Site Allotment

In Bangalore, you have two kinds of residential layouts, BDA Layouts and Revenue Layouts. The former are layouts that have been created by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) or its predecessor the City Improvement Trust Board (CITB). These agencies acquired land from villages which were then on the outskirts of Bangalore, planned layouts with sites of different sizes, roads, “civic amenity sites”, etc. and then “allotted” them to applicants based on certain criteria.

To get a site allotted, you had to declare that you didn’t own a house in Bangalore, pay an upfront amount and wait for a few years before you would get your plot at a fairly subsidized amount in what was then the outskirts of the city. There were also layouts that were created and allotted to different PSUs. For example, you have ISRO Layout near Banashankari where sites were allotted at low prices to employees of ISRO. Similarly there are several “bank colonies” all over Bangalore. These sites were again allotted at subsidized rates. The government would acquire land from villagers, pass it on to the PSU employee association who would then allot them to employees. Interestingly, the resultant sale deed would be between the original owner of the land (typically a farmer) and the employee. The government and PSU’s name would be absent.

Revenue layouts did not have a government middleman. Original owners of the land (typically farmers) would cut it up into plots, allot area for roads and sell it directly to people to build houses there. Initially these areas would be deemed “illegal” thanks to their violation of zoning laws. In due course of time, they would get “recognized” by the BDA or BBMP and then BWSSB would provide water supply and drainage (till then people would rely on borewells and septic tanks).

If you drive a few kilometers out of Bangalore, especially in the eastern direction, you are likely to see a few mini Gurgaons. There has been absolutely no planning here, and so you have skyscrapers (either apartments or office complexes) interspersed with vast tracts of empty land. It is a sprawl out there, and there is no way one can live in these parts without a car. The vast empty spaces also mean these areas are ripe for criminal activity, and the buildings usually have private sources for their public goods (such as water or drainage).

While this makes a case for planned urban development (with its associated “site allotments”), there is also the issue of corruption. If you look at some of the corruption cases that have been filed recently against Karnataka politicians and bureaucrats, you will notice that they mostly have to do with land use and site allotments. Yeddyurappa went to jail in a “land denotification” case – that corrupt act was made possible because the government controls zoning. Former Lok Ayukta Shivaraj Patil had to resign because he got allotted a site when he already owned a house in the city.

So on one hand you get well planned and manageable cities, but significant scope for corruption and rent seeking. On the other, you have chaos and unplanned development, and several mini Gurgaons rather than proper cities. It seems like we have a no-win situation here. How do we handle it?

PS: I know that revenue layouts also involve heavy corruption, in terms of “regularising” or changing land use. However, surprisingly given the amounts involved, this kind of corruption seems to have remained at the lower levels of bureaucracy

Idealism

So on Sunday we went to this temple on the outskirts of Bangalore where the in-laws performed Satyanarayana Pooja. There was a small number relatives there, and a large gang on unknown people (it was essentially a public function). It’s a nice temple, dedicated to Shiva, and built in the Kerala style. I think it’s still work-in-progress, and there’s stuff to be done in terms of carvings and stuff. And it’s in a nice secluded spot which adds to the peace of the place.

So the temple has this policy of “annadaana” (rice donation), where they serve lunch to everyone who visits them around lunch time. I’ve written about temple meals before, and you know I’m not a big fan of them. That aside, there was this little act of forced idealism in this temple around meal time, which I wasn’t too happy about.

So the temple doesn’t invest in professional cleaners to clean the plates (I don’t understand why temples insist on serving meals in steel plates – the same is the case in Sringeri and Horanadu also). Instead, you are supposed to wash your plate and tumbler after you’re done eating. In theory this is a fine idea – if we are giving you free food, you might as well do this small help in terms of cleaning up after you. But the problem is this creates huge incentive problems.

There is a reason that public loos are seldom clean – there is no incentive for a user to keep the loo clean for the person who uses it after them. The only way a public loo can be kept clean is by employing paid labour to clean it, where it isn’t hard to align incentives of the cleaners with cleanliness of the loo. Similarly, why would you want to make a special effort into cleaning your plate when some unknown person who you’ll probably never meet in life is going to eat out of it next?

I appreciate the idealism ┬ábut the economics simply don’t work. To put it simply – cleaner plates implies greater satisfaction among people who are there at the temple to eat, which encourages repeated visits, which results in greater donations. I’m sure the little investment in people to clean the plates can be recovered many times over in terms of increase in donation. Still, they insist on imposing ideals on people..

I’m not really going to talk about the food. However, I want to briefly mention about the pooja itself, which went on for about double the time as a normal Satyanarayana Pooja (my wife and I performed one such the day after our wedding, so I know the “standard”). The pujari (who is responsible for building the temple) put in a lot of extra fittings, and a lot of the crowd (mostly people unknown to me – it was a public event) seemed to rather enjoy it. I think there is this misplaced notion somewhere that more rituals implies more good karma.

And on a related note, I fail to understand what people mean when they say “pooje is going on well” (I’ve heard this phrase too many times to not comment on it). Does it simply mean “there have been no disasters so far during the pooje” (I can’t think of any other meaning for it)?