The controversial steel flyover project brought together Bengaluru’s citizens like seldom before. From online petitions to making a human chain in protest of the project, citizen activists kept the ‘Steel flyover Beda’ campaign alive in various ways.
And now that Urban Development Minister KJ George has announced that the flyover project will be scrapped, citizen groups are taking a moment to celebrate, but also maintain that the struggle is far from over.
Theatre artist Prakash Belawadi has been closely associated with the Citizens Against Steel Flyover group. He notes that George has said that the order for scrapping the steel flyover will be formalised only in the next Cabinet meeting.
“The congratulatory messages have already started pouring in though. I think that would act as a pressure for the government to not go back on their word (at the Cabinet meeting),” he says.
Prakash also believes that there is a long way to go for citizen activists. “This is only the beginning of the struggle. There’s a lot to be done: saving trees, demanding public transport like buses and suburban trains, restoring the city’s lakes, to name a few,” he says.
He also explains that it’s not about the Congress government that’s in power but the “bureaucrat-led” ideology which they are against.
“We don’t want a confrontation with the government, that’s the absolute last resort. We are definitely looking to engage with them more,” Prakash maintained.
Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, CXO search consultant and a core member of Citizens for Bengaluru group, says that this is not the time to do a victory dance, but to “take a deep breath and a moment to reflect”.
“The last few months have been exhausting. And while this (scrapping of the steel flyover project) is great, think about how much our beautiful city has lost because we didn’t speak up earlier, like we did here,” she says.
Priya advises that it is time to inflect and also think ahead: “We lit a match now and look how the fire spread. Thousands took to the streets. Now imagine, with concrete suggestions, we don’t just have to oppose something but can also give solutions.”
Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, also said in a statement that while this was a “great moment”, it was also upon citizens to ponder as to what to do next. He lists three demands:
1. Bengalureans must persistently participate in active citizen activism and involve themselves in shaping the city’s future. One way to do it is to demand due, effective and deliberate public consultations for such projects. There should be a large turnout in every such public consultation.
2. Citizens must demand for the government to work on a multi-year comprehensive city development plan encompassing zoning, mobility, public health, environment and heritage.
3. Going forward the government must be held accountable for public money, assets and contracts. In case of the steel flyover project, there needs to be a thorough investigation as to why such an ill-conceived infrastructural plan was being pushed aggressively.
Our immediate demand is that Government should provide a comprehensive and transparent mobility plan, which is formulated with the assistance of urban experts,” he says in the statement. “The plan must look at alternative solutions with due emphasis on protecting the environment and should be followed by due deliberation and effective public consultation.
However, this is a moment of pride for Bengaluru, citizen activists say.
“People think that Bengaluru began when ITPL came up. But it has been around for much longer. And this struggle showed a shift - from consumers, we became citizens,” Priya says.