Bangalore, which is actually the job of the government?
Nandan Nilekani: I think the real issue is that first of all, we in the Software industry have gained a lot from the environment of Bangalore City and we have a certain sense of obligation that we should do something for the environment. Secondly, we are serious about wanting to make Bangalore a global brand. Therefore, it's important that we improve the infrastructure and make it world class, as much as we can. You go anywhere in the world today, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. They're all building high-quality environments. And also, I think the time has come when we need to have a private, public partnership. That is, the government, the city administrators, citizens like us who are not part of this but who have worked in the private sector. All of us have to come together and put our collective wisdom, ideas and thoughts and action to get things going forward. So those are the motivations that led me take up this assignment. Of course, with the strong support of the Chief Minister.
Koramangala.com: Granted you're concerned. But public opinion is looking at it from a different point of view... saying, that the city is getting only cosmetic cleaning up in certain prime areas and the rest of the areas are as neglected as they were before. The City Market is a classic example...
Nandan Nilekani: You must understand that there are many things one needs to do. There have been many significant accomplishments in the last six months. The outer ring road, which was built by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), was itself an accomplishment. That benefit is there for the whole city with heavy traffic being diverted which reduces congestion. There has been lot of work done on the roads and at the Summit Update we had in July there have been further commitments on the completion of that (the roads). Then lot of work has been done on Swachcha Bangalore where 25% of the wards have been taken up for door-to-door collection of garbage. We've got the pushcarts as a grant from Biocon Ltd and Aditi Technologies and other people. And now we plan to extend this program to the rest of the city. That will again improve garbage collection and help towards cleaning up the city. A whole lot of things are there, but changing a city is not an overnight activity. It's a process. But what is important is that there are a number of initiatives. For example there is the initiative to improve the accounting system in the BCC, using modern fund-based accounting. That itself will lead to better accounting and better accountability of financial issues. Then there is the self-assessment scheme, which was successful where the BCC collected 90 odd crores. These were initiatives taken up by the Bangalore City Corporation Commissioner and the Mayor. So I think in the last six months a lot of progress has been achieved. But what is important is that there is a mindset for improvement. These are publicly taken goals and then we are all measuring our own performance against those goals. Then there's a proposal to put toilets all over the city, in commercial areas, in slums, so that public sanitation will improve.
When Shanghai was transformed, 7 million people were physically moved out of Shanghai and when the city was improved they were brought back. Can you even imagine doing something like that here? I mean; we live in a democratic society. There are a whole set of issues to consider in a democratic setup. So obviously there's a lot of scope for improvement. We have to keep going at the action, keep chipping away into the issues and keep going forward
Koramangala.com: You have also called corporate companies to help develop Bangalore. Wipro developed a park in Koramangala with a lot of fanfare. We now notice, somebody has defaced the boards already. Obviously this has happened in the late hours of the night. We do not see any police activity in the streets in Koramangala. I can only talk of Koramangala. Whereas police is one of the very important factors of the Task Force and that is one area, which is definitely not visible. In fact we do not see any improvement on this. But what has been visible so far is only the BDA's involvement. The BCC has taken one step forward and then gone back two steps.
Nandan Nilekani: I think that everybody have been trying very hard. The police have put in a beat system in several areas. Today there is a lot of synthesis on traffic such as the equipment for traffic lights, putting in new signals, painting the roads. Installing medians. There's lot of things that are happening. You should understand that we are managing a city. Not a simple task and you will not have an instant kind of thing. But there is big effort being made by all these people. The BWSSB has fixed so many water leaks in the city. In the colonies it used to overflow and all that. The BCC is desilting the storm water drains. More and more storm water drains are getting cleaned up. Debris is being cleared all over and the amount of debris in the whole of Bangalore is amazing. The BMTC has introduced 300 buses in the last six months to improve bus services in the city, and so on and so forth.
Koramangala.com: What kind of people are you looking forward to come and get involved? Are you looking at corporates to donate money or are you looking at individual citizens to come and help out?
Nandan Nilekani: Company donations are happening. We have a lot of donations that have come in and will continue. More important are the people who are willing to come forward and dedicate a certain amount of time and get into the details. For example, we have this garbage-clearing programme "Swachcha Bangalore". We have now gone into all the issues from how the garbage is collected, how it is transported, how it is disposed off, how it is processed. What kind of garbage. Hospital garbage, for instance. There is a whole lot of work done to train the Pournamikas, make sure they know what is required. It's all a very complex thing. We need people, somebody who should say that I would take the responsibility and work with all the people and make this programme a success. People who take the bottomline.
Koramangala.com: Do you think by the year 2003 Bangalore would be a much-changed city in all aspects? Would there be "citizen content"?
Nandan Nilekani: Even in the offices there is no citizen content. Any office you go they will give you complaints. Now, is there significant improvement from what it was when we started in Nov. of 1999? Definitely, there is a lot of improvement. I will tell you one thing. Everything is just focus. That is the only way to do it.