Bengaluru: Former Chief Secretary of Karnataka, TP Issar, wrote a stirring book in the late 1980s titled The City Beautiful: A Celebration of the Architectural Heritage and City-Aesthetics of Bangalore. Much of the beauty that defined the city of that time has been lost. Yet, there remains plenty to cherish, celebrate, and protect. Thus, the deafening protest over the Siddaramaiah-led Government of Karnataka’s plan to come up with a 6.7 kilometres long steel flyover, which threatens to disfigure and vandalise the city forever, is no surprise.
“This is a poverty of imagination,” cried noted architect and vocal critic of the plan, Naresh Narasimhan. “Any substantial infrastructure development should look ahead by at least six generations. Will this steel monstrosity that is to come over the best parts of the city be looked upon as a good thing? Not at all. In fact, it is a disaster even at the planning stage,” he added.
If the Rs 1,791 crore eyesore, calculated at a mind-boggling average cost of Rs 267 crore per kilometre, ever comes up, one of Issar’s successors could well pen another book titled, Steal City, or, The City Ugly, aver furious critics who have swamped social media with stinging comments.
The worst aspect of the steel flyover, however, is that it is not integrated with any plan made by any government, past or present. This includes the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan, which was drafted by a French consortium for the 2005 to 2015 period. It is doubtful whether the Dutch group DHV, currently planning the Bengaluru CDP until 2031, would have a plan to work around this elevated road that aims to connect commuters to the Kempegowda International Airport from the vicinity of Vidhana Soudha (seat of government, heart of city) to an express road beyond the Hebbal Flyover.
“The abrupt decision to come up with this road is a process failure,” said Narasimhan.
Reputed urban interventionist Ashwin Mahesh pointed out that none of the neighbourhoods around the proposed area of the project want it. In fact, they actively oppose it.
Theatre personality Prakash Belawadi who is dead against the project couldn’t reconcile to the idea that the government was attempting to bulldoze public opinion and go ahead with the road.
“They have not done a cost-benefit analysis. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) said that they had sought public opinion and got ‘292 replies'. Can you believe this? They’ve put up some FAQ-like format of why the flyover was good for the City on the net and come up with this ridiculous reply! This is sheer arrogance. Why could they not be transparent and put the drawings and plan in public domain? Let’s have an open debate. If it's the best solution for Bengaluru then so be it. But why this secrecy and selective leaks to some media?” he demanded.
The Siddaramaiah government was quick to brand those opposed to the project as BJP supporters in a bid to make it look like a BJP-Congress divide. But most Bengalureans are furious with the blatant attempt to politicise the issue, rather than get to the root of the problem. That is to decongest roads.
Ashwin Mahesh, who is certainly not a BJP supporter, points out that “the government proposes to spend Rs 1,800 crores to benefit fewer than one lakh people, whereas the same money spent on buses would benefit 30 lakh people”.
The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) has a fleet of 6,600 buses which carry close to three million people every day. Yet these buses occupy just three percent of the roads and there is a scope to add hundreds more.
In fact, it is not just more buses. There are many options that the government could explore before needlessly saddling the citizens with this steel flyover.
The most obvious solution for the government, according to experts, would be to link up the NICE road which could serve as a peripheral ring road. The proposed semi-circle from Tumkur Road to Hosur Road via the international airport would take a chunk of the lorry traffic off the city. Additionally 30 percent of airport-bound vehicles too could take the new road and thus avoid Central Business District (CBD).
Besides, the Bengaluru Police has also suggested an alternate road to the airport which requires only a small bit of land acquisition for road widening well beyond the CBD.
Another eminently doable concept is the development of a suburban rail. The Yeshwanthpur to Hosur rail that passes close to most of the software parks has just three trains passing through in a day. More stations and intra-city trains could decongest the city spectacularly, experts point out.
Meanwhile, Mahesh held firm that dedicated bus lanes and the introduction of 3,000 additional buses could be the answer to Bengaluru’s traffic woes.
Two other solutions that could solve the issue for a long time to come are extending the existing metro to the airport and the construction of small and effective flyovers at five points: Windsor Manor, Cauvery Junction, Mekhri Circle, CBI Junction and Hebbal Flyover. The small flyovers at these five junctions would cost a total of a mere Rs 80 crore, critics pointed out. These would not only save many of Bengaluru’s heritage buildings and lung space (Balabrooie Guest House and Bangalore Golf Course to name a few) but spare hundreds of fully grown trees along the alignment.
But the government of Karnataka is adamant to build the steel flyover. Its cabinet has ratified the proposal in a tearing hurry and now seeks to ram the steel flyover down the throat of the citizens; environment, heritage or public opinion be damned.
Perhaps the Congress does not expect to be back in power after the state elections scheduled for 2018, and this could be the reason for it to rush through with this ill-conceived hyper-expensive steel flyover.