Bengaluru steel flyover is anti-citizen and anti-environment; the city deserves better
Let me tell you why I think the proposed steel flyover project in Bengaluru is illegal, anti-citizen, anti-environment
Let me tell you why I think the proposed steel flyover project in Bengaluru is illegal, anti-citizen, anti-environment and, evidently, with the malafide intent of some sections of the Government of Karnataka (GoK).
Let me also submit that I belong to the forum named Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), now representing thousands of concerned citizens, with numbers growing by the hour. This argument is a collation of many contributions, particularly owing to legal and analytical citations by Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group (ESG).
GoK proposes to build a steel flyover starting at the heart of the city, next to Vidhana Soudha, the home of both the legislature and secretariat, from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal flyover, with connecting ramps on Race Course Road, Palace Road, Vidhana Soudha Road and Raj Bhavan Road.
The project envisages a 6.7 kilometre stretch of a six-lane steel flyover to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 2,200 crores that will save, even by the Government's own claim, only between 7-15 minutes of travel time, bring down 812 fully grown trees and erase heritage memories along one of the most verdant and beautiful stretches of our beloved city.
GoK, as represented by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and the Minister for Bengaluru Development, KJ George, has declared its intent to go ahead with this project in spite of the widest public opprobrium and disgust expressed in newspapers and TV channels, on Facebook and Twitter, and a human chain protest that saw the participation of more than 8,000 concerned citizens on Sunday, 16 October 2016 along the stretch that is proposed for an ugly transformation due of this flyover.
Nearly 35,000 people have signed online petitions against the flyover proposal, over 100,000 tree lovers have opposed the project by giving a missed call to the an organisation named Jhatkaa, a Public Interest Litigation against it has been filed by Namma Bengaluru Foundation in the High Court of Karnataka, and thousands of people are putting their names and signatures on ballot papers across Bengaluru saying 'NO - BEDA' to the flyover even as this is being typed out.
The poll ends on Sunday and a final count will be published.
But in the face of such intense opposition to the project, the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) met on 20 October, and decided to issue the work order to the contractor L&T to execute this controversial project. Mr George also told media, dismissing public anger about the project, that he would go ahead with it.
Our grounds for anxiety
1. The proposed project is being undertaken without due consultation process that is to be followed as required by the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961. The consultation followed by BDA in June 2016 was a sham, with the Government claiming 299 responses by e-mail and telephone calls, of which 73 percent apparently approved of the proposal. The Detailed Project Report, prepared more than a year ago, itself was released only on 15th October 2016, after widespread public protests, with no recourse for pubic opinion. BDA in its original notification on 27th of June 2016 neither specified the details of the project, including loss of green cover, nor the intended public space acquisition. So what were the 219 responses "approving". The BDA has not revealed what the responses were saying, how many were by e-mail and how many telephonic. Many e-mail responses opposing the idea bounced because a wrong e-mail id was notified by BDA and when the correction was made, the window of opportunity to respond was less than 48 hours.
2. The Government has changed the project after the sham consultation, increasing the cost from Rs 1,350 crores to Rs 1,791 crores. On 19 October 2016, BDA put out a new idea, extending the proposed steel flyover to be above the existing Hebbal flyover, up to Esteem Mall, again without public consultation. This revision has not been approved by Cabinet and GoK is not revealing whether re-tendering is required. In fact, it is amending the project on a day to day basis, and now it seems the cost estimate is at Rs 2,200 crores.
3. The flyover project is an illegal project and in Contempt of several Judicial Orders. In response to a PIL filed by Environment Support Group (WP 13241/2009) against the Metro project, the Karnataka High Court had ruled that "the State Government, as also, the Bangalore Development Authority shall comply with the procedure contained in Sections 29, 30, 31, 32 and 34 of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1962". The Court had observed that the Counsels for the state and BDA "agree that the provisions referred to hereinabove, shall be complied with, without any deviation whatsoever." While it was too late to apply this order to Phase I of the Metro, the Court had made it explicitly clear that, moving forward, in case of any violation of this law, and the Court's direction, "the concerned officer/official shall be held responsible for his having disobeyed the order passed by this Court, as also the prescribed mandate of law."
