Cities and Infrastructure – The Road Widening Saga in Bangalore

This evening, I was sitting in a coffee shop and writing about the sociology of information, how information is mired in relationships and how trust, suspicion and social relations develop in the course of circulation and exchange of information. As I was beginning to disentangle the complex web of legitimacy and regulations surrounding information, a friend called to inform that some activists and citizens had been arrested for protesting against the tree felling and road widening at Sankey Road in the northern part of Bangalore. In the last few days, the conflict regarding road widening and tree felling at Sankey Road got strong coverage in the media because citizens began gathering around the trees and the roads to prevent authorities from felling the trees. Despite this, the authorities went about felling the trees for widening the roads. The activists and protestors were clearly becoming a nuisance for the government officials and institutions who have not been able to execute the works. Hence, today, at some point, some of our activist friends were arrested on the false charges that they had assaulted public officials in their conduct of ‘government’ duty. The charges were filed under section 343 or 353 CrPC which also implied that the arrest was non-bailable. Over the course of the evening, news went about on FaceBook and Twitter about these arrests, and people from in and around Sankey Road were called to silently protest at the Aiyyappa Temple where the trees were being felled for enabling the road widening. The arrested activists and citizens were released from jail and all the charges against them were ‘dropped’ at about 6 PM. The court also granted a stay order on the tree felling around the same time, with further hearings and orders to arrive on Monday.

Just this afternoon, as I was about to head out to the coffee shop to begin my intellectual pursuits with the sociology of information, I happened to read an interesting piece of research about American cities and the infrastructure visions, efforts and monetary resources that were being invested to rejuvenate the economy of these cities.The article clearly explained that infrastructure was being planned for American cities because the cities were facing a slowdown after the recession. The Obama government felt that infrastructure planning and implementation were “necessary to restore confidence in the financial system and keep the recession “out of the history books.””, according to this article. Thus, infrastructure was being pumped in as a drug to keep alive an economic and financial system for cities which clearly seems to have collapsed. What is even more interesting is that in some American cities where infrastructure has been revamped, there have been protests from citizens against the increase in the costs of services following the revamping of the infrastructure. Elected representatives have had to face the wrath of people’s ire with the increased costs. At the same time, revenues accruing to municipalities from property taxes have been declining because home ownership is falling and property and real estate do not command the same kind of attraction as they did prior to the recession. Clearly then, the calls for investment in infrastructure and planning for infrastructure along with the paradigm that cities must be managed as businesses and there must be a shift towards “politics of performance and away from the politics of patronage.” are refusing to see a much more fundamental problem i.e., the model of urban economy based on real estate speculation and economy is not working, and as much as governments try to revive the economy based on real estate, the plans are slipping away from their fists as sand slips away when you try to hold it too hard.

This blog post is not about the arbitrariness and authoritativeness that the municipality, development authorities, police and other government officials are displaying with regards to the road widening issue. Without a slightest doubt, the authoritarian and arbitrary behaviour of these government authorities must be publicly condemned and opposed. But, we also need to focus our energies into understanding why road widening is being promoted and executed in Bangalore with the frenzy and arbitrariness that we are seeing currently. When you ask a lay person why the Karnataka state and the city governments in Bangalore are pushing for road widening, the obvious answer is to ease the flow of traffic on the roads and to accommodate the ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads. Obviously, this rationale makes perfect sense given the incessant complaining and rant of vehicle owners and commuters about the traffic woes in the city, compounded all by the fact that Bangalore city has the highest concentration of two-wheelers among Asian cities. But, when you examine the economy of the city more carefully, you begin to understand that road widening is not simply about easing traffic and improving commute. Road widening is also, and perhaps fundamentally, about increasing the value of property and real estate which has received a huge hit since late 2007. Let me explain my argument in some detail.

