news Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 05:30
  Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s remarks on the TenderSURE project, expressing dissatisfaction with St. Marks Road in Bengaluru come as a surprise, given that the project is headed by the Chief Secretary who directly reports to his office. On Friday, when Siddaramaiah was inspecting the progress of infrastructure projects in the city, he said that the width of the footpath on St. Marks Road was wider than necessary, but since the work was completed, he said that he had “directed engineers to reduce footpaths and widen roads in future projects”. The News Minute had reported on this in the first week of March. Comprising seven roads in Phase I, the TenderSURE project was meant to showcase the Central Business District of Bengaluru as a world-class city, but the project has attracted criticism since its approval from several quarters including the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and civil society groups for a number of reasons including the nature of the project, which aims at privatization. Given the manner of the TenderSURE project’s implementation, the current situation should not have cropped up as the project has been supervised directly by a high-powered committee headed by Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee since its approval. It is also unclear how his instructions will play out since the designer of the project is not a BBMP engineer. Mukherjee was unavailable for comment as he is abroad but Mint quotes him as fully backing the project. In April he had said of the project: “… I realized it’s a fantastic idea that will ensure you don’t keep tinkering with the road.” A set of questions to the developer of the TenderSURE specifications for urban roads Chairperson of Jana Urban Space Foundation Swati Ramanathan went unanswered. She is also not available over the phone. Minutes of meetings held to review the progress of the roads being revamped under the project show that the engineers of the BBMP and the councilors do not have any say in the project, either in terms of administrative decisions, or design. One meeting in particular made this very clear. On July 15, 2014 Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee clearly told BBMP engineers who raised objections with some aspects of the project’s design, that they were to only take measurements of the final construction and not do anything else. These instructions were issued after Swati Ramanathan said that the changes suggested by the BBMP engineers did not fit in with TenderSURE specifications for urban roads. (The News Minute has a copy of the minutes of this meeting.) The BBMP is also unhappy with the fact that it has to bear half the cost of the project for two reasons: one, it is cash strapped; two, it has no say over the project at all. Asked about the selection of roads for the project in April, former Mayor N Shantakumari had told The News Minute that she could not answer the question. “The project is fine, but why choose roads that are already good? We have so many roads that are in need of repairs” she said. The current situation was a “double waste”, Shantakumari said that the money spent on upgrading the seven roads in the past had all been “wasted” and more money pumped into it while depriving other roads of attention. Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Major Public Works, Geetha Vivekananda had told The News Minute that she had received numerous complaints about the project, as had other councillors.  Civic groups too say that there are numerous problems with the project. In an earlier interview with The News Minute, Regional Manager of Action Aid Kshitij Urs had said that the manner in which the entire project had been carried out smacked of an “elite capture of governance”. He said: “One kind of vision (for Bengaluru’s development) dominates, bypassing democratic processes.” He says that the project was approved by the then Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda at the CM’s official residence in September 2011, without the involvement of the BBMP. The News Minute has a copy of the minutes of this meeting. According to Schedule 12 of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act, roads and bridges were the obligatory functions of the local government, said activist Meena Artwani. “Even though the BBMP Commissioner was present at the meeting, it is not the same as involving the elected representatives,” she said, adding that the BBMP resolution was passed some months after the chief minister approved the project. On April 9, the Forum for Urban Commons and Governance organized a protest against the protest. Rajendran Prabhakar, one of the group’s members told The News Minute on Sunday: “For several years now, Bengaluru’s development (is being dictated) by corporates. They have every right to have their opinions and views, but what gives them the right to ride roughshod and bypass due procedure through BBMP?”    - Lest we forget Sohanlal Valmiki, the rapise who finished Aruna Shanbaug, but never charged for rape