Bengaluru steel flyover: NGT stay has bought us time to gear up for legal battle, say petitioners
The NGT stay on Bengaluru steel flyover project for four weeks has bought the campaigners and petitioners time to regroup and get their papers to gear up for the next legal and political phase of the battle. Firstpost reached out to the founder president of CAF, NS Mukunda to gather further details on their petition and the NGT stay.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday restrained the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) from proceeding with the steel flyover project for four weeks because it had not got any environmental clearance. This has bought the campaigners and petitioners time to regroup and get their papers to gear up for the next legal and political phase of the battle.
The petition against the steel flyover was filed by the Citizens' Action Forum (CAF), a decade-old non-profit civil society organisation, which has been bringing into notice several civic issues faced by Bengaluru.
The petition raised the point that the project has been implemented without obtaining environmental clearance under the EIA Notification, 2006; the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Furthermore, the project did not consult public which is mandatory. The state authorities, too, failed to address the concerns raised by the urban planning experts and concerned citizens.
The citizens' campaign against the Rs 1,791-crore steel project gathered support from several citizens' organisations, including CAF. Considered to be the longest flyover at a 6.72 km stretch, it was expected to be completed in 24 months. The project was given to Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) and Nagarjuna Ltd, with the BDA overseeing it. The BDA was to acquire around one acre for the project. The steel flyover would have involved the destruction of three flyovers, two skywalks and one magic box underpass and the chopping of 812 trees, intrinsic to the spirit of Bengaluru. The Karnataka government had given a go ahead for the project and the BDA had even issued a letter of acceptance to L&T on Wednesday, as they felt that highway projects did not need any environmental clearance.
Firstpost reached out to the founder president of CAF, NS Mukunda to gather further details on their petition and the NGT stay.
FP: How has the NGT stay benefited you?
Mukunda: We filed the petition a couple of days ago and our lawyers informed us that we had got a stay for one month. Now, we can sit across the table with the government and ask it to reconsider the project, talk technicalities and functionalities of the project and discuss alternate proposals. I don’t have the details yet, the NGT order will probably come after the Diwali holidays.
FP: Why do you think the government was so adamant to go ahead with the project despite so much opposition from the citizens?
Mukunda: It's purely a political issue, it had become the Congress vs the others.
FP: Also, how did the BDA go ahead with the project without environmental clearance?
Mukunda: The BDA felt that highway projects don’t need environmental clearance, but now that NGT has ordered a stay they cannot wiggle out of this. They must acquire environmental clearance.
FP: What does this mean for the steel flyover "beda" campaign now? Where do you go from here?
Mukunda: It only strengthens our case. As far as the legal battle is concerned, we now have time to collect more documents and papers that have been written by Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and other bodies on traffic-related issues to support our case. The stay has also bought us time to work on the political front. Plus, we need to address the issues that the "Beku" group is raising with concrete ideas on why the steel flyover is a flop. They have genuine concerns – we need to create more awareness among them about the alternate solutions to their immediate traffic congestion issues.
We have to also form core groups to tackle the legal, technical and political fronts.
FP: Will you be reducing the public mobilisation campaign now?
Mukunda: No, we have already begun setting up social media groups with key volunteers in every area to channelise the ground-level support we got for this campaign. We need the participation of citizens in all major and key issues concerning the city in the future too.
FP: So, what are your alternative proposals to the steel flyover?
Mukunda: The steel flyover is not a long-term solution. Even after a year, we will be facing the same traffic congestion. Erecting the flyover would have only been a short-term solution at an astronomical cost of Rs 2,000 crores. There are enough studies to show that airport passenger traffic will cross 35 million in 10 to 12 years, from the 17 million today. This means that about 6.5 lakhs vehicles will be passing through the Kempegowda International Airport route on a daily basis. The steel flyover wouldn't work in this situation.
One of the cost-effective and long-term alternative solutions can be to develop two alternate roads and revive the commuter rail links to the airport. Right now, 40 percent of the air traveller traffic comes from Krishnarajpuram, Whitefield and Hosekote. Another 30 percent comes from Electronic City and Athibele and the rest comes from Central Business District (CBD) and other areas in Bengaluru. All these converge on the Hebbal flyover, creating traffic congestion.
Part A of the alternate proposal is to segregate this traffic. Strengthening the existing alternate roads through road widening and improvements so that all commuters don't have to use the Hebbal flyover. CBD and other areas can continue to use the Hebbal flyover, but travellers from the other two regions can use these two alternate roads.
Part B is to develop the commuter rail links. One circuit can run from Whitefield to Devanahalli KIA and another from E-city to Devanahalli. The rail link will ease 25 percent of the traffic. Unfortunately, unlike other countries, Indian air travellers prefer private vehicles over the rail link to reach the airport. That's why the proposal allocates only 25 percent traffic to the rail link. But the other 75 percent traffic can be taken care of by the three roads.
Of course, all this will take two years, but the steel flyover would also have taken two years. Here we have a long-term solution which will cost only Rs 2,500 crores. It will have no environmental pollution and will not disrupt regular airport traffic as the steel flyover project would have done.
FP: What are the other issues undertaken by CAF?
Mukunda: We get involved with most problems concerning Bengaluru, be it water, traffic, building violations and garbage. Our motive is to get citizens involved in decisions that affect our day to day life in the city.
In 2008, we won the property tax petition where the government wanted to impose tax on capital value of a property, we got it done on the annual rental value of a building instead. This was our major victory.
We have also taken up the issue of Cauvery water supply to Bengaluru. We have research on our side to prove that we have enough water to cater to Bengaluru’s drinking water needs and we don't need Cauvery water. We need to interconnect Arkavathy to all the lakes; revive 217 lakes in Bengaluru; and make all the catchment areas in these lakes work. We have enough rainwater, but most of it goes into stormwater drains and gets mixed with sewage. It is estimated, that every person needs 135 litres of water, but 65 litres of this precious Cauvery water that has been pumped up to Bengaluru gets flushed down the toilets. Through a four-pronged program, we can create enough water for the city and if we do this, Cauvery water can be used as a buffer.
Our fourth area of work is traffic issues and the steel flyover comes under this.
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