Since the late 1990s until about 2006, growth in most Indian cities has been taking place through speculations and investment in real estate. As service economies took root in Indian cities from mid-1990s, migration into cities increased and large pay packets were being doled out by companies coupled with easy loans from banks for purchasing housing, real estate development was taking place at a frenzied pace. People were buying houses and built up properties, as well as 60×40 sites in cities like Bangalore, not just for personal use but also as investment which would see appreciation in the future. During this time, we saw the growth of not only first-tier cities, but also satellite and second-tier cities such as Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore, some of which later entered the ranks of metropolises soon thereafter. This was also the time when we saw changes in the real estate sector – the earlier era of property developments by small and medium developers, individuals as well as what Solomon Benjamin refers to as “incremental urbanism” in his insightful thesis about real estate development in the Vishwasnager cluster in New Delhi, was rapidly being replaced by large developers and realtor companies such as DLF, Mantri, Purvankara, Prestige, Sobha, and the recent entrant India Bulls. One of the ‘problems’ that these realtors faced in Indian cities was that there were several small and fragmented pieces of lands inside the city areas (and later on the peripheries of the cities where growth began to take place). Land consolidation needed to take place. But land consolidation is not an easy affair because individuals who own small parcels of land either do not want to part with them so easily, or they command very high prices, or there are various claimants on each of the small land parcels who have to be given money or housing or both in lieu of giving up their claims. Realtors not only have to deal with claims and claimants when consolidating lands. Once the land is consolidated, titles have to be acquired, the use of the land has to be changed and a number of permits and regulations have to be obtained and cleared before any building activity can begin. Further, realtors do not sit on piles of cash which they can hand out at whim. Their own monies are invested and rotating in other projects which they are developing. Therefore, realtors have to depend on banks and financial institutions to provide them with finance to support their running costs during the start and completion of a project. Banks have to be careful when lending to realtors because banks are lending their customers’ monies. This meant that realtors, practically all of them, would have had to bribe bankers into easing the regulatory barriers that banks had laid to protect their customers’ monies. In November-December 2010, the media was breaking news about how bankers had been bribed enormously by builders into easing the flow of finances for their projects – this story did not see much analyses after the first bursts because a few days after, newspapers were filled with advertisements about upcoming property projects. The sum and substance of all this is that bribes, high costs of land consolidation, increasing costs of building material owing to inflation and 200% profit of the builders was pushing up the costs of built up properties.

Yet, individuals were buying properties because by around 2003 onwards, it became both a societal as well as a family pressure factor to buy property given the high salaries that a section of the population was earning. Governments offered tax incentives for buying properties – you would be taxed less on your housing loans. Loans were also coming by easily because banks were keen to capitalize on people’s aspirations to purchase housing. What people were not realizing then was that home loans were as good as highway robberies – by the end of your loan period, you were paying almost two-times the amount at which you had originally purchased your property. In the meantime, the costs of land acquisition continued to go up. In cities such as Mumbai where builders were given the incentive of transferable development rights (TDR), the lure of big development projects increased much more and builders used both the means of large monetary sums as well as violence to clear the way for rehabilitation and redevelopment projects.

The spokes in this happy and illusory story – the people are happy and the economy is happy – began to take place in about early to late 2007 where in cities such as Bangalore, there was excessive supply of housing stock and not much demand. Around 2007, as I toured parts of Bangalore city, especially the peripheral areas of Bellandur, where I found that there were no takers for built and under-construction projects. Most projects were vacant, to the tune of 65% vacancy. But builders continued to build because the property market works on images and imaginations i.e., if builders were to stop building, a crises would set in among people based on the belief that builders are going bankrupt. Builders, on their part, cannot stop building because their monies are stuck in other projects and they have already acquired lands at high prices which they must build on, lest these lands get ‘encroached’ or the property becomes a ‘dead’ investment. In the meanwhile, a second spoke in this chugging wheel was put in by the financial and housing crises in the United States. The crises hit India in about 2009 which is when people began losing jobs, and as they lost jobs, they also lost the capacity to pay up their home loans. Defaulters began to increase. Tenants began demanding lowered rents because their own incomes were either falling or the sources of their incomes had become uncertain. People began losing ‘confidence’ in property as buying and selling activity not only began to drop, but became extremely arbitrary. Those people who had purchased their properties at very high prices were unwilling to sell at lower rates. So they clung to their properties. Those who had bought at high prices but were unable to keep up with paying their loans began to sell in desperation.

