Poorly lit and desolate, the street through the park wore an eerie, late evening look. But she had no choice. She had to walk the distance to get to her car, parked far away from her crowded office place. Shadowed by two strangers, Suhasini walked briskly, well aware of a woman’s gangrape in Cubbon Park barely a month ago!
For thousands of working women across Bengaluru, walking that last mile home is a struggle as daunting as Suhasini’s. Streetlights remain switched off with no police patrol vehicle or even a constable in sight.
Desperate to reach home safe, the women surrender to the dictates of an apathetic system. Isn’t the city’s rising crime graph against women reason enough to at least keep the lights switched on?
Despite vast dark stretches, the main roads are relatively better lit than the inner, residential lanes. But this is exactly where the safety problem is amplified.
Poor last mile transport connectivity options make it even worse. Overcharging yet unreliable autorickshaws remain the only available choice.
So, why are the streetlights switched off when they are needed the most? Inevitably, fingers are pointed at the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic agency responsible for maintaining them.
Sources say the Palike owes unpaid bills running into several crores of rupees to the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom).
Reeling under financial crises for years, BBMP finds the dues mounting over and above its average monthly electricity bills of about Rs 25 crore.
No official data
Isn’t it judicious then to identify the most unsafe stretches and at least make these well lit as a priority? The city police top brass say the beat constables do collect details about dark stretches but are helpless since it is the Palike’s task to light them. Although ichangemycity has worked out a Street Quality Score with data on safely lit streets, there are no official figures on the dark and vulnerable stretches in residential areas.
Explains a police official preferring anonymity: “Our beat constables do take note of roads that are unsafe for women. We immediately inform BBMP control room whenever streetlights are found to be non-functional. However, it is the responsibility of the BBMP to restore the streetlights.”
Barring a few inner city areas, most residential locations have several kilometers of dark stretches. The problem is alarming in many of the newly created layouts. Streetlighting is a big concern in lanes spreading out from Bannerghatta Road, Madiwala, KR Puram, Old Airport Road, Marathahalli and Yelahanka.
A Bannerghatta Road resident, Usha says the dark stretches in her locality are always a nightmare. “The cabs usually drop us till a certain point and we will have to walk for about 200-300 metres. I walk every day late in the evening on the road near Nobanagar. There is no streetlight in this road and it is scary all the time.”
Invitation to criminals
Usha is convinced that this is an invitation for unscrupulous elements to indulge in crimes against women. What makes it even more dangerous are the long distances of the dark stretches from the main roads. Since many of these poorly lit roads are also badly maintained, fleeing from danger also gets troublesome.
Sowmya Acharya, a resident of Sahakarnagar, explains her problem: “Whenever I get delayed at work, I consciously avoid walking under the Hebbal flyover or the stretch till Kodigehalli on Ballari Road. Post sunset, these areas turn pretty unsafe for women and it is difficult to get autos as well. The area under the flyover becomes more of a haunt for anti-social elements and shady characters.”
In the late evening hours, very few buses are available from under the flyover. Says Sowmya, “One has to take an autorickshaw or bus at previous stops to travel across this area.” This scenario could recur in any part of the City, since late evening commute is tiresome, unsafe and dangerously unpredictable.
Mounting unpaid bills to Bescom has obviously put the Palike in a fix. The much-talked about solar option has not taken off either. Bescom had even warned that it would disconnect power supply to new streetlights if at least half of them were not operated on solar energy. Besides the bills, it had another reason for this warning: Streetlights were not being switched off at daybreak. It had asked the Palike to opt for an automatic switching system.
Solar lights, say Bescom sources, can avoid a total blackout during power outages just like the solar-powered traffic lights that remain unaffected by power shutdowns.
If poor-lighting is a city-wide problem, it takes a nasty turn on stretches along the Outer Ring Road. As a top traffic police official informs, the areas under the ORR flyovers are in pitch darkness. The police recently wrote to the BBMP to sort out this issue at the earliest. The problem is acute near the Silk Board junction, Bellandur and surrounding areas.