In a massive victory for citizen groups, the Karnataka government announced the scrapping of the controversial steel flyover in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Sources in the government told TNM that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was unhappy with allegations of corruption and wanted the project to be scrapped. With the names of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi being dragged into corruption allegations, the High Command has given instructions to the Chief Minister to clean up the mess.
Urban Development Minister KJ George made the announcement after he spoke with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. “Cabinet will meet and make the decision formal. The project has been scrapped after consulting with the CM. We are cancelling the project because of the public opinion that they do not want it,” said George. While dismissing corruption allegations, the minister said, “There are some elements, that are playing dirty political tricks. They don't want the development of Bangalore and hence they started this corruption campaign that I have received kickbacks for the steel flyover project.”
He also hit out at the BJP, stating, “The BJP saw an opportunity for turning this issue into a political one. The project was proposed during Sadananda Gowda's time. That time the BJP was all for the flyover. Now despite knowing the difficulty faced by so many residents, they are saying that the project is a bad one.”
George also hit out at Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, pinning the blame on him if Bengaluru’s traffic problem isn’t solved. “Rajiv Chandrasekhar started this blame game. I am placing the blame on his shoulder if Bengaluru's traffic problem cannot be solved. He is against the development of our city.”
Meanwhile, sources have also told TNM that instead of the steel flyover, the government will go ahead with the Nagawara outer ring road project, which will also serve as an alternative entrance to the rear of the airport. However, George refused to speak of an alternative plan, blaming NGOs, the BJP and Rajeev Chandrasekhar for scrapping the project. While hitting out at the critics of the project, the Minister asked them to come up with an alternative solution.
Earlier in the day, a meeting was held at Urban Development Minister KJ George's residence in Bengaluru, which was attended by all Bengaluru city MLAs, MPs, officials of BBMP, Bescom, and BWSSB.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, KJ George said, “A decision has not been made. Congress MLAs had a meeting yesterday. The reason for the project is for public convenience but the public is against it. There are corruption allegations. It is a big black mark in the Congress’ name. I feel that steel flyover project should be dropped. I will speak to chief minister and we'll come to a decision today.” George also dismissed allegations made by the BJP stating, “Let them prove the allegations. Nobody is going to be scared by CBI inquiry. Let there be a CBI inquiry and also an Enforcement Directorate inquiry." His statement comes even as Agriculture Minister Krishnabaire Gowda advised him during the meeting to keep Bengaluru's traffic problem in mind before taking a decision. "Investors are not coming to Bengaluru because of the traffic issue, and we have to sort that out as well. Currently, people in the city move at 6km per hour, whereas the standard should be 21km per hour."
Sources told TNM that at the meeting, KPCC Working President,Dinesh Gundurao told George, "The BJP has to take a proper stand on the steel flyover. It is not yet clear if the BJP is opposing it because of the corruption allegation or because of the environmental impact. I suggest that the Congress government must put the project on hold until after the next election. Why should Congress get a bad name for it. If this project comes to life it will be branded as the symbol of corruption under the Congress rule. I suggest the government rethink its idea of the steel bridge."
Proposed to be built at the cost of Rs 1,791-crore, the 6.7 km long flyover was to be constructed between Basaveshwara circle to Esteem Mall in Hebbal to improve connectivity to the Bengaluru International Airport.
Construction company L&T had won the contract to construct the steel flyover.
The proposed project was first mentioned in the 2014-15 state budget that was presented by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on February 14, 2014. The Detailed Project Report (DPR), according to media reports, was already ready in March 2014 but was not available on the public domain.
Also, the land that needed to be acquired from Palace Grounds for road widening was under dispute at the Supreme Court and this barrier was cleared for land acquisition only in November 2014.
On October 25, 2015 the National Green Tribunal granted an interim stay and restrained the Bengaluru Development Authority from proceeding with the project for four weeks. The NGT order was based on a petition filed by Neelaiah, a member of the Citizen Action Forum and others.
Less than a week later, the Karnataka High Court stayed the project until the government consults public and the Metropolitan Planning Committee.
Many activists and citizens protested the construction of the flyover owing to its high cost and environmental consequences: over 800 trees were to be felled.
Thousands of residents took to the streets in various protests, including a human chain along the proposed flyover route. Objections were also raised at the lack of transparency.
The news that the government is scrapping the project was met with celebrations on social media.