Governments were now faced with the responsibility of saving this flawed economic and financial system based on real estate speculation. They had to save this economic system in order to continue the stream of revenues from property taxes, stamp duties and property registrations. Additionally, they had to save the cities they were administering because the city appeared to hit a dead end with property transactions lowered. Add to that, in current times, the prices of properties have risen to such an extent that the prices appear to have hit the roof. It seems extremely unlikely that merely on the basis of speculation, prices will rise any further. As you read this article, you will wonder what kind of statistical evidence I have for the remarks I am making. But it must be noted that it is one thing to read markets via statistics; it is another thing to read markets through conversations (David Weinberger in “Everything is Miscellaneous”). If you are a person like me who talks to brokers, government employees, property owners and a whole host of people who either own properties and are speculating on them, or who have a stake in one way or another in other people’s property ownership, then the market becomes clearer to you. In the past two years, I have been observing properties in parts of Bangalore and talking to investors, property owners and brokers about the prices of properties. What has become clear is that despite the high costs of property, the returns on the investments and the properties are not increasing. Rather, they are diminishing. This is because tenants are unwilling to pay arbitrary and exorbitant rentals which was the case at one time in Bangalore, between 2003 and 2007. Incomes are not rising on par with inflation. And the costs of petrol, diesel and essential commodities is only increasing. This sets in a paranoia among people about their present and their futures, leading them to conserve on their liquid cash reserves and not invest much in futures such as properties. In the meantime, brokers are complaining that there are barely any purchases of flats and other kinds of properties.

At the same time, given the situation with angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs), finances are very uncertain for start-ups and existing companies. When the finances are flowing, some VCs are asking for corners to be cut. These corners are cut by reducing the rents that companies are paying for the premises they are renting. Add to that, in about 2007 and 2008, builders in Bangalore were developing commercial properties on the speculation that commercial properties fetch much better returns. The crash of the property markets in 2008 and 2009 led to a crash in commercial rental prices. Currently, commercial rental markets are highly arbitrary because while some firms who are doing well can afford to pay high prices, there are several other firms and start-ups which would like to conserve their resources by paying lesser rentals. What is happening now is that the property market is not just stagnant; it has become highly uncertain and arbitrary.

An interesting thing to note in the case of property is that the value of a property does not simply derive from its own. A property becomes ‘prime’, ‘desired’ and ‘hot’ because of its location and the facilities, conveniences and public infrastructure around it. Thus, a quick search through property websites will make it clear that properties situated on the main roads in Bangalore command much higher prices than say properties which are not on the main roads. Similarly, properties that are located in the vicinity of gardens and open spaces command more prices and value than properties which do not have these amenities. It is in this game of value and valuation that the government comes im. It is left with the onus of ‘adding’ ‘value’ to properties. Therefore, the current thrust on infrastructure in Indian cities.

Road widening in Bangalore has to be read, also, in the context of such an unstable and arbitrary property market. Governments are widening roads in order to add values to existing properties and to fuel sales and purchase transactions – not just to ease traffic on roads even when this rationale is flawless and justified. In this process, they may be pressured or supported not only by real estate lobbies, but also by citizen groups who are speculating on their dormant and dead properties. As mentioned above, the government also undertakes road widening because it must increase its tax base from property taxes and cesses. And, above all, the government has to flog the dead horse of this kind of flawed real estate growth which is actually a snake that is eating its own tail.

As I affirmed above, we need to oppose arbitrary road widening and cutting of trees, especially when these actions are carried out against the wishes of the people. But, more fundamentally, it is time for each one of us to sit back and take ‘stock’ of an economic system that we have all become mired and embedded in – a financial system that is no longer imaginative because the imaginations of the people are replaced by fears and uncertainties about their futures …

16 thoughts on “Cities and Infrastructure – The Road Widening Saga in Bangalore”

  1. A very good and quite insightful write-up. Impressive way of writing and effective use of language.
    Yes, it is time for each one of us to sit back and take ‘stock’ of an economic system that no longer cater to our requirements – a financial system that is no longer fruit-bearing.

