While an unorganised economy is starting to thrive on this route, poor infrastructure still makes it unsafe, especially for women traveling alone.

news Civic Issue Thursday, October 24, 2019 - 13:14

It’s a fairly common experience for people heading to the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru: the taxi takes a detour just off the main highway towards the airport, and gets on to a small service road. The route then cuts into the infamous BK Halli-Bagaluru stretch, which connects to the airport.

Exit the dimly-lit section of the stretch, and you’ll find an unorganised economy of small eateries, shops and even a car servicing centre thriving solely due to the private taxis and app-based cabs using the stretch. The shortcut has become an often-used path for Ola and Uber drivers heading to the airport, but for travelers, especially women, it can be a nightmarish experience. Several women have reported incidents where the cab drivers who took the BK Halli-Bagaluru stretch, harassed them or put them in danger.

Though Bengaluru city police announced that private taxis and app-based cabs travelling to and from the airport cannot use this road between 7 pm and 7 am, it’s business as usual for these shops as cabs continue to ply this stretch. However, when this reporter took the infamous stretch for a reality check, even as late as 9 pm on a Tuesday night after the Bengaluru police order, several cabs with stickers of app logos emblazoned on them could be seen using the route.

An economy thriving on taxis

The first few kilometres of the stretch appear to have a regular concrete path, which quickly turns into a dirt-crusted long and winding stretch. But the road then curves onto a long stretch, just minutes away from the airport, which is dotted with a line of small eateries, tea stalls, petty shops and service centres for cars. There is even a liquor store at the beginning of the stretch.

A little ahead, one can find several clusters of Ola and Uber cabs.

The sheer number of cab drivers who use this road to avoid the toll plaza on NH44, has paved the way for several shops to set up businesses specifically catering to the drivers along this stretch.

Sivanna opened his small tea shop and eatery on this stretch more than a year ago. He opens his shop around 7 am and closes at 10 pm. “The shops here get a lot of customers and most of them end up being the taxi drivers. Considering their duty timings, it becomes difficult for them to get a decent meal. Many hotels along the main highway are not feasible options for them, so they come here,” the 65-year-old tells TNM.

A makeshift garage centre, for instance, almost exclusively seems to cater to cabs. “These are mostly cab drivers who need a quick fix or some servicing,” says a man who works at the garage and did not wish to be identified. Two paid parking structures have also opened up in the area to cater specifically to the private taxis, Ola and Uber taxis that travel along this area.

However, despite the fact that a lot of businesses have cropped up in the area in recent times, safety concerns remain, mainly due to the fact that the streets are poorly lit, and many of the roads are in poor condition.

Recently, on October 2, a young woman, who was travelling from the airport, was allegedly abandoned by her cab driver on this stretch after she demanded he take the National Highway 44 instead of this alternative route. The driver was arrested on October 4 – the same day Bengaluru city police announced the ban on the road’s use after dark.

Murugan has been a driver for the past 25 years. It was three years ago that he associated with a cab aggregating company. Standing in front of his taxi parked near one of the shops, he explains why drivers end up taking this stretch.

“When we travel towards the airport, we would normally have to go via the toll gate road. It usually takes us an extra 10 minutes to cross the toll considering the long line of vehicles; so we use this road,” says the 50-year-old. “I understand there have been some safety issues along this stretch, and some drivers are responsible for that. But how can we all be penalised for that? We use this road because it is more convenient for us,” he adds.

So what’s stopping the officials from ensuring the roads are well lit and safer for passengers – specifically, who’s responsible for its maintenance?

Speaking to TNM, Bagalur Gram Panchayat President Munegowda J said that the road comes under the jurisdiction of four gram panchayats – Bandekodigehalli, Bagalur, Kannur and Doddajala. Over two years ago, the BK Halli-Bagalur Road was laid by contractors and the street lamps were installed. However, no electricity was provided, which is why the street lights were never switched on, he says.

"After the road was laid, the four gram panchayats were asked to bear the electricity costs for maintaining the street lamps. We don't have enough manpower, resources or funds for that kind of thing. The electricity and maintenance bill for the street lights per month come up to Rs 3 lakh per gram panchayat. Two years ago, the four gram panchayat chiefs had written to the Devanahalli PWD (Public Works Department) and informed them that we would not be able to light up the street lamps or maintain them due to lack of funds and resources," Munegowda said.

He says that 10 days ago, Chief Secretary of Karnataka, Vijay Bhaskar had written to the CEO of the Bengaluru North Zilla Panchayat and directed the four gram panchayats to bear the costs for the next few months. "The Chief Secretary had informed the CEO that the government would look into reimbursing the funds. Since the last 10 days, the street lights have been on," Munegowda added.

With inputs from Theja Ram