The flyover that will 'steel' Bengaluru’s soul
Bengaluru has inarguably been a favourite among most of us. Starting from being tagged as the ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’, to the IT capital and now a startup hub, the city has gracefully toggled between her varied facets. Having said that, the city and her traffic woes are not alien to us. From pothole-filled roads to signal junctions where vehicles move at the speed of snails, the city’s infrastructure has been a cause of worry. While so-called developments are being done at full speed, there seems to be a huge dent that deserves attention from the people in power.
Though there have been enough public transport options, the infrastructure here needs to match up to the exponential increase in urbanisation. Accordingly, the Congress-led government under the leadership of CM Siddaramaiah has approved a 6.7 km steel bridge starting from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal. This particular proposal comes at the cost of a whopping Rs 1,791 crore and at a loss of over 812 trees and the destruction of many heritage buildings that the city took pride in. The flyover will have three up-ramps and four down-ramps and as many as 2,68,000 vehicles are expected to ply on it. But one would really question the logic behind this proposal which will save a 7–10 minute drive to the airport!
While the government assumed the plan to be the most effective way to curb traffic at a certain distance, the city’s anti-corruption activists, urban planners, environmentalists, civic activists, architects, artists, political activists, public policy experts, and resident welfare associations have united to protest under the banner Citizens Against Steel Flyover. In the last couple of days, all these activists have deep dived into the topic and have reached out to the public about the damage the proposed steel bridge will cause to the city, so much so that petitions have been signed, social media is buzzing with the raging support against the authorities, and over this weekend, the city will join to form a human chain, with unprecedented support from people belonging to all walks of life.
The proposed plan
In August 2015, the Congress-led government introduced a 16-page manifesto on the detailed plan on the improvement in infrastructure. This proposal was to improve the transport woes of the city. The plan included an addition of a north-south corridor, east-west corridor, and new railway lines including a very random clue of a monorail as well. This ambitious plan was further extended to introducing 40 flyovers at 40 junctions.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections in September 2015 had no traces of this proposed plan. But this year in June, the topic started trending among the politicians and the citizenry, where one opposed the plan and the other celebrated it. The topic also met with stiff resistance from the opposition political parties (BJP and JDS) and citizen groups like the Namma Bengaluru Foundation. The veterans of the city, actor Prakash Belawadi, noted architect Naresh Narasimhan, and urban expert Ashwin Mahesh took the lead in challenging the presented facts.
Facts and figures
Owing to the huge revolt the topic is attracting, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) recently published a 10-page document replying to most of the public’s queries. The document, which was published on the BDA’s website, was shared by city minister K.J. George who recently rejoined the Congress party after a very controversial history.
This 10-page report justifies the traffic at the 6.7 km project corridor. It reads,
This stretch is one of the busiest roads in Bangalore city taking traffic from the southern part, parts of south east and south west extensions and the central business district towards northern Bangalore and beyond. The road section between Hebbal and Basaveshwara Circle (via Mekhri Circle) is already congested with traffic during peak hour. Traffic from airport will converge at Hebbal flyover (two-lane) and towards the city. The existing land use pattern is such that horizontal widening of existing road is practically not possible.
The report also points towards signal time and delay, travel speed, unhindered movement of traffic from NH-7, airport bound traffic and future project traffic as reasons for building it at the earliest. But activists and citizens’ groups said that the FAQ does not address issues such as the need for a mass transit system and alternative routes to the airport. Speaking exclusively to the YourStory team, Prakash says,
There is an unholy emergency in building this flyover which is suspicious since the general public is unaware. We are not here to oppose the construction of this huge gigantic stretch but we want to understand the need for it while we have other feasible options.
Fencing and defending their way
Siddaramaiah defended the government's stand on the flyover saying that the decision was taken after careful consideration.
The decision to build a 1,791-crore flyover was not taken just like that; a lot of thought has gone into it, and it was passed in the Cabinet, he said.
Bengaluru development minister KJ George also tweeted about the topic and nominated the BDA to share details on how the steel bridge would help and impact the environment.
The steel bridge was first mentioned during the BJP regime in the year 2011, in the form of elevated corridors. But it was officially announced in the 2014-15 state budget, presented by Siddaramaiah. In March 2014, the detailed project report was not presented to the public which was assumed to be drafted. The stretch between Palace grounds and the Bellary Road was acquired despite a dispute at the Supreme Court. But the land was ready to be acquired by November 2014. Since then to the recent times, the entire project has been undercover which is raising a quite a lot of eyebrows.
The NGO Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF) led by prominent politician and MP Rajeev Chandrashekar has filed an RTI application asking for the feasibility report of the project, DPR, public opinion copies, and many other details. After being denied information by the BDA, now NBF has moved the court with a public interest litigation. When asked about the outcome of this protest, another Bengaluru veteran Naresh Narasimhan adds,
We are looking at a constructive dialogue from the concerned authorities. We are upset about the arbitrary solution for the City as a whole and not a band-aid patch at the cost of loosing the essence of Namma Bengaluru.
Things at stake
The proposed flyover comes at the cost of over 1,700 crore. If this number was too much to digest, wait till you hear the environmental hazard it brings along. To build this 6.7 km steel bridge, the authorities will uproot over 812 trees and demolish heritage buildings where freedom fighters like Shri. Shubash Chandra Bose and Shri. Viveshwaraya lived. The flyover will be an eyesore and an obscene amount of money will be wasted though there are enough alternatives to avoid this. After the High Court's ruling, the BDA stated that it would plant as many as 60,000 saplings in order to compensate for the 500 trees felled but the promise seems as vague as the proposal itself.
Fighting for Namma Bengaluru
Citizens’ groups have criticised the BDA for publishing only the salient features of the project but not the detailed project and feasibility reports, which are ideally public documents. The public is expressing widespread outrage on public forums and social media under the #SteelFlyoverBeda tag. The protest on the online forum Change.org has received support from over 1,800 individuals.
The campaign is being led by Prakash Belawadi, Naresh V Narasimhan, Priya Chetty Rajagopal, Ashwin Mahesh, Srinivas Alavilli, Anand Varadarajan and Bimal Desai and has many active participants from different walks of life. On October 16, there is a massive silent protest in the form of a human chain starting from Chalukya Hotel, BDA, Cauvery Theatre, and Mekhri Circle.
The team has also taken the liberty to write open letters with a few questions to veterans and industrialists like NR Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Sachin Bansal, V Ravichandar, Mohandas Pai, K Jairaj, and RK Misra, among others.
All said and done, the city has been a favourite for innumerable reasons. Though one would challenge the aftermath of this steel flyover, only time will reveal if the people in power will make or break the city, and we silently hope for the best.