    K M Furqan, UAE


  2. I need to clarify a point. Are you saying city governments indulge in infrastructure development because they are being pressurized by lobby groups or because they genuinely believe they have a “duty” to increase the value of their cities (with lobby groups pitching in support because such an objective is in sync with their interests)?


    1. Dear Introspector,

      Infrastructure development works in all kinds of ways. In some cases, there are strong pressures on the government by certain lobbies (and these lobbies include realtors, businessmen, different citizen groups as well as bureaucrat lobbies within the government) to develop certain kinds of infrastructure like street lighting, roads, water supply, etc. In some cases, ministers and bureaucrats within the government have very strong rationalities and inclinations towards developing certain kinds of infrastructure projects – like the Delhi Metro Rail and subsequent metro rail projects which got a philip and then a strong push from DMRC chief Sreedharan as well the Central Government and state governments.
      At the same time, governments are deeply invested in cities because their existence is based on the justification that they are ‘doing’ ‘something’ for the cities they are governing. Given this, certain departments and institutions within the government have much greater stakes in seeing visible growth of cities – for instance, you have development authorities who have to keep stepping in with regulations and incentives, every now and then, to retain their control over certain territories in the city, and to develop popular support for the work they are doing so that their existence is more than justified. You have municipalities which must undertake different kinds of infrastructure development not only to ‘enhance’ the ‘value’ of cities and to propel growth; they also have to undertake and execute these works to justify their institutional position in the city. And, they have an interest in promoting development of properties because their tax base has to increase and the revenues from taxes have to flow in so that the municipality has financial power and autonomy. On an immediate reading, one might say what is wrong if governing institutions and citizens have these rationalities and justifications for development of cities? A more fundamental question however is whether we need new thinking on urban economies and development altogether instead of simply trying to institute mega infrastructure projects to create spurts in value? When there are no obvious rises in values, does that mean the city has hit stagnation? Or, there are subtle, underlying processes taking place which open up the city to new groups who would not have been able to consolidate their positions in the city when the values were steadily rising?
      Having said all this, in any given infrastructure project, there are multiple stakes, interests, rationalities and justification not only by the different groups involved, but these interests, stakes and rationalities change within the same group during different stages in the development of an infrastructure project.


  3. Zainab, i feel that you fall a little too easily to the stereotype of greedy developers and unscrupulous bankers. For instance a housing loan repaid over a period with an interest of 15% p.a. will result in a total payment that is double the original loan amount. But given that inflation is currently hovering around 10%, the real interest rate is only about 4-5%, which is not much.

    Also, it doesn’t make sense that households will want to conserve liquid assets in inflationary conditions. Given that inflation reduces the value of money, households will want to invest any savings in productive assets.

    However, an alternate explanation would be that inflation has finally made the cost of living catch up with pay packages in most technology industries. Also, there might have been a demographic shift, with the average IT worker becoming older. Unmarried twenty-somethings have fewer dependents than married thirty-somethings.

    That said, I agree with your hypothesis that some of the new projects are being taken to boost real estate. It’s quite silly.


    1. Dear Karthik,

      What I have mentioned in this post is not a rant against greedy developers and unscrupulous bankers. They are pretty much as active players in the property markets and they have strong positions in the market – morally, rationally and ‘economically’ – because of the way people’s thinking about properties, property ownership and values have changed in recent times. Interestingly, when I speak to home owners who have apartments built by the likes of Sobha, Prestige, and other large developers, they place ‘value’ on the bathroom fittings and the interiors which these developers provide in their apartment projects. For these homeowners then, the prices of their apartments are justified by the ‘quality’ of construction – which is very very rational, yet, it is a question that we need to ask which is how do we place and create value in our times and in our respective societies? There are no simple, straightforward and rational answers to questions about value and economic rationality – households and individuals make decisions about investment, risk, and directing the flow of their finances in ways that may appear to be completely irrational and unjustified and yet, the outcome of their decisions leads us to think how things turned out the way they turned out to be …

