Here is an extract from my proposals to the government on things to include in the State Budget, 2016-17:
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(a) The Master Plan for Bengaluru and other cities being statutory, the State Budget each year should mandatorily allocate monies to proposals within these plans. That is essential to retaining their statutory nature, and also to ensure that development during a Plan period is annually guided by such allocations. A beginning may be made in this, by an explicit reference in this year’s Budget to financing proposals under the Master Plan. This would also give the newly appointed Minister for Bengaluru a budget to work with. A figure of Rs.5000 crores would be of immense benefit to the city.
(b) The endless tide of people moving to the capital region will exacerbate an already imbalanced situation within the state. For many years, there has been discussion of more distributed development, but this has not really taken off. One reason is that we have not yet allocated monies for such a goal. A Regional Development Strategy for the state may be implemented, with budgetary allocations for six to eight different regions. This could be done under the supervision of the Planning Board. Even a small allocation initially, which accepts the principle of regional focus, would be a worthwhile start.
(c) The traffic situation in Bengaluru needs no introduction. While a ministerial Committee to Decongest Bengaluru looked at several different ways of tackling this last year, there was no allocation for the interventions in the 2015-16 Budget. With each passing year, things get harder to manage. Three steps, if taken quickly, can bring swift relief.
One, the footpath improvement projects begun under the Tender SURE name may be expanded to cover 500 roads in the city, making walkability an important part of short-distance movement. This could be funded over two years, in equal parts. A similar initiative for Hubballi-Dharwad and Mysuru, each covering 50 roads, will bring the benefits of this program to those cities as well.
Two, the BMTC bus fleet may be tripled; this is by far the most likely way to encourage a significant shift from private to public modes of transport. In other cities, too, using a ratio 100 buses per lakh of population as a guide, the bus fleet strengths may be raised.
And three, the State Government may signal its willingness to fund its share of Phase I of the Namma Railu (Commuter Rail) project, between Electronic City and Hebbal through all the major employment corridors in the east. An initial allocation of Rs.500 crores this year, accompanied by a call to the Central government to put up its share of the money, can get this going.
(d) The long-term water security of the capital region is under rising threat. In twenty years, the population will rise by another 50% at least, severely stressing the water supply system. To address this, I had proposed the Matthondu Cauvery initiative, by which a combination of six steps (watershed revival and lake rejuvenation in the metropolitan region, water harvesting, ground-water recharge, dual piping in all new buildings, retrofitment in industrial areas, and consumer education) can together produce another 1500 MLD of water to the region. While some of the outcomes on this will take a few years, a beginning can be made in all six directions, with suitable allotments this year.
(e) The cost of housing in Bengaluru has risen astronomically, and a very large part of the population is now priced out of home ownership. Also, each year we receive another 300,000 migrants to the area, and nearly a third of them need state support of some kind to find proper shelter. An annual minimum allocation of Rs.400 crores for low income housing, and a new initiative for promoting RENTAL housing – on lands that cannot be sold – is urgently needed.
(f) What was once seen as a demographic dividend is now turning into a demographic challenge. Even today, fewer than 40% of children of school-leaving age graduate from the public school system. This is an incredibly large deficit, and will swallow all the development we make without addressing it. While this will take many years to be properly addressed, there is something we can do in the interim. Rather than wait for children to fail in the formal education system and then seek to put them through vocational training programs, we can bring those options to the formal school environment itself, and offer these in parallel in the higher grades. This is a proven model in countries that rank highest in global charts of education. We could begin by implementing this in 200 schools this year.
(g) A big gap in a lot of our planning is the lack of focus on economic development. The creation of good jobs, and continuous skilling of the workforce have not received the attention they need to, despite the fact that employers base their decisions to invest and grow almost entirely on these inputs. This year, it was proposed that Invest Karnataka could begin to look at a sustainable way of job-creating investments into the state. This is a good thought; it may be made part of the statutory framework by creating an Economic Development Authority for all major regions of the state, and infusing the master planning of development of these areas with an economic thrust as well.
I recognise that budgetary allocations are constrained by multiple demands for addressing the development deficits in the State. I thank you for the opportunity to suggest a few inputs to this year’s allocations. I look forward to the Budget speech, with optimism that these proposals will find a place within it.