Citizens' groups are asking why the BMTC cannot be improved.

Steel flyover protest Who are you to decide what democracy is Mr KJ George
Voices Bengaluru Friday, October 21, 2016 - 19:47

For an elected representative – and a minister at that – to declare that protests cannot dictate democracy and to dismiss them as vested interests, is a dangerous development for Bengaluru, which has seen many projects pushed through in recent years despite popular opposition.

The 6.7km steel flyover – popularly nicknamed the ‘steal’ flyover – between Basaveshwara Circle and Hebbal will purportedly reduce traffic heading towards the Bengaluru airport. Its estimated cost is Rs 1,350-1,700 crore. Read more about the details of the project and the alleged botch ups.

For the past few months, and more so since the beginning of this month, the media have carried several reports on the secrecy that veils the project. It was announced in the 2014 state budget, but calls for information to be made public have been ignored, denied, or dismissed outright.

The government has refused to make public the Detailed Project Report (DPR). 

Instead, the government, led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been claiming that the project would ease traffic headed towards the airport. He has said in no uncertain terms that the government will not withdraw the project, the plan for which, was first formulated in 2010.

Citizens’ groups such as the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike, have scathingly criticized the government’s stubborn refusal to entertain any questions on the project. In a statement, the Vedike said that the world over, flyovers had proved ineffective in reducing congestion, and also raised objections specific to the project.

One of the primary demands of the Vedike is that the government drop the project and instead, use that amount to increase the size of the BMTC fleet by 3,000 buses, provide shelters to 6,000 bus stops and subsidize fares for the city’s 58 lakh bus commuters. 

On Sunday, an estimated 8,000 people formed a human chain along the proposed project route, indicating popular sentiment against the project.

Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George however, dismissed all these questions and protests as the opinion of a “few organizations” and declared that it did not qualify as “the opinion of the general public”.

Disingenuously, the government has been claiming that 73 per cent of 299 people who responded when the BDA called for a public response, had supported the project. Even as the Chief Minister admitted that the BDA only gave people 48 hours to submit their views, he said: “It is wrong to say we haven't elicited public opinion before approving the project.” He then sought to blame the opposition for falsely accusing the government of “not listening to the public”. 

George even went so far as to claim that just three people with “vested interests” are opposing the project.

But the most important and worrisome development is that the Congress government stands exposed for the way it views democracy. George said, “People are not against the project. But there have been efforts to project the opinion of a few organisations as public opinion. A few organisations think that they can control the government. But government cannot be dictated by such organisations as it is a democratic setup… Only those with vested interests are opposing the project.”

It is not just ironic that an elected representative dismisses all protest as motivated by vested interests in the name of democracy, but also dangerous.

As historian Janaki Nair points out in her book Bangalore – The Promise of the Metropolis, that Bengaluru’s development has taken a decisive turn towards the city’s elite since SM Krishna’s time. However, the ideological underpinnings of this shift precede Krishna’s tenure as CM, with newspapers talking of the Pensioners’ Paradise being developed into a world class city like Singapore as early as the 1960s.

More recently, the Congress constituted a vision group to guide the state capital’s overall development. The move has been lambasted for according a place only to certain visions of development, tilted towards those already privileged.

Presently, we face yet another project that the government seeks to push through, by trampling on questions raised by the residents and by seeking to project this criticism as vested interests. However, the strong protests and focused media attention indicates that the government is on the back foot, unprepared for the disapproval. Let this be a lesson in democracy for KJ George and the Congress government. The government cannot decide what is democratic and what isn’t. For that, we have the Constitution.

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