      More specifically on your comment, the math and percentages you have cited sound perfectly rational and justified, but from your position and standpoint. In reality, ‘real’ money has to be shelled out and loans have to be paid with the real amounts at hand. In prospect and retrospect, one can think in the terms of inflation, interest rates, appreciation in the way that you have calculated and articulated. But in real terms, when you have to repay your loans and interest rates each month, you are shelling out real money and that puts constraints on the choices you can make in the present and the resources you can garner for the present and the future. Further, not all of us hail from the same socio-economic backgrounds and neither are all of us engaged in service economies and industries. I come from a family of traders for who real cash on hand is very critical because the entire business is based on trust and relationships which involves extending credit, repaying loans and interest, etc. So, your math may mean very little to someone for who liquid money is critical because not only is the liquid money essential for investing in production and manufacturing activities; but, the liquid money gives you a certain social standing in your business circles, it increases the confidence of your counterparts in you, it makes you both creditworthy and noteworthy not only in your business circuits but also in the eyes of the members of your ethnic community. A lot of this might read as irrational and gibberish, but in real life, economic rationality and rationality per se are very complicated demons – we still have a long way to go in our understanding of how people make certain kinds of financial decisions and the risks they choose to take.

      On unscrupulous bankers, the story is perhaps more than known now that banks have not done due diligence in the way that they should have done in the past and after the crash in 2009, banks are suddenly sitting up and taking note of not only your income as a property buyer, but is also conducting due diligence on your spouses to ensure that in case of default on your part, would your spouse be able to bail you out. It is not untrue that the speculation and buying and selling activity that took place in cities like Bangalore between 2002 and 2007 was fueled in large part on account of the loans that banks were easily lending to interested buyers. Yet, banks are not monoliths such as much as developers and builders are not monoliths and as much as our governments are not monoliths. The manner in which banks extended loans and capital to builders and buyers has invariably played a part in ‘regularizing’ constructions that were not built in keeping with regulations and ‘laws’. Having said this, banks, builders and governments work in ways that benefit some over others because speculation is a very uncertain game – in road widening itself, the persons whose properties are located behind those of the folks whose properties are axed for widening stand to receive much appreciation on their properties after widening because development control regulations deem it to be so. So, while it is true that some gain and some lose, the issue that we need to probe is who do these gains and losses go on to privilege and at what costs for the city as a whole and for its future?

      As for families conserving liquid monies during times of inflation, a quick look at stock markets and financial instruments gives you a sense of their volatility. I don’t understand financial markets very well, but a deeper understanding of risks, security and insecurity and the contexts in which risks, security and insecurity develop and manifest provides more valuable answers as to why people would conserve liquid resources during uncertain times as the present …


      1. Zainab,

        Essentially then you are arguing that what might be reasonable is not perceived to be reasonable. A bank lending at 15% might be perceived to be unreasonable because the total interest paid over ten years equals the principal, but it is not unreasonable in reality, given that the money paid ten years later is of very little value in comparison to the money lent initially. If you wished to examine how the perceptions differ from reality, that is a valid research question, but that can be analyzed only after the reality has been established on a sound footing. And for that, you invariably need some statistics.

        Perceptions are not an alternate form of reality. And because your interviews really measure how reality is being perceived, they cannot be automatically be used to describe what is happening in reality. Statistics measure reality more objectively – inflation is measured by going to markets and finding the prices for a specific basket of goods. There is very little room for error there. A household whose income is steadily increasing might not perceive inflation even when it exists, so interviewing households is the worst possible way of measuring inflation.

        It is true that people act on perceptions of reality, rather than reality as it is. But from your article, it isn’t clear to me where exactly perceptions deviated from reality, and how that affected the real estate market. So far as I can see, there is no obvious gap between what happened in reality and how people perceived it. You might want to further clarify on this point.


        1. Dear Karthik,

          In a recent talk, Deepak Shenoy pointed out how statistical measures of inflation are misleading because they do not present the true picture. Since sometime now, a strand of thinkers have been suggesting that inflation be measured in terms of how the price rises affect households and how the purchasing powers of their money goes up and down with the fluctuations in the prices of essential commodities and services. For me, in the last five years, the percentage of inflation has been about 50% when I count how much I was spending on bus and auto fares then and how much I am spending now. Such a measure is statistically, perceptively and realistically sound for me because it indicates to me the purchasing power of my earnings and what possibilities I have in terms of saving and/or investing my spare earnings for the future. I reiterate that people’s choices stem from the constraints, opportunities, security and insecurity they perceive in the present – these perceptions shape their imaginations and speculations of the future.

