Although Bangalore had long been considered one of India's premier metropolitan areas, government agencies largely failed to respond to the city's rapid growth during the information technology boom of the 1990s. During that period, essential public services such as electricity, water and garbage collection fell into disarray, while property-tax revenue stagnated. Upset by collapsing public infrastructure, civil society groups began to demand broad reform of Bangalore's public agencies, many of which had a monopoly on the goods and services they provided. In 1999, the new head of Karnataka state, S.M. Krishna, introduced a high-profile campaign to revamp and revitalize Bangalore's underperforming service providers. By the end of Krishna's term in 2004, makeovers of several public agencies had produced significant improvements in the quantity and quality of services as well as in the agencies' public-approval ratings. However, Krishna's focus on urban reform in Bangalore carried a high political price in an overwhelmingly rural state. This case examines the operational details of Krishna's efforts to revamp service delivery in Bangalore and also highlights how political backlash can endanger reforms that are accomplished for one constituency at the perceived expense of another.
Michael Woldemariam drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Bangalore, India, in June 2010.