Monday, July 23, 2007

Traditional ways in Kerala obstruct urban development

INNATE reluctance to change, not an unusual feature of a society bearing the weight of tradition, is a problem that dogs Kerala as it seeks to transform itself into a modern community.

Acute shortage of land and consequent high price are forcing urban Kerala to consider the high-rise option.

In posh areas of Thiruvananthapuram, land price has shot up from around Rs 2,000 a cent (1/400 th of a hectare) in the 1970s to Rs 500,000 or more.

A number of apartment buildings have come up in the State capital in the last two decades.

However, many flats remain unoccupied as the owners are non-resident Keralites.

Old city residents prefer to live in independent houses.

Those who opt for flats are persons who have returned after living in Indian or foreign cities. They generally consider apartments more secure than individual houses.

With many young people finding well-paid jobs in the Information Technology sector, builders expect the demand for flats to grow.

Sensing new opportunity, a few big builders from outside the State have begun operations.

Significantly, they have announced apartment projects in the vicinity of IT parks at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

The proliferation of apartment complexes has made residents of crowded localities of the capital apprehensive.

They fear that a sudden influx of people will put considerable strain on the limited urban infrastructure in such areas as power and water supply. Vehicular traffic will increase, imposing a burden on the narrow roads.

Residents of Palkulangara, a crowded locality of the city, recently launched an agitation to prevent the construction of an apartment complex in the area.

Women came out in large numbers and blocked the streets, vowing not to allow the construction of the high-rise building, for which Corporation has given permission.

A federation of residents' associations of the capital extended active support to the Palkulangara residents' campaign. Its attitude betrays a desire to freeze the city's traditional mores.

Residents ensconced in cosy houses are reluctant to accept the fact that the city's vertical growth has become inevitable.

They do not seem to realise that they can best safeguard their legitimate interests by prevailing upon the authorities to expand the infrastructure to meet tomorrow's needs, instead of attempting to resist the emergence of apartment complexes.

Kochi, where apartment living has met with a greater measure of acceptance than in Thiruvananthapuram, which until recently was essentially a bureaucrats' city, faces problem of another kind.

The city authorities have been unable to make satisfactory arrangements for garbage disposal.

Under pressure from the High Court, which, incidentally, is located in that city, they started removing garbage, which had been piling up, creating a severe pollution problem, and started dumping it at Brahmapuram.

Nine years ago the Kochi Corporation had acquired land at Brahmapuram to set up a garbage treatment plant. Work on the plant has still not started.

Residents of the area naturally came out in protest against the dumping of untreated garbage in the open, exposing them to health hazards.

In a desperate attempt to work out alternative arrangements, the Corporation engaged a contractor from Tamil Nadu to remove the garbage to a village in that State.

Residents of some villages of Palakkad district complained that the contractor, instead o taking the garbage out of the State, was dumping it on the roadside at the dead of night.

They organised night vigil and detained and damaged several trucks laden with garbage.

Until recently the Corporation was dumping garbage at a place in the Navy's possession. The Navy's refusal to allow continued dumping, forced it to look for an alternative site.

Since even villages in Kerala are heavily populated, it is not easy to find dumping grounds for city refuse.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, the State government stepped in.

A high-level meeting called by the Chief Minister asked the Collector of Ernakulam to find an alternative dumping ground which might be used until the Brahmapuram plant was ready.

Since an order of the High Court is in force, it has to approve of the alternative arrangement.

The troubles in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are manifestations of a lingering struggle between the forces of change and the forces of tradition.

The need for change is widely appreciated but both at the official level and at the wider level of the public there is reluctant to give up old ways. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 23, 2007.

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