India’s IT capital caught in silly controversies

By V.S. Karnic,
Bangalore, May 17 (IANS) A new visitor to India’s IT capital would be bemused as well as flummoxed – is this the same city that has become an international metaphor for outsourcing of jobs, particularly in its booming software industry?

The most talked about issues in the last two weeks have been the city civic authority’s inability to find space for the hundreds of tonnes of garbage generated daily and whether women should be allowed to work in the night, particularly in its scores of call centres.

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The contractors who lift the garbage, as is the usual case in any part of India, went on strike, literally raising a stink in several areas of the city. The garbage-loaded trucks were parked in a row for two to three days in some areas. A harassed official of the local Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) – as the local municipality is known – was so exasperated that he told the contractors to negotiate with farmers on the city’s outskirts to lend their land for garbage dumping. For a good measure he added that if there was a problem the contractors should settle the issue themselves!

The row between the BBMP and the contractors on finding a landfill has been temporarily resolved but the worry is with heavy pre-monsoon showers expected any day – any uncleared garbage will only add to the mess of clogged drains and make matters worse.

At another end, an amendment to an outdated law passed by the state legislature and not taken note of by anyone, including the media, on women working night shifts landed the government of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in a soup. Even Governor T.N. Chaturvedi was said to be embarrassed by the development as he had given assent to the amended act.

Karnataka has a law dating back to 1961 that prohibits women from working during the nights in shops and commercial establishments. Since none followed the law, the state legislature in its wisdom chose to enhance penalty and so the amendment to Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961, was passed. The amended Act came into effect from April 30 after the governor’s assent.

Labour Minister Iqbal Ansari’s interpretation of the amendment apparently lacked clarity and it was taken to mean that the government had come out with a new law to ban night shifts for women in the light of increased attack on women working in IT and BPO companies.

All hell broke loose with the State Women’s Commission headed by veteran state Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pramila Nesargi, other women’s organisations and the majority of working women blasting the Kumaraswamy government in general and Iqbal Ansari in particular for taking the state back to medieval times.

Several newspapers devoted whole pages to debating the issue and publishing readers’ views and comments, the overwhelming majority of which was for the government to back off from such moves. And finally a state cabinet meeting was held to resolve that suitable amendment and give the shortlived and shortsighted law a decent burial.

While these developments may be quite amusing, an issue of serious concern to Bangaloreans and to all those visiting or wanting to settle down in the once ‘air-conditioned city’ is the fast depleting green cover. The city still has gardens and is proud of being called the Garden City. But many tree-lined avenues will lose the green canopy, as they are being widened or dug to build flyovers and/or underpasses.

As expected there is a dispute between the government and environmentalists about the number of trees that will be chopped off. Four major roads in the heart of the city – Race Course Road, Palace Road, Seshadri Road and Kasturba Road – are among the city’s best tree-lined avenues. A few hundred trees may face the axe as road widening work gets underway.