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Public Anger Over Bengaluru's 'Steal' Flyover, Activists Plan Human Chain

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18 deepab18

First published: October 15, 2016, 3:03 PM IST | Updated: October 15, 2016
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Public Anger Over Bengaluru's 'Steal' Flyover, Activists Plan Human Chain
An artiste's impression of the 6.7 KM long flyover made of high quality steel

Bengaluru: Rs 267 crores for every kilometre. That's the money the Bangalorean tax payer will be spending for a mammoth steel flyover that's among the latest of brainwaves on decongesting the city's notorious traffic. Spanning 6.7 kms, it will add up to a whopping 1791 crores to be spent over the next two years to connect central Bengaluru to the airport highway.

The steel flyover, a rather surprise announcement after the last cabinet meeting, was met with strong opposition among civil society groups who are planning a human chain on Sunday along this six km stretch.

Dubbed a 'steal' flyover for the secrecy or 'stealth' with which it is being advocated, citizen groups have questioned the need for a project that they feel will neither decongest traffic nor help the city's ecology.

"What is the need for this secrecy behind the project? Such a large project - almost like putting a steel dagger in the heart of the city - is being done without public consultation," says Sridhar Pabbishetty, CEO of the Namma Bengaluru Foundation that has filed a writ petition against the project in the Karnataka High Court.

In response, the Bangalore Development Authority put out a bunch of FAQs on its website, trying to address some of the concerns. It claims it called for public opinion, where 299 people favoured such a project. This only incensed civic activists more.

"If they think there are only eleven questions about this project, that is laughable. The salient features are just silent features. We know nothing more about the alignments, stability of the structure. Steel structures have huge maintenance cost too, they are subject to corrosion, vulnerable to sabotage even. Plus, at the end of the day, this project will only move the jam from the Hebbal junction to the Basaveshwara Circle (intersection)," Pabbishetty says.

The Bangalore Vision Group - a think tank of corporates and activists formed by the government as an advisory body - was bypassed, as was the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee. In fact, even the traffic police - who are on the ground and would know the cause-and-effect of jams on this stretch - were sent only an 'FYI' on the project.

Admittedly, the 30-km city-to-airport connect in IT city is hardly the most efficient. While one elevated (and heavily tolled) expressway brings the airport traffic to the brink of the city at the Hebbal intersection smoothly enough, the traffic from there to the city centre could take hours to cross. Estimated to take over two lakh vehicles a day, the stretch from Hebbal to Basaveshwara junction can be a killer even on weekends.

But that doesn't still reason out the need for an ill-thought-out flyover which will just move the jam from the Hebbal junction to the Basaveshwara junction, citizens argue. Interestingly, it already has four smaller flyovers and one underpass-- quick-fix solutions that were built ten years ago when the airport began functioning.
But cities the size of New York, with about the same population, function very well without a single flyover, points out town planner and architect Naresh Narasimhan. "You only need flyovers to cross a bridge or a railway track, or when an arterial road meets a ring road. This project is just based on a contractor driven engineering mindset," he argues in a video blog on social media. Other influencers like theatre person Arundhati Nag too have pitched in with video blogs against the project.

Online campaigns have now gathered steam, getting more than 10000 signatures this past week. All the Opposition parties have spoken put against the project - one of them, the JDS, openly alleging that the project is being done to "contribute " to the Congress'campaign in Uttar Pradesh next year.

Prakash Belawadi, theatre personality and activist, questions the role of Bangalore Development Minister KJ George in this. "The project was suddenly mooted in June, then when George was out of the cabinet, we heard nothing about it. Now suddenly it has come alive after he was re-inducted. In any case, why don't they consult more? Scientists of the Indian Institute of Science have opposed it, town planners have said why don't you look at alternatives, why not give this some consideration, " Belawadi asks.

"In a million years of hammering away at a typewriter, the BDA cannot come up with a plan to decongest the city," argues Prof Ashwin Mahesh of the Indian Institute of Management.

Most importantly, they ask for alternatives - commuter rails, a Metro and more buses being the best sought out solutions.

With existing railway tracks of over 120kms in and around the city, including a line that goes very close to the airport, can't the government make more judicious use of its tracks, is the question among most groups. Besides, there is demand to open up an alternate road that runs almost parallel to the existing highway but has been, inexplicably, blocked just before it meets the airport.

Public pressure notwithstanding, the government has remained adamant about going ahead with its 6-km marvel on pillars. In fact, going so far as to even plan an extension of this.

"What do you want us to do? The people want us to decongest traffic, yet oppose development projects like this. The same people who are crying hoarse over the cutting of trees today are the ones who own three to four cars. Today, when people talk about Bengaluru, they talk not about IT or BT or gardens, they only talk about traffic, " says a cabinet minister privy to some of the decisions.

But the cutting of over 800 trees for this six-km stretch is another bone of contention - environmentalists say the BDA's feeble explanation that it will compensate by planting 60000 saplings of ornamental plants elsewhere is another idea gone awry.

There is an uprising among the people, says Pabbishetty, which will all boil over on Sunday's planned protest that's expected to bring out people in hordes on the highway that will, for a change, probably see a people-jam instead of a traffic jam.

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