The government has earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for the project in the current fiscal, while only 100 crores has been allotted to BMTC.

Trees livelihoods True cost of Bengalurus elevated corridor goes beyond Rs 16K crRepresentational image
news Civic Issues Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 17:52

‘High-speed’ exclusive elevated roads is an idea that successive governments in Karnataka have tried to propose, with little success. It was proposed by former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in his 2015 budget and dropped after stiff opposition. It has been reintroduced by current Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy in his budget.

Dismissed by subject matter experts and citizen activists multiple times as a purpose-defeating costly exercise, CM HD Kumaraswamy proposed to build a pan-city network of flyovers at a cost Rs 15,825 crore over the next four years in his recent budget.

The government has earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for the project in the current fiscal. In contrast, only Rs 100 crore has been given to the BMTC as a subsidy under the same budget.

Read: Elevated corridor won’t solve Bengaluru’s traffic: Experts on budget proposal

Notably, the infamous steel flyover project, which was a part of this integrated elevated corridor project, was shelved owing to massive pressure from citizen groups and litigation.

Read: Massive win for citizen groups, Karnataka scraps Bengaluru steel flyover project

The true cost of building the controversial 95 km long elevated corridor in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion is not only limited to the financial toll on the exchequer but also has social and ecological implications. By modest estimates, 3,600 trees will be culled for the project.

“The felling of the trees will, of course, increase urban heat islands, so the city is going to get hotter and hotter. The second thing that is going to happen is the air pollution will increase. We have a lot of research in Bengaluru itself, that shows that street trees really reduce air pollution levels,” Harini Nagendra, Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University tells TNM.

“The other issue often overlooked is social implications of such an infrastructure project beyond the direct ecological impact,” she adds.

Harini says that street vendors set up shops in the shade of trees.

“All of these transactions typically happen in shade, so we have seen this consistently that if you cut trees, the amount of street activity comes down and becomes a place only for motorised transport. This really affects a lot of people like domestic workers, construction labourers, garment industry workers, and of course, street vendors,” she says.

This, however, is not all that is wrong with the proposed project, say experts. The government seems to ignore or bypass mandated legal procedures before mentioning the project in the Budget.

Mythreyi Ramesh, a lawyer practicing at the Karnataka High Court, states that before allocating any money for the project, the government needs to get certain clearances.

"For any construction project which is larger than 20,000 sq mts, as per 8a and 8b of the Environment Impact Assessment notification passed in 2006, they have to get an assessment done," she told TNM.

This is the same reason why the National Green Tribunal, the country's top green court, flagged the steel flyover project.

“Moreover, the Karnataka Tree Conservation Act says that that for any project that involves cutting over 50 trees first needs to go through a public consultation process.   

Read: Another steel flyover in Bengaluru, but the objections are still the same

Harini echoes the view of transportation experts, and maintains that the elevated corridor project is an unwise decision. 

“To begin with, it will increase congestion during the construction process and we know all these projects never work on time. Once it's built, for some time, it will help reduce congestion. But if you talk to traffic experts and look at studies from across the world, increasing road space is never going to help in the long term.”

She says that although the project was pitched with the objective of reducing congestion, it will encourage private cars.

“The solution lies in more buses and metros, and we could have done a lot more with the suburban trains. These would have cut down our petrol/diesel expenditure, which would have made the city more climate-friendly and reduced the carbon footprint,” she says.