The Karnataka government’s attempt to woo tourists to Bengaluru with street festivals in various parts of the city, seems to have backfired with an event planned in Indiranagar facing a spirited resistance from residents in the area. The Open Street Festival scheduled to be conducted on the arterial 100 Feet Road on January 15 has been postponed.
Shantinagar MLA NA Haris, who is the brainchild behind the event, told The News Minute that the event has been postponed in the wake of “chaos caused on New Year’s Eve on MG Road”.
“The revised date has not yet been decided. We will conduct it once the issues related to New Year’s Eve are cleared,” he said.
However, since the festival was announced, as many as eight Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) in Indiranagar have been consistently opposing the MLA’s decision to conduct the festival on 100 Feet Road. Representatives within the Tourism Department accept that this opposition in the locality is the cause for postponing the event.
Director of Tourism, Manjula, told TNM, "The department provides financial assistance and provides other help for the conduct of the festival. However, as the residents have opposed the festival, we have decided not to conduct it. For now, it won't be conducted on 15th, but it is unclear whether it will be conducted at a later date."
One of the major concerns Indiranagar residents have raised is that the event has been planned and schedule without taking on board the resident’s concerns and interests.
Aruna Newton, President of the HAL 2nd Stage Civic Amenities and Cultural Association, said that the residents were not consulted in advance, and came to know about the Tourism department’s decision to hold the festival only when media reports began to appear in December.
“Immediately we wrote to Tourism Minister Priyankh Kharge and asked for details pertaining to the festival. Following this, MLA Haris convened a meeting of the residents to explain the programme. We categorically told him that we were not interested in such a programme and have also written in great detail to the Minister,” Aruna said.
Though MLA Haris assured the residents that their suggestions and feedback would be taken on board, residents say that they have not heard from the MLA since that meeting.
“Indiranagar does not have the kind of civic infrastructure to host such an event. We don’t see how any celebration in Indiranagar will reflect the culture of Bengaluru, because Indiranagar does not even figure in the culture map of the city. So, what culture are you promoting? The pub destination of the world?” Aruna said.
According to the residents, there has been a total silence from the part of the authorities when it comes to making information about the festival in the public domain. Indeed, in conversations with RWAs in the area, it seems that even the information regarding the postponing of the festival has not been communicated to them.
“Right from the beginning, we have been telling the Minister that we do not know who is organizing this festival, but no event can take place without the knowledge of the government. We have clearly indicated our resistance. We also wrote to the city Commissioner pointing out the fiasco on MG Road that occurred on New Year’s Eve despite police security. If they couldn’t handle 5000 people, how will the police handle an estimated two lakh people who are expected to come to the festival?” Aruna said.
Other RWA members point out that for the residents of the area, there is no local culture to celebrate, only mounting problems. “We deeply resent the happening of this event. Forget January 15, we do not want this event to be held at all. What are we celebrating here? There’s nothing to celebrate if you are a resident of the place. Its troublesome living here and every day we are raising complaints about various issues, but in vain. We are the people who live here and we will have to bear the consequences of the festival later. What about parking facilities for all the people who will come there?” another member Swarna Venkataraman said.
Raj Pillai, another Indiranagar resident, said that they are not opposed to the idea of the festival, but doubt the civic authorities’ capacity or will to deal with the fallout of the festival.
“We all know what happened when Open Street was held on MG Road. There was garbage piled up on the street for days together. But then, they showed a little urgency in clearing it out because it is the hub of the city. But that is not the case in Indiranagar. All the garbage will spill over to the by-lanes,” he said.
In May last year, Raj had approached the High Court with a complaint of noise pollution against a pub on 100FT Road.
“I approached multiple bodies with this complaint before I sought legal help. The police would say the BBMP is responsible, the BBMP would say it is the Pollution Control Board and they just refuse to take responsibility for it. Given this, how can we expect that the consequences of the Open Street Festival will be sorted out?” Raj said.
The Open Street Festival had not only earned the ire of Indiranagar residents, but had also turned into a quarrel between opposing party MLAs, with S Raghu, the BJP MLA of CV Raman Nagar, writing to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah opposing the conduct of the festival in his constituency.
"80% of 100FT Road falls under my constituency. Only the rest is part of Shantinagar constituency. If the Congress MLA is too keen to hold such festivals, why not conduct it in an open stadium where parking and other facilities are readily available? Indiranagar needs many other facilities including footpath and here the MLA is trying to host a street festival," MLA Raghu told TNM.
While the residents are keen to maintain the apolitical nature of their opposition to the festival, some of them have raised questions about MLA Haris's decision to name the street festival as "Shantinagar Habba".
A petition filed in the HC by C Dinakar, a retired DG&IGP, also based its opposition to the festival, among other things, on the conflict between the two constituencies. The petitioner pointed out that the Shantinagar MLA had no reason to get involved in the affairs of another constituency.
Meanwhile, administrative authorities are maintaining something of a distance from the festival. When the HC issued notices to the BBMP Commissioner, along with MLA Haris and others, in regard to Dinakar’s petition, Commissioner Manjunath Prasad immediately responded that the civic body had no role to play in organising the festival.