In perennial struggle with its inglorious traffic mess, its mountains of daily muck, and soaring water demand, Bengaluru city is always on the lookout for successful urban management models to emulate. The Electronic City Township Authority (ELCITA), with its multiple smart systems might be tough to scale up, but it does offer strategies to tackle many of the big city woes.
Is it rocket science, for instance, to adopt a data-driven approach to solve one of Bengaluru’s most visible trouble-spots, its roads? Pot-hole counting is a routine BBMP exercise, but a taxing one at that. So, why not automate the process like how ELCITA did with a few mobile cameras fitted to a car that drives around once a fortnight or month?
Here’s how pothole management works in Electronics City
The camera captures road visuals from multiple angles, which are then uploaded to a software driven by artificial intelligence (AI).
The system matches these visuals with images of the same road taken before. Any crack, pot-hole or depression on the road surface is instantly spotted and its precise location geo-tagged.
An assessment team from the Authority goes to the spot, rectifies the fault and uploads a fresh image. The system automatically updates the task as rectified, ensuring real-time monitoring, transparency and accountability. Equipped with men, machines and money, can the Palike adopt this strategy, at least as a pilot?
Still evolving, the AI-based system is now being trained to differentiate between a wet patch and a pothole. This could further boost its efficiency during monsoon, when the interplay of asphalt and stagnant water can get tricky in quick time.
The message is clear: Despite ELCITA’s jurisdictional area of a mere 903 acres, learnings from its methods can help the city get its basics right: Zero potholes, storm water drains cleared and unclogged much before the rains.
Preparing for changes expected by arrival of Namma Metro
In ELCITA’s proposed Metro Neo project lurks a potential solution to link the city’s last miles. Much before the Namma Metro line finds its way into Electronic City, the Authority has realised that a lot of people will switch from their two-wheelers and four-wheelers to the convenient mass transport option.
The objective is simple: A seamless commute from the two planned metro stations to the companies.
Glaring inter-modal connectivity gaps have plagued the Namma Metro project, and this remain unaddressed years after the first train chugged in. Contrast this with the Neo project, a 5-km network featuring a trolleybus system with overhead electric traction, stopping initially at 10 stations. Once the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is ready, the project could be commissioned by June 2024, according to ELCITA Chief Executive Officer Lt. Col. Ravindra Singh.
To bypass constraints of Electronic City’s narrow roads, the system will run on elevated lines. Proposed are electric bus coaches fitted with rubber tyres, drawing power from overhead wires. The capacity of each coach could be in the range of 250 passengers. But even beyond the Metro Neo, the last-mile focus will extend to bus stops with the deployment of electric scooters and smaller shuttles.
Why no complaints of flooding in Electronics City
The recent floods that had residents around the city’s Outer Ring Road (ORR) in a twister of commute and livelihood woes were attributed to poor drain management. Besides glaring encroachment of the critical linking canals, drains — shoulder, primary and secondary — that remained uncleared pre-monsoon proved to be a huge factor.
Here too, ELCITA had a best practice in place: Extensive repairs were carried out in drains where required. Potential flooding spots identified by analysed data were under constant surveillance. User complaints were addressed in quick time, ensuring that there were no major problems.
In contrast, a flood-warning app developed for Bengaluru by the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) largely remains unused for coordination and preparation.
Emulating ELCITA will not be easy for BBMP
Coordination is critical for any urban management system to work smartly, and the Authority’s synchronised networking experience could be a precedent for the Bengaluru Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA), now in its nascent draft bill avatar.
For instance, Electronic City has a robust security system in place integrating the security systems of individual companies, ELCITA’s own staff, the city police and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
Beyond the best practices of ELCITA that the city’s administration could try and emulate in pockets as a pilot, lies a need to strike a balance. Explains V. Ravichandar, an urbanist: “ELCITA’s biggest takeaway is that it is possible to manage a self-contained township with village characteristics, provided the people running it have the monetary wherewithal and the requisite professionalism to manage the multiple challenges.”
But the most important aspect, he notes, is the sensitivity and inclusivity required. “This is not just for the elite, but should actually help the lives of the underprivileged and the villagers. The ability to carry the community along and give them a voice in the whole arrangement is key, besides giving them a share of the taxes collected. It is on the last count that I have my reservations on scalability.”
The Authority, as its CEO informs, provides 30% of its revenue to the panchayats as compensation since it was carved out of the villages.
Scaling up ELCITA’s experience to the BBMP level may seem an insurmountable challenge. But even applying the same dynamics to other industrial areas within the city could prove daunting, as Ravichandar notes. He refers to Peenya’s long fight for a similar setup. “It never happened. Part of the reason, I suspect, was the integrated outlook — that it is more than the people in the industrial township. That spirit was very important, which I think ELCITA had, but Peenya did not.”