World class cities at any cost
Close your eyes. Open them after a few years. The historic water sprawl that is Hussain Sagar will have vanished, without the magic wand of the great illusionist David Copperfield, behind the palisade of several cheek-by-jowl high-rise buildings on 40 locations spread over 100 acres around the lake and the world’s tallest building in the nearby Sanjeeviah Park. This is the heart of the dream city Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao has promised to build to make Hyderabad a world-class city.
When it is ready it would be a seductive assemblage of corporate towers, office spaces and highways servicing the traffic of sleek and shiny cars. In short, a landscape that intimidates and banishes the poor and even the middle classes into the ghettos called satellite towns. These would be wealthy islands in an ocean of poverty, guaranteed to lay the foundations for social upheavals such as the French Revolution.
This city of mammon will attract the very rich in the State and from outside bent upon destroying the local cultures as happened in Bengaluru and Mumbai where the new arrivals flocking from the outside refuse to assimilate and insist on the local people to adjust to their cultural behavior and thinking. By their very nature these cities absorb the cream of the society and flush out the expendable human scum into apartheid colonies without electricity, navigable roads, water and educational institutions
Telangana Governor E. S. L. Narasimhan bolstered KCR’s boast by saying his government would make Hyderabad one of the ‘most livable cities of the world’ on par with cities such as Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver and Toronto. “My government would like to transform Hyderabad into a world-class city with a distinct brand image.” Such glib terminology hides the iniquitous accretion of wealth, a form of obscene gigantism to conceal the failures in other areas.
Andhra State chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is no less a blowhard. He promises to transform Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada into similar megapolises. Speaking at the foundation laying ceremony of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) the Chief Minister said he had plans to make Vizag a knowledge hub and education centre. He promised best sporting facilities, including a golf course, and to spread the sports culture among youth in a big way. So, what make a world-class city are winning sports teams, glitzy shopping malls, and dizzy skyscrapers? It is clear that such plans include nightclubs where the rich gather to see women clothed in nudity.
Naidu has a collection of exotic models from Naya Raipur and Gandhinagar in the country to Singapore, Tokyo, Putrajaya, Chicago and New York. To make his riverfront capital in the Vijayawada-Guntur area saleable, Naidu chose the Singapore government to partner the initiative and make the master plan, and the Japanese government to help build it. As early as 1927 Fritz Lang, master of German Expressionism, made the movie classic Metropolis, depicting the horrors of a mega city, home to life-strangling slums and mindless high-rise steel and glass structures overflowing with people. For all the manhattanesque boasts of the Mumbaikars their city is not a world-class city. But it has all its dystopian horrors.
These mega projects call for large investments only global capital is able to offer. The new Andhra capital city is estimated to cost one trillion rupees (S$21.36 billion). KCR has plans to seek Rs.40,000 crore investment from the Tatas. Telangana and Andhra have huge fiscal deficits. Both the States have announced huge loan waivers and steep wage hikes for their staff. AP power sector losses are 5.07 trillion rupees. Free solar pumps for Telangana farmers will cost Rs.54,000 crore. These are estimates only. They are sure to escalate. KCR promises to make Hyderabad a Happening City, whatever that means. Bandaru Dattatreya promises a world class medical college. Where will the money come from?
The investors will insist on the evacuation of the poor populations to the periphery. Thus they determine the physical and social profile of the city. Remember, around half a million people in Delhi were evicted to make the Commonwealth Games possible. The schooling of the children of the poor will be disrupted; the evicted will lose their jobs they will hardly get back in their new settlement. They will take more time to commute between work and home, eating into the free time available to spend with the family.
These poor families depend on informal economy for their livelihood that benefits the mega city-dwellers because they get cheaper goods and services informal economy offers. Dharavi in Mumbai is an example.
Imagine the number of cars that will ply the roads as a result of liberal loans available for buyers. There will be traffic nightmares that can be resolved only by more flyovers, no-signal roads and expressways. Every consequence and development of these cities will help the mega developers convert money power into political power.
There is also the danger of the government clandestinely transferring public land and assets to mega investors to promote tourism. In some Asian and African countries people were evicted without notice depriving them of the basic facilities of power, water, schools etc they used to enjoy in the cities they lived in. Can you believe almost half of Cambodia was sold to foreign investors in two years between 2006 and 2008?
The most dangerous consequence is that a form of global culture overwhelms local cultures making the locals strangers in their own cities. This leads to upheavals such as Bengaluru and Mumbai have witnessed. In Bengaluru Vatal Nagaraj failed to stem the tide of the city’s economy, and therefore culture, passing into the hands of the outsiders who mock at Kannada culture. But in Mumbai, Bal Thakray showed the power of Mumbaikars and ensured that Mumbai remained a Maharashtrian city. To a considerable extent this is happening in Hyderabad too.
In the place of gated communities practicing apartheid we now will have gated cities doing the same. This class division ultimately will pit the underclass against the one per cent, blind to the plight of people without whom their lives become miserable.