It was a big win for the citizens movement in Bengaluru when the Karnataka government was forced to shelve the controversial steel flyover project on Ballari Road.
But now a year later, state government and civic agencies in Bengaluru appear to have not given up on the steel project just yet. The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government is now going ahead with a miniature version of the Ballari Road flyover at Shivananda Circle. While the Karnataka High Court has refused to grant an interim stay on the construction, the 485-metre long steel bridge will reportedly come up at the cost of 20 trees.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is of the opinion that the 485-metre steel bridge from Shivananda Circle to Race Course to be built at a cost of Rs 20 crore will ensure better connectivity between the southern and western part of the city.
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle on Tuesday, Bengaluru Mayor Sampath Raj said instructions have been given to BBMP engineers to finish the work by November.
A person privy to two High Court cases on the issue, however, claimed, “The HC has only denied an interim stay on the process but also said that it will order a demolition of the same if it is built without following rules.”
‘No public consultation’
Locals and activists opposing the project, said that there was no public consultation regarding the project either.
They say that the proposed flyover will do more damage than good to the existing situation.
A resident speaking to TNM alleged that the flyover, just like several other projects has been awarded to the same contractor “just for the purpose of kickbacks ahead of the Assembly polls”. He added “leave alone the local public, even the traffic police department was not consulted”.
Experts are of the opinion that the reasons for opposing the Ballari Road flyover and Shivananda is the same except only the scale is much lesser.
The objections to the Ballari Road project were many. The primary reason was that it will not solve its intended purpose of traffic snarls. Citizens were also up in arms over the fact the project would come at a huge environmental cost, with hundreds of trees facing the axe. Another factor was the cost – Rs 1791 crore- involved due to the choice of steel over concrete.
Like the Ballari Road flyover, the Shivananda project, experts argue is a waste of public money.
“Instead, this money can be used to subsidise and popularise public transport and in effect reduce private cars on the road. This flyover approach may work good for six months given the rate of private vehicle ownership,” Ashish Verma, a sustainable transportation expert at the Indian Institute of Science told TNM.
He added, “Our focus should be on sustainability. Stress should be on mobility instead of infrastructure. We have to make amends before it becomes as bad as Delhi.”
Sanjeev Dymanavar, an urban mobility expert and a long-time crusader for suburban Bengaluru railway told TNM, “Even when you are building a flyover, you have to consider the overall solution. Now the traffic jam will be at the end of the flyover. Leaving out the technicalities, this was never part of the master plan. It was said that the road will be widened. You can make more areas of the city parking-free that will automatically make roads less busy.”
The proposed flyover is supposed to end right before the railway under-bridge at Seshadripuram (from Race Course Road side).
“The railway under-bridge is very narrow. And the proposed project plans to end the flyover 50 metres before this under-bridge. That will not help circumvent the bottlenecks which form there at all,” a resident pointed out.
“Moreover, the slope at which the flyover will come down will also be quite steep. This means it will be another accident-prone zone during monsoon,” he added.
Instead he argues for widening the railway underpass by acquiring the land on either side, which house commercial buildings.
But why has Bengaluru not witnessed protests for the Shivananda Flyover?
The area primarily being a commercial one and having many government offices does not see such vocal opposition from ‘locals’. Activists allege that this might help authorities to easily dismiss the opposition.
Ashish said, “Maybe it is only that the cost is less and the number of trees to be lost is also less.”
Sanjeev, however, argued that citizens were fatigued by the government’s determination to go ahead with a similar project.
“Moreover, it is only to a certain extent that citizens can go on and put pressure on the government. This comes at the cost of personal time and many sacrifices. During the earlier protests, we have to remember people had to work hard for so many days in addition to their professional lives. Citizens need at least some good things to happen from the government side. But now they are fed up,” Sanjeev said.
He added, “The situation for the Ballari Road flyover was different as it involved many residential areas like Vasant Nagar, Sanjay Nagar with strong civic activism. Other than primarily being a commercial area, mostly senior citizens live near Shivananda Circle.”
Srinivas Alavilli, Citizens for Bengaluru, an active citizen’s group which campaigns for pro-public policy along with other citizen activists, groups, resident welfare associations and rights organisations, said it would be wrong to say that there have not been any protests.
“I have been part of two demonstrations against this. The talk is on. The matter is in court. It is not over. Citizen groups will go bigger with the legal fight and even otherwise,” he said.