4. The prescribed mandate of law per the KTCP Act is that planning and development of urban infrastructure projects and concomitant changes in land use plans must involve the wide public at the stage of conceptualisation, approval and costing. The plans, schemes and budgets are to be put in the public domain and due public hearing processes have to be held to ensure there is no violation of statute or corruption in any form. The Steel Flyover proposal of BDA, pushed through by the Chief Minister, comprehensively fails this test, is being promoted in abject violation of the law and is an act that is clearly in Contempt of Court.
5. The project also qualifies as an Area Development Project per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. What this means is no work can commence until and unless the project is approved by the Environmental Clearance Authority, and that too based on comprehensive Environment Impact Assessments and Environmental Public Hearing.
6. Another serious statutory violation in aggressively promoting the project is that BDA claims approval of the State Cabinet as a sufficient basis to get going. This is an absolutely wrong presumption. Since the enactment of the Nagarpalika Act, 1992, such projects can only be proposed after due review from economic, social, financial and environmental angles by the Constitutionally mandated Metropolitan Planning Committee, which has been formed already by GoK. Upon the approval of the MPC, the project can then be forwarded by the State Finance Commission to the State Cabinet for final approval, pending other statutory clearances, as cited above. None of these constitutionally mandated provisions have been conformed with in this case.
The project has not been placed before the MPC.
7. The knee jerk idea of extending the flyover beyond Hebbal lake is alarming. It seems that the extension will be right through the lake. This would risk the Karnataka Government being in contempt of the Karnataka High Court order in WP 817/2008 (Environment Support Group and ors. vs. State of Karnataka and ors.), in which the Court protected lakes from any further encroachment and also determined that there would be a "no-development zone" 30m from the legal limits of the lake. That zone would be extended by 2 metres for every 5 ha increase in lake area beyond the initial norm of 40 ha. Such was the concern the Court expressed against encroachment of lakes, that it also specifically directed that even walking paths could not come inside a lake.
8. No permission has been obtained from the Tree Council, set up under the High Court's order in 2010, for mass cutting of trees. The project should not have been formulated without first debating the loss of greenery it would cause, and that after placing before the public all the viable alternatives and making a case that this steel flyover, and that alone, is the right one. This decision is in the 7th August 2014 direction of the Karnataka High Court in WP 7288/2011, a PIL taken up Suo Moto by the Court in response to serious concerns raised by then Judge of the High Court, Justice Shylendra Kumar, over the mass felling of trees in Bangalore. In this order, apart from many innovative aspects introduced to protect greenery, the Court observed "We deem it necessary to direct that felling of trees would be undertaken as an exception rather than a rule, and further that the tree officer and tree authority would fully satisfy themselves and certify that all other alternatives have been considered regarding the feasibility of the felling of trees. If any objections are received from the public, due consideration shall be given by assigning reasons."
Several laws and the Constitution are being ignored by the Government in pursuing this project. The project is being pursued in haste. Green and heritage spaces on this road, including the Bangalore Golf Club, Carlton House and Balabrooie Guest House are under imminent threat of damage. The flyover will not only destroy the aesthetic experience of the drive along the stretch, but add to vehicular pollution and is estimated by some experts to raise the heat factor by 2-3 degrees Celsius. It will block out sunlight and prevent air flow. It will affect the health of the residents.
There are other safety and security concerns about the proposed flyover expressed by experts that are relevant to vital installations in the city and to the CM's residence and Raj Bhavan.
Estimates for the cost of the project with public money as provided by the Governments own officers are far below the cost given in the public domain without inclusion of other costs of acquisition of land and property along its route, a part of which are in the domain of the armed forces.
All of this leads the people who are opposing this flyover to believe that this is both a gross waste of our tax money, and the entire process and costing of the same is not bonafide.
Citizens for Bengaluru will not rest till this tender is cancelled.
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