Further, activists pointed out that there were several issues with the way the BBMP wants a private bidder to ‘maintain’ the public road.

Activists call plans to privatise Bengalurus Church Street disastrous
news Privatisation Saturday, May 19, 2018 - 18:45

Bengaluru authorities want to turn the city’s popular Church Street into a privately managed lane – and citizen activists are up in arms against the move. Not only will this limit access to street vendors, and pretty much anybody that a private company deems not ‘respectable’ enough, activists say that the very concept of a common resource being privatised is questionable.

The Forum for Urban Governance and Commons has asked the BBMP to take back the tender seeking private bidders to ‘manage’ Church Street. BBMP released the tender document, inviting private bidders for operation and maintenance of Church Street road from Brigade Road Junction to St Mark’s Road junction for a period of five years, on March 26, just a day before the Model Code of Conduct for the Assembly Elections came into force. The private player, who will be selected after due process, can recover the cost of such operations and maintenance through commercial advertisements on the street.

Speaking to the media, Reshma Udupi, co-convener of the forum said, “This decision will set a disastrous precedent as Church Street will be the first public road in the entire country to have been handed over to a private company for maintenance.”

“This step is against the very idea of roads as commons, as something that belongs to everyone and, is violating the Constitution (Twelfth Schedule), besides many laws, policies, court judgments on government’s obligatory functions regarding urban governance, management of commons among many others,” she said.

The forum said that the move is also against the provisions of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act 1976, Karnataka Land Revenue Act 1964 etc. “Even Article 39(b) of Indian Constitution clearly states that action of leasing out and conferring exclusive rights of and control over common resources, while excluding some sections of the society, is not allowed,” she added.

Other problems with the tender

Church Street, a posh area in the middle of Central Business District, was closed for over a year from February 2017 till March 2018, when government spent over Rs 15 crore to redesign and reconstruct the 750 metre road under the TenderSURE project.

The tender document for maintaining the street, released in March, while detailing the scope of work, requires the selected bidder to ensure that the road and adjoining footpaths are washed (at least twice a day) using treated water with soap or detergents.

Calling it a criminal waste of water, Kshithij Urs, one of the co-conveners of the forum said, “The drainage of this street passes through Koramangala section and into the Bellandur Lake. BBMP is planning to drain such soapy water into the lake which is already full of toxic substances.”

The tender document also requires the operator to regularly “prune” tree branches which are protruding onto the footpath and obstructing the road. Calling the entire plan ecologically disastrous, Reshma said, “Church Street is now paved with cobblestone and they have cut the roots of the existing plants and have left no space for growing new trees. The carbon sink created by the trees is now no longer there.”

While the BBMP will not earn any additional revenue from outsourcing the operations and maintenance of Church Street, the operator can monetise the hoardings and electric polls through advertisements.

The tender document also requires the operator to arrange four security guards at all times and ensure that “footpath encroachment by street vendors and any unauthorised occupation of footpaths and roads” is removed immediately. Saying that this move will institutionalise systematic violence on the public, Kshithij told TNM, “This will give private companies discretionary powers to decide who deserves to be evicted and who deserves to stay. Removing these “encroachers” is anyway a violation of Street Vendors Act 2014.”

“At least if the BBMP was managing it, there would be some accountability,” Vinay Srinivasa, a civic activist, said. “Do these private bodies have the expertise or mandate to look after the streets?” he asked.

“We tried to communicate these concerns to BBMP but their officials said that they were unaware of the details and were busy with elections. This plan to privatise Church Street must be scrapped immediately, else we will initiate a street struggle,” Reshma said.

Despite TNM’s repeated efforts, BBMP and Bengaluru Development Authority officials refused to comment on the issue.

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