Tales of the ambitious youth in India’s outsourcing hub.
In Bangalore, sentry-guarded, walled high rises and gated villa communities with grandiloquent names like Golden Enclave, Pebble Bay and Palm Meadows are all the rage. For many middle-class and upper middle-class families in the city — and in big cities elsewhere in India — they offer protection and privacy, an escape from the dysfunctional urban disarray outside.
But if events of the past few months are any indication, the problems of the outside world are insistently knocking at the gates.
David Arthur, a corporate dealer who offers cell-phone services to companies, has lived with his wife and two children in one such idyll, called Yash Enclave, for the past eight years. Recent events have taken some of the sheen off this perfect setting for him.
Yash Enclave is a walled community in a new north Bangalore neighborhood called Hennur Road . Inside, the streets are squeaky clean, homes have lush gardens, and there is seldom a honk heard from the cars as they cruise through, stopping to make way for kids riding bicycles, gliding by on rollerblades or chasing after cricket balls.
It is a place where children also leave bicycles and skateboards outdoors without fear of theft – a situation unthinkable in any Indian city.
Beyond Yash Enclave’s manned gates is India’s urban reality: slums, potholed and traffic-choked roads, piles of garbage on street corners, traffic fumes, and a cacophonous din from the revving motors and incessant honking of the cars, buses and motorcycles.
The two worlds are separated by a bare hundred meters, but the contrast could not be starker. “Once inside, we live a sheltered life,” said Mr. Arthur, a lifelong Bangalore resident. But, he lamented, “that is going to get increasingly difficult in the coming days.”
Problems started in Yash Enclave a few months ago.
First, the borewells ran dry, leaving residents without water until they found an outside contractor. In Bangalore, the city supplies, or rather, rations water to individual homes. But large apartment blocks or villa complexes often have to make their own arrangements.
Venkata Raju of the Bangalore Water Supply Board said that the 900 million liters of water available per day, an amount that has remained the same since 2002, is rationed to 250 square kilometres of the city’s core. Since then, the city has boomed, its boundaries have stretched and a lot more apartment complexes and gated communities have come up. “The quantity is inadequate,” he said.
But private water suppliers come with their own set of problems. The quality of their water is sometimes so bad that many communities are forced to install expensive water treatment plants or filters in individual homes.
The residents of Yash Enclave have hired private water tanker contractors who now fill the community tanks several times daily. Every home in Yash Enclave has a filter. Some buy bottled drinking water as well.
Water is an issue in nearly every walled community in Bangalore, but additionally for some, security guards started disappearing. Thousands of people from India’s northeast fled Bangalore in August, after they heard rumors of possible attacks. Many private security companies rely heavily on northeastern immigrants, who tend to be fluent in Hindi or English and literate, and communities had to downsize their security staff or rework contracts to pay more for guards, whose salaries went up once the labor pool shrank.
The latest crisis to hit Bangalore’s planned communities involves their garbage.
In recent weeks, city authorities have thrown up their hands after a futile search for new dumping grounds for the thousands of tons of garbage produced daily in Bangalore. (Read more about Bangalore’s garbage problem and the thousands of women responsible for sorting and collecting the city’s trash.)
In September, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the city’s governing authority, categorized any building or housing society with more than 10 units as a ‘bulk generator’ of waste, citing an old rule, and mandated that such bulk generators should have their own garbage composting units or else make their own arrangements to have waste removed by garbage contractors.
Residents at Yash Enclave, whose homes are worth 10 million rupees ($250,000) or more, currently pay a private contractor a few thousand rupees to clear the garbage from their complex once a day. Mr. Arthur anticipated that the contractor would soon ask for higher fees, or, worse, refuse to do the daily collection.
Hundreds of similar walled communes dot Bangalore, where the population of 9.6 million has increased nearly 50 percent in a decade.
The Bangalore residents who choose to live in the city’s gated enclaves call them “Little Republics.” Urban experts criticize their residents of withdrawing from civic engagement and accelerating India’s already wide socioeconomic schisms.
“It is an unhealthy divide,” said V. Ravichandar, a management consultant and an urban analyst. “A certain segment of the population has concluded that the public system is a failure and has opted out by creating their own private cocoons,” he said.
Gated communities are a flawed urban development model, he said, adding that the government should instead encourage collaborative, sustainable development zones with built-in working, living and social spaces.
Bangalore’s private communities, though, have been designed for the opposite of “collaborative living” with the rest of India – and residents say that’s why they live there. Many of Bangalore’s private communities are next door to real India, yet have no semblance of being connected to it. Some residents seem to prefer this, saying that the exclusivity really appeals to them.
Mili Jalan, who runs an early learning center, said she chose a gated complex on Sarjapura Road to get away from the mayhem outside, and to avoid some of the normal hassles of living in India.
“I did not want to get into the nitty-gritty of negotiating daily life, whether ensuring water in my taps or power to run my refrigerator or finding a reliable carpenter or electrician if I needed one,” said Ms. Jalan. In most gated communities, these duties are handled by either the complex manager or a committee of residents, who negotiate on the residents’ collective behalf and levy maintenance fees or a one-time charge.
Yet, Ms. Jalan is realizing that she can’t be completely shielded from the dysfunction outside. As Bangalore’s water scarcity worsened recently, Ms. Jalan has found herself shocked by the price she has to pay for a necessity like water.
Her 100-apartment building complex, ironically called Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, never had a city water supply. Located in a dry part of the city, there is no groundwater to mine either so residents are dependent on private water suppliers, who take advantage of their position to raise priceas at will. Mr. Jalan’s monthly water bill recently went up another 2,000 rupees ($37) per months.
The extra cost hasn’t soured her on gated community life – if anything, it has made her more sensitive to the city’s challenges. “I am even more aware what it’s like outside,” she said. “I appreciate that I live in an ivory tower.”