Photo Essay: A Study of Contrasts in Bengaluru’s ‘High-tech’ Zone

Over the past few decades, Bengaluru has emerged as one of India's fastest-growing cities (Bose 2013). Bengaluru has earned the moniker of “Silicon Valley of India,” but this glosses over a reality that is defined by poor infrastructure, air and water pollution, and unmanaged waste. Residents have experienced the city's growing pains in the form of stretched urban coping capacities, from mobility congestion to constraints in infrastructure access and quality. Untarred, narrow roads; polluted air and water and mounds of garbage mar the advertised images of high-end luxury apartments and shiny glass offices that dot the landscape of new Bengaluru. One such example is the stretch along the Outer Ring Road (ORR) between Marathahalli and Bellandur.

In this photo essay, researchers from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements present a series of photographs taken along this 6-km stretch in Bengaluru as part of their fieldwork under the PEAK Urban project. They illustrate the rapid, unplanned development that characterises most Indian metropolises. The growth along this particular corridor is striking because, despite drawing significant investment over the past two decades, it continues to be a space marked by stark inequities.

People, mainly employees at the information technology (IT) firms based in this area, are willing to shell out an average of ₹1 crore to buy apartments here. These apartments are islands of elaborate structures, devoid of basic facilities like proper road connectivity and formal water supply. The people are faced with the choice of either living in such circumstances or buying affordable property elsewhere, but spending hours daily stuck in traffic commuting to and from work.

The ORR is the black loop marked on this map of the Bangalore Metropolitan Area. The section focused on in this essay is marked in red, connecting Marathahalli and Bellandur. The purple stretch highlights the envisaged IT corridor connecting Whitefield and Electronic City.

Development along the ORR took place at an unprecedented pace and scale because it connects two historically relevant centres of Bengaluru’s IT sector—Electronic City and Whitefield. The former, established by the public-sector enterprise Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation Limited (KEONICS), was envisioned as an IT hub as early as 1978 (Prashanth 2013). Whitefield became a hub in the 1990s post the liberalisation of the Indian economy, with the setting up of the International Technology Park Limited (ITPL) within an Export Promotion Industrial Park (EPIP) (BDA 2007).  This 17-km stretch of the ORR alone now accommodates up to one million employees, that is, about 10% of the city’s population (Das 2018).

The two maps below show the change in the built-up area along the 6-km stretch between Marathahalli and Bellandur, since 2002. 

2002 | Villages of Kadubeesanahalli, Kariammana Agrahara, Panathur, Bhoganhalli Devarabeesanahalli and Bellandur with agricultural lands and waterbodies.

2019 | A large number of tech park buildings and campuses and a mix of residential developments, from smaller houses to large-scale uber-luxury apartment complexes, dominate this belt now.

In 2003, a structure plan for an IT corridor was submitted to the Bangalore Development Authority by a consultancy that foresaw the need for planned development along the ORR.[1] This corridor was incorporated as a “high-tech zone” into the Bangalore Revised Master Plan 2015, which was published in 2007 (BDA 2007). However, these proposals made at the city level were not further detailed into local area plans for implementation.[2] What could have been a clean slate for carefully planned growth, wound up transpiring on the ground as a classic case of uncontrolled urban sprawl.

Large-scale developments on either side of the Outer Ring Road (ORR) are seen from the foot overbridge near RMZ Ecospace in Bellandur.

The tech park buildings have multi-level car parking, electricity backup, paved footpaths, manicured gardens, sports facilities, markets, restaurants, and ornate street lighting.
 

The entrances to these tech parks along this corridor are paved, well-landscaped, and are accessible through the service roads along the ORR.
 

However, the rear entrances are not as glamorous. Taxis, construction workers, and maintenance staff use these gates. The road is unpaved and is dotted with eateries catering to the working class. Many tech park employees also access cheaper rental housing in these residential areas located farther away from the ORR.

A whole range of vehicles, from cycles to heavy trucks, ply on these roads and rake up dust throughout the day. 

The dust-covered leaves in the image below are one way to get a sense of the air pollution in this area.

Untarred roads lead to palm tree-lined, arched entrance gates of the luxurious “Mediterranean-style” apartment complex.

But the gated residential complexes themselves are shielded from the outside world by tree-lined boundary walls, paved walkways, children’s play areas, personal gardens spaces within the apartments, and basement parking. 

Over time, apartments are being built farther away from the main roads in the middle of nowhere. Investment continues to be poured into isolated buildings and complexes without accounting for road connectivity and other essential services. Seen here is an advertisement for an upcoming complex. 

Upscale apartments are also located next to a foul-smelling drain that flows into the Bellandur lake, infamous for spewing froth and catching fire due to heavy pollution. 

Most residential complexes are not connected to formal water networks (such as the Cauvery water supply). They still rely on borewells and water tankers, even though mandatory rainwater harvesting systems are built.  In one of the residential complexes visited during fieldwork, three out of four borewells have already dried up.

Garbage dumped on the streets in front of gated villas and apartments reflects the lack of civic amenities.

Home buyers pay sky-high rates for units in gated communities despite the abysmal state of basic infrastructure in these areas. The value of these properties is speculated based on the anticipation of infrastructure, such as water, drainage, roads, footpaths, public transport, rather than being based on existing services. How feasible is it to invest so much when living conditions fall far short of what is paid for? What does this mean for the property prices in these areas in the future? People belonging to working-class communities have invested their savings in the property market here expecting high returns. Given that the prices are already speculated, it remains to be seen how much return one actually gets.

Bengaluru has earned the moniker of “Silicon Valley of India,” but this glosses over a reality that is defined by poor infrastructure, air and water pollution, and unmanaged waste. 

Pooja Rao (prao@iihs.ac.in) and SD Suman (sumansd@iihs.ac.in) work with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and are part of the PEAK Urban project.

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