The project-people disconnect

The project-people disconnect

The project-people disconnect

Elevated flyovers of massive proportions, imposing skywalks, underpasses, wide, multi-lane, signal-free corridors… On paper, Bangalore might appear to be on the cusp of an infrastructural revolution.

But bogged out by Herculean project delays, corruption and inferior projects of the past, the average Bangalorean has an all-important query: Did we ask for it? Did they consult us? Do we matter at all?

One elevated road in the pipeline from Hebbal flyover to Chalukya Circle will cost Rs. 1,100 crore. BBMP’s rationale: To ease traffic flow from the airport to the city centre. But to make way for this, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) will tear down the existing flyover at the BDA junction. The Authority’s contention: It is a temporary structure. Everyone knows that this too was built spending crores of rupees of taxpayers’ money. Yes, without asking them!

Local residents and motorists did not ask for the National College flyover or the Tagore Circle Underpass. Neither did they want the Sankey road widening. Determined not to let the civic agencies destroy their green, clean localities, they demonstrated in huge numbers, staged vociferous protests, submitted memorandums galore. Steamrolling this very visible opposition, BBMP went ahead leaving the residents feeling utterly powerless.

Civic experts contend that even the stake-holder meetings the civic agencies conduct with NGOs before execution of mega projects, are no more than token gestures. The suggestions and objections are eventually not incorporated in the plan. For instance, the experts cite the agencies’ refusal to take note of the serious objections raised against projects implemented under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) 

Contractor lobbies

Sources, well aware of the decision-making processes in BBMP and BDA, indicate the hand of well-entrenched contractor lobbies behind projects that are unashamedly pro-transportation. Pushed through are road projects that benefit only the motorists ignoring concerns of the pedestrians, the local residents, urban aesthetics and design. The lobby’s nexus with the governing class, as a prominent urban analyst explains, extends far beyond the civic agencies into the corridors of the government.

Here’s how the nexus reportedly works: Private groups with vested interests prepare Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) rivalling those done by government agencies. The DPR showcases a road project as the perfect solution to a trafffic issue. The project is then pushed through, without consulting the public, urban designers or the road-users. As the sources reveal, the engineering, quality control and other departments are part of this  “well-oiled” system. Since there is no holistic vision or control, the project is awarded to the lowest bidder of questionable quality consciousness.

But quality too does not necessarily translate to utility. There couldn’t be a better example than the imposing cable-stayed bridge in KR Puram. Launched on January 26, 2003 by former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the 230-meter bridge (with a 180-meter cable-stayed portion) was adjudged the most outstanding national bridge by the Indian Institute of Bridge Engineers. Today, this mega structure is a study in chaos.

Over the last 13 years, the bridge has triggered more traffic congestion than arguably any other poorly designed infrastructure project in the city. Motorists and pedestrians who had an easy passage from the Ramamurthy side to Mahadevapura side, now have to traverse over five kilometers. It is a roundabout which could have been easily avoided, as CR Sridhar, a financial service provider from the vicinity, puts it.

Trigger for chaos

Things wouldn’t have gotten so messy if the civic agencies concerned had taken the views of the road-users then. People with expertise in traffic management and urban growth patterns would have projected the future implications of the project. The explosive vehicular growth, the massive developments in Whitefield, Mahadevapura and surrounding areas have today made the cable-stayed bridge and the flyovers nearby extremely chaotic. The peak-hour traffic and the lack of any big passage under the bridge barring the one near KR Puram railway station, triggers problems of mammoth proportions, a direct result of poor planning and lack of consultation.

Thousands of motor vehicles pass through this stretch. Engineer Shankar Babu is among the crowd caught every day for hours. Says he, “Instead of the bridge, they should have thought about other alternatives such as widening the road by shifting the railway tracks. The bridge acts like an obstacle by creating a traffic chaos at any point of the day. The bus stop located right at the beginning of the bridge near Tin Factory makes it even messier.”

Under the Metro Phase 2, the extension of the Baiyyappanahalli line to Whitefield will have to pass through this KR Puram stretch. Once construction work begins on this phase, the chaos will only get utterly unmanageable.

Disused skywalks

Beyond bridges, the skywalks across the city loom large as mostly unused showpieces. No one uses them because no one bothered to ask the pedestrians about the utility value or the location of such structures. As traffic expert, MN Sreehari points out, “99 per cent of the skywalks built by BBMP are wrongly located. The Palike spends about Rs. 90 lakh to 1.1 crore on each skywalk, earning advertisement revenue of Rs. 1.5 to 2 crore every year. So the agenda is to get advertisements and not serve pedestrians. Most of them are too steep to climb, and are not properly barricaded at the top.”

Sreehari wonders why the Chief Minister should not act against people who sanction projects that prove to be utterly useless. No one is held accountable even when such project works overshoot deadlines by years. Eventually, taxpayers bear the escalated cost, but many others pocket the extra bucks.

It is in this context that many urban experts are now calling for a halt to all new roads and mega infrastructure projects till a new master plan / comprehensive development plan for the city takes shape. This Plan itself should be public-sourced, and clearly demarcate different zones. The manner in which the CDP 2015 was drafted will not work anymore. Although thousands of citizens had submitted their suggestions and objections to the draft, not many found place in the final CDP.