          Perceptions are ways of grasping reality. In the Vipassana meditation tradition, the focus is on the arising and passing sensations on the body because based on our perception of each sensation, we assign labels such as pain, heat, cold, acrid, etc. Each of these labels then enables us to weave and consolidate a picture of reality which is very real for me, however partial it may seem to you. So perceptions truly shape our understanding of reality, and thankfully therefore, there are more realities than one which are possible at any given point in time, in any situation or place!

          Having said this, it remains true that property markets emerge largely in response to people’s perceptions of risk, security, appreciation and value. When you think of buying a property, in addition to statistics, you are guided by your feelings, calculations and speculations about what appreciation will take place from this property, what are the risks associated with buying at property at a particular moment of time, etc. Statistics, in this regard, give you a sense of the ‘mood’ of the market, and they surely influence your confidence in your decision, and the decision you eventually make. And while statistical measures are useful to get an idea of the ‘mood’ of the people and the ‘directions’ that markets are headed in, they do not necessarily always present a complete picture of reality. Statistics also have to be read in the specific contexts in which they were generated – else, we end up with a partial understanding that then distorts/shapes our reality and perceptions.

          I believe very strongly that we are far from understanding how people make decisions with respect to finances, investments and risks. For this, we need much more nuanced studies than simply broad statistics. I do not deny the value of statistics, but I am saying that statistics and numbers are not complete indicators of how different groups of people are being affected by different policies and interventions. If statistics were all that we needed to understand our world, we would living in a more certain and a fairly more predictable place …

          Again, on banks and their role in shaping real estate markets via home loans – I think it was a moment and an interesting one at that time. Many people ended up being home owners because now there was a system where you could repay on a monthly basis for the property you bought. That system enabled a section of the population to transform from being aspirants to becoming owners. In this context, people have also made choices about closing their loans early or continuing to pay their EMIs despite being able to close their loans early. Why people make the kind of choices they do is based on their assessments of risk, the present and the future, and the possibilities that they want to explore. That moment of banks, home loans and EMIs has slowed down now, based on my understanding and assessment of the property markets currently. The thing to be concerned about is that now property prices have seriously hit the roof and speculation, in the way that took place between 2003 and 2007, is unlikely to translate the values into any real transactions and money. If this is indeed the case, then what becomes of our properties and real estate? I am not suggesting that we have hit a dead end – instead, I am suggesting that we have hit a moment where our thinking needs to be more imaginative about property, land, speculation, economy, investments and most definitely ‘values’ ….


  4. All well stated reading……
    But when would the people’s government start listening to its own people…
    their needs and demands of their city or place should be…
    handcuffing and shutting citizens opinion and wants has dethroned many rulers in the past and is happening right around our nose…
    Its time these appointed and elected officials wake up and behave like normal citizens who care for their neighbors…worry about and find technologically sound, environmentally safe solutions to these problems…rather than stockpile their own and lobbyists’ pillow sacks thinking that no body will know or I can get away…till tomorrow!!!!!!!!

    STOP messing with the environment before you take up any developmental work without some serious thinking…else it spares no one and you & I will have quick tomorrow or none at all…I am not being philosophical…and I mean it.


  5. I am sorry, but the statement that the rationale behind road-widening is “… flawless and justified” is wrong. On many levels.

    It’s a sentiment that is looked at from purely the point of view of the car-owners. Not the common public. 48% of Bangalore commutes by public transport/cycle/walk. And any road widened is going to aggravate the nightmare that is the pedestrian’s life right now. Car owners/users may be 9% of the population. To implement a policy that is helping such a minority, and also hurting the people is not acceptable.

    So, behind the trees argument (which is very easily dismissed), lies the actual pedestrian argument.

    And even if we want to be myopic and look only at cars, road-widening is not even a sustainable solution. The number of cars on the road is constantly increasing. So do we keep widening all our roads every 2 years?

    The only way to tackle the road-widening problem is to make people use public transport. And BMTC is doing its best to be the “carrot”. But, unfortunately, our people need the “stick” (which should be provided from the government) to make the switch to public transport.

