Fifty years later, Bangalore’s green belt

Fifty years ago, the burgeoning metropolis of Bangalore, soon dubbed the “Silicon Valley of India,” had a plan that seemed simple on paper. Based on a century-old British concept of town planning, they would preserve a ‘green belt’ of land to encircle the urban centre, zoned only for fields, forests and open space. Instead of growing indiscriminately, the nearby town would be surrounded by crops and pastures, which could feed the urban population and provide a host of environmental benefits.

The “green belt” still exists, but might be unrecognizable to early 1970s planners. It’s a source of tension and resentment among some locals, including farmers, and it’s not quite “green”. “. Instead, Bangalore’s changing and shrinking “green belt” reflects how complicated land-use planning can be in an ever-urbanizing world that struggles to find balance with green spaces.

Decades before Bangalore’s green belt was proposed, a full quarter of the incorporated city was taken up by gardens. Just as California’s famed Silicon Valley was once known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delights” for its flourishing farms and orchards, fruit plants were so prolific in Bangalore until the mid-twentieth century that it earned the nickname “garden city”. Bangalore’s green belt was originally designed to maintain a nearby food supply as the city grew and became denser.

By the 1980s, the purpose of undeveloped land around the city had evolved to emphasize tree plantings and open spaces for recreation. By the 1990s, the guidelines had been changed to allow for the proliferation of exceptions for dozens of industries as well as resorts, hospitals and infrastructure.

But because land remains legally undevelopable by default, patchwork deregulation has left people who live inside the green belt vulnerable to confusing patterns of land ownership and use. The green belt is dotted with informal settlements and the diversity of people who live there today have mixed perceptions of the usefulness of the green belt.

“People who want to trick farmers into paying less will come and buy our land,” suggests a young van driver interviewed by urban researcher Meghana Eswar, as part of a study on the evolution of the green belt. Many farmers know they could make more by selling their farmland to under-the-table developers than by cultivating it, especially since they cannot afford to pay enough potential young farm workers for them. divert lucrative city and factory jobs that support the tech boom.

Despite these apparent flaws, Eswar argues that the green belt is still useful. The zoning of land within the “green belt” for agriculture or open space has not entirely deterred development, but these areas are certainly less built-up than neighboring land not included in the green belt. And the many adjustments made to the original greenbelt intentions can be seen as necessary changes to reflect realities that early planners could not have foreseen: a technological revolution, increasingly scarce water resources for the agriculture and consecutive decades of exponential population growth within Bangalore. The result is a patchwork of “peri-urban” lands: rural in some ways, urban in others, and changing from year to year, as bureaucratic planners and the forces of human desire and need continue to shape the land into tandem.

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By: Meghana Eswar

Theoretical and Empirical Research in Urban Management, Vol. 16, no. 2 (May 2021), p. 21-38

Center for Research in Public Administration and Public Services

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