BJP onslaught, weak case in NGT spurred govt to scrap steel flyover

BJP onslaught, weak case in NGT spurred govt to scrap steel flyover

A losing battle in court and political onslaught by the rival BJP forced the Congress government to abruptly scrap its pet but highly controversial  project of building a 6.9-km-long steel flyover from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal.

Although activists and citizens’ groups welcomed the decision, the government’s move left them perplexed. Sources in the government, however, said it was not a sudden decision necessitated by a volley of accusations thrown by BJP legislators.

The decision to shelve the project was taken for administrative as well as political reasons. The government, sources in the Congress said, was fighting a losing battle in the National Green Tribunal’s Chennai bench, where a case has been filed against the project by two Bengaluru-based activists.

Sources said the petitioners — members of Citizens’ Action Forum (CAF) and Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB) — had a strong case. In contrast, the government’s case was weak. “It seems the government got enough hints that it’s not going to win the case. It decided to shelve the project to avoid further embarrassment,” sources said.

The tribunal is expected to pronounce the judgement in a week or two. It had given the petitioners and the respondents time to make submissions, if any, before the final hearing.

“Though the government was allowed to undertake pre-construction work and soil testing, it did not mean it had won the case. But the government was confident. It had been maintaining all along that there was no need for environmental clearance for the project,” the sources said.

The petitioners argued against the project and asked the government to explore other options such as alternative roads to the airport. The biggest stumbling block to implementing the project was the lack of environmental clearance. The Bangalore Development Authority (one of the respondents in the case) argued that the steel flyover was exempted from environmental clearance, but every project of such magnitude will have environmental impact, which should be assessed, the sources said.

‘Kickback’ nail in coffin

As if the legal hurdles were not enough, BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa’s specific accusation that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah received Rs 65 crore in kickbacks to clear the project pushed the Congress to the back foot. It was the final nail in the coffin.

Sources in the Congress said that when MLC K Govindaraj’s diary (which purportedly lists kickbacks paid to Congress leaders and the media) came up for discussion at the party’s co-ordination committee meeting, it was decided to put an end to the controversy as it could potentially damage its electoral prospects in Karnataka in general and Bengaluru (which has 28 Assembly seats) in particular.

Water meeting

At a meeting of the city’s MLAs called by Bengaluru Development Minister K J George to discuss the water crisis in the summer, Congress MLA N A Haris demanded that the steel flyover project be discussed first. BJP MLAs opposed it but ministers Ramalinga Reddy, Krishna Byre Gowda, MLAs Dinesh Gundu Rao, Munirathna, S T Somashekhar and others backed Haris. This led to heated arguments between Congress and BJP legislators.

At one point, George voluntarily declared there was no need for the project when there were so many charges of corruption against the government. He then said he would make an announcement on the project after speaking to the chief minister. He spoke to Siddaramaiah over phone, and an official statement was put out soon after.

Stating that the government scrapped the project under pressure from the BJP, Independent MLC Byrathi Suresh, who is an associate member of the Congress, walked out of the meeting. Anekal MLA, A Narayanaswamy, recorded his dissent. Govindaraj was conspicuous by his absence.

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