    Until that switch (from within the people and the system) happens, there is no hope for Bangalore (or any other city, for that matter).


  6. I completely agree with Sridhar. And although the reasons stated in the article are a possiblity, they are not completely true for the entire city. Especially with the Sankey road widening. Sankey Road is one of the costliest areas of the city, It dosent need wider roads to improve improve its value, its location itself is enough. Had it been the unnecessary expressway on the new airport road or someother underpass, it would make more sense.


    1. Yes, it is true that in the case of Sankey Road, the area has very high property values. However, widening on Sankey Road may enhance traffic to commercial areas in the localities close to Sankey Road and may add to the infrastructure (and therefore value) of the neighbouring areas. Again, this is a possible explanation, not a complete one.


  7. Dear Zainab

    I am quite surprised that you think that road widening is justified to “ease traffic on roads”. If you look a bit more carefully, available road space is a factor that influences the demand for vehicles, and indeed, one reason why we are seeing explosive growth in vehicles in our cities is because governments continue to widen roads and build flyovers. Indeed, this is one of the major ways in which governments are pro-rich: road widening projects typically benefit vehicle owners, rather than pedestrians or cyclists, who actually constitute the majority of the population of cities like Bangalore.

    Further, road widening projects and flyovers ease congestion only temporarily, and growth in private vehicle travels makes sure that to ease congestion, the govt. will have to invest continuously in such projects.

    For sustainability as well as equity, it makes much more sense not to widen roads, but to invest in public transport, designing our cities in such a way that people dont live far off work and other important facilities (the poor already live closeby to most of their needs) making cycling and walking safer and accessible, etc.

    So, while I am opposed to road widening per se (indeed, we should think of ways to curb travel space for cars), I also would like to mention that the builder lobby isnt the only people who fight for more roads. The contractor lobby seem to be bigger players, and it must not be forgotten that there is plenty of money to be made by politicians in these infrastructure projects.

    Finally, a word on your central thesis. I am inclined to believe you on financialisation and , but I’ll ask one question: whats the “evidence” that you are providing us? Unfortunately, there’s little of it. Or maybe I don’t see enough. Its not easy to do this kind of research, but thats what good policy-making would demand.


    1. Dear Aashish,

      Thanks for your comments and most importantly, the critical point that apart from builders, there are contractor and politician lobbies that push for road widening because of the large volumes of kickbacks involved. This must definitely be noted.

      I have also not mentioned that ‘I’ ‘believe’ that road widening must be carried out for ‘easing traffic on roads’. This argument of ‘easing traffic on roads’ is advanced by the municipal authorities and some sections of the elected representatives. Moreover, people like my own husband, strongly believe that road widening will ease the traffic situation in choke points such as Bannerghatta Road. So there are two strands of thinking about road widening – on the one hand, you have people who complain incessantly about traffic and want it to be eased and on the other hand you have residents and individuals affected by land acquisition under road widening who believe that this rationale of traffic easing with widening is bunkum.

      I agree with you that widening roads will only add more cars to the roads and that effectively, we need better public transportation which will lure people to give up their vehicles and take to buses. The problem in Bangalore currently is that with every hike in fuel prices, the BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Committee) is hiking its fares substantially, even though it claims to earn revenues in profit. Currently, the prices for short distances and long distances are high enough to even make me, an avid public transport user, to consider the possibility of switching over to a two wheeler simply because it is more economical in terms of time and money than using buses.

      On the issue of ‘evidence’ for my financialization argument, yes, it is tough for me to present you with ‘factual’ data. For now, I am reading trajectories in the city and implicating the city, as well as drawing from the research that is coming up on infrastructure and cities from other parts of the world. Also, as I have mentioned in the blog post, I spend a lot of time speaking with brokers, property agents, surfing the internet for property prices and deducing trends from here, and I also actively follow happenings in rental markets by moving around the city and gathering cues from vacancies and occupancies.


    2. I re-read the post now and I have said that the “rationale” of road widening makes perfect sense when you assess the traffic situation in Bangalore. But that don’t mean that I believe in this rationale.


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