Bengaluru, as a smart city has been equipping itself with a wide range of infrastructure facilities. But, the city can benefit from the progress only if the development is incorporated sustainably. Urban transport is one such aspect that requires a sustainable approach, i.e. accessible, affordable, efficient and environment-friendly transportation in the city. In Bengaluru, the experience is opposite to this framework, where its people breathe polluted air, feel unsafe on the footpaths, can’t affordably access the opportunities in the city, and travel extra hours in the traffic. It is pathetic that though the citizens have functional mobile connectivity, they can’t avail the bottom approach models in governance that ensures accountability. It is observed that no one agency can be held accountable for most of the urban transport issues in the city. This article attempts to understand the citizen engagement’s role in sustainable urban transport in Bengaluru.

Bengaluru, along with its traffic woes, is known for its citizen movements and civic activism. ‘Steel Flyover Beda’ is one renowned movement. The movement captures a wide range of issues like impact on Bengaluru’s environment, inadequate planning, and lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity. The similar enthusiasm by the citizens is observed even in other campaigns like ‘Chuku Buku Beku’, ‘Elevated Corridor Tender Raddu Madi’ and ‘Bus Bhagya Beku’. While there are several cases of local participatory efforts and solutions, the prominent result is people’s participation mostly in the form of protest.

What didn’t work and what has worked in Bengaluru?

It is quite evident that the citizens are frustrated with ‘n’ number of mobility issues in Bengaluru. Back in the year 1991 itself, the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) visioned to empower the cities and people at the local level for efficiently developing the cities. But in reality, we could observe that incorporated provisions of the act haven’t been able to bring the participatory culture in the cities completely.  The 74th CAA has the provisions of setting up ward committees in all municipal corporations with a population over three Lakhs. With the growing civic engagement and awareness, there are at least more than 50%  functional wards with committee meetings. However, these ward committee meetings have been turned into mere grievance forums and most of the grievances are not registered or resolved. These gaps itself deprives the transparency, citizen participation and accountability in the city[[1]]. However, the positive dimension is that citizens’ demands thrust pressure on the state government and BBMP to constitute ward committees. The root cause for the poor citizen engagement can be drawn to the lack of inclusive, participatory governance in the city.

Along with this, there are efforts in the direction of participatory governance, as we could observe different organisations being engaged with the citizens for solving the issues in the city. BPAC conducted a workshop on “First and Last Mile Connectivity (FLMC) to Public Transport” in Malleswaram and Byatarayanapura Assembly Constituency(AC)  to understand the existing gap of first and last mile connectivity to public transport. This workshop engaged citizen groups, Resident Welfare Association (RWA), service providers and government representatives. It mainly discussed FLMC with these three modes: Shared mobility – shared cabs and autos; Car, Bicycle and Bike rentals; Car and bike pooling.

The residents who attended the workshops highlighted the challenges in accessing the public transport services from the interior parts in both the constituencies. With the draft of the challenges and demands from the citizens as the result of the workshop, BPAC organised another following session with the government officials. This session gave an opportunity for BPAC to carry the citizen’s demands and challenges to the government officials. Such sessions could build the foundation steps for participatory governance as the aspects like transparency and accountability are fulfilled through them.

WRI India’s sustainable cities partnered with HSR layout for piloting the Neighbour Improvement Plan (NIP) in March 2013. It tried incorporating the local citizens’ voices by organising the meetings with different stakeholders for understanding the challenges and aspirations of the citizens for their neighbourhood. It is observed that NIP did succeed in bringing the ideas from the people itself. WRI had piloted the installation of the traffic island at the intersection, a plan drafted after the deliberation of the local citizens of the HSR layout. WRI observed the installation of the traffic island helped pedestrians cross the roads with ease and also reduced the vehicular speeds at the intersection. As Sudeep Maiti says “Experience from the HSR layout states that, solutions for a neighbourhood should come from the residents”[[2]]. This sort of conversation among citizens and different stakeholders, along with bringing the transparency and accountability, generates a sense of ownership on the part of the community[[3]]. However, the solutions delivered by the communities had to be institutionalised for sustaining the participatory governance.

Way forward for the citizen engagement in Bengaluru:

Bengaluru, along with civic activism, is slowly picking up the pace for citizen engagement. It is observed that different citizen groups demand various aspects like citizen participation bills and are also coming up with proposals like improving last-mile connectivity through cycle-friendly streets and feeder bus systems. Unfortunately, this engagement and initiatives are mostly limited to the urban well off and upper-middle-class communities excluding urban lower middle class and slum dwellers from participatory governance. The issue is that people commuting daily through public transport aren’t consulted in the decision-making process, even though inclusive, and participatory governance can reduce the expensive and the time-consuming petitions of public protests. [[4]]

As per CIVITAS ELAN project report “In democratic societies, people’s views and responses whether they find new solutions acceptable are considered side by side with professional decisions.” They observed that “Solutions to most of the urgent problems depend more on the public acceptance than the technical possibility and also the necessity to open the decision-making process and the development of the solutions to public participation instead of simply educating citizens is increasingly evident.”

It should be noted that participatory culture and political support are the preconditions for any active citizen engagement. This can be effectively brought into reality using two steps: Initiation and Implementation of the citizen engagement process. The step-1, Initiation, requires the provision of relevant information to citizens through the awareness campaigns and decision-makers by conducting surveys for obtaining the needed data from the people. This step will require identifying the stakeholders and citizens and commuting them the specification of the objectives and the issues for the consultation. The step-2, Implement, is the main citizen engagement process. It includes consultation with stakeholders and citizens for understanding their mobility needs and problems, alternative solutions through discussion and deliberation. The consultation is coupled with the monitoring, where the information and data are obtained from the public for monitoring the implementation. [[5]]

However, even though Bengaluru has intense civic activism, inculcating the participatory culture with all the classes of society included in it might not be a straightforward task. It is because society is very heterogeneous, and people from different sections of society have their self-interests and demands. So, to deal with complex societies and processes, the elected representatives and government authorities will have to plan very strategically for solving the piled up urban transport issues and restoring the quality of life in Bengaluru.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the content belong to the author and not the organization, its affiliates, or employees.

[1]Why ward committees are ineffective in Bengaluru: BBMP councillors “Maharaja Complex”!; Citizen matters

[2]Can Bengaluru teach other cities to say ‘no’ to bad planning?; Citizen matters

[3]Citizen engagement makes a city smart, not infrastructure; Live mint

[4]Public transport community engagement mass transit consultation, Matthew Raifman; thecityfix

[5]Citizen Engagement project; CIVITAS