This commentary was originally published in Kannada on Prajavani, 9th February 2019
At a time of political uncertainty over the stability of the Congress-JD(S) coalition, the very act of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy presenting the state budget may be seen as an achievement. In an election year focused on addressing agrarian distress, it may not be fair to expect the government to introduce pathbreaking plans for urban development and infrastructure. Nevertheless, the Kumaraswamy government has made some interesting proposals.
While every budget proposes financial outlays for various programmes and projects, what is important to analyse is if there are any new ideas or underlying themes in these proposals. While there are no trailblazing ideas in urban development in this budget, it is quite heartening to see an overall emphasis on sustainability and public transportation. Though the idea of sustainable urban development has not been expressly articulated in the budget, many of the projects proposed aim to incentivise public over private transportation and thereby improve sustainability. The obvious exception here is a previously announced project like the elevated corridor which has been allotted 1000 crores this year.
One of the new announcements is a Bengaluru Mobility Scheme, a comprehensive mobility programme that promotes public transportation by increasing buses and creates more pedestrian-centric roads. Another radical proposal is the introduction of “Parking Rules and Implementation Policy”, initially for Bengaluru, but with plans to rollout in Tier-2 cites in Karnataka. This is radical because in the Indian psyche, parking is every car-owner’s birth-right, not realising that free parking takes up limited public spaces and ends up subsidising car-users. The forever-pending demand to make Bengaluru suburban rail a reality is also sought to be addressed by the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for its administration. However, given the many false starts this project has had, we may have to wait for it to materialise before celebrating.
The focus of urban development in this year’s budget, like previous editions, seem to be centred on Bengaluru. However, this budget has also introduced a somewhat inappropriately titled project called the “Mahatma Gandhi City Development Programme” under which the cities of Kalaburagi, Mysuru, Hubballi-Dharwad, Belagavi, Ballari, Tumakuru, Shivamogga, Mangaluru, Davanagere, Vijayapura are provided grants between 125-150 crore for their development. But for smaller towns, there are no major announcements or schemes proposed. Overall, despite the problematic Bengaluru bias, the budget’s thrust towards public transportation instead of mega-projects needs to be appreciated.