Junking steel flyover, victory for people

After vehemently, but totally irrationally, defending its proposal to build a hugely expensive ‘steel flyover’ in Bengaluru city for months, the Siddaramaiah government has at last decided to cancel the project, bowing to public pressure opposing it. The project idea lacked transparency from the beginning and the government remained indifferent and unresponsive to criticism. Even as there was a spontaneous and sustained campaign from the people against the project, allegations of corruption flew thick and fast, putting the government on the defensive, though it denied the same. But, just a few days ago, when the BJP came out with a purported ‘diary,’ allegedly exposing bribery charges against the government in connection with the project, there was no convincing reply rebutting it. But, ultimately, the decision to scrap the project is a huge victory for people’s power in a democracy and it needs to be welcomed. The government finally saw reason in junking the project by positively responding to the voices of criticism, and as a senior Congress leader put it, avoided building, what would have been “a monument to corruption.”

Looking back at this unpleasant episode, there are many lessons to be learnt. Apart from the prohibitive costs of construction and maintenance, the steel bridge elicited all-round criticism because of its environmental impact, both in terms of cutting down over 800 full-grown trees and the heat the bridge would have perennially generated once completed. Besides, experts pointed out that the 6.7 km-long monstrous structure estimated to cost Rs 1,791 crore (and likely to go up) in the heart of the city would have merely transferred the traffic bottleneck from one point to the other, without solving the problem of vehicular congestion. No public hearing was conducted before announcing the project. Deccan Herald was the first newspaper to report on the ill-conceived flyover on June 12, 2016 and raise some pertinent questions, which were followed up by the other media, leading to a huge public debate. It was refreshing to see citizens organise themselves, hold peaceful protest meetings and get experts to question the viability of the project. A voluntary group called Citizens for Bengaluru mobilised an impressive human chain opposing the project and when the government claimed that around 200 people had supported the steel flyover, the NGO collected some 50,000 signatures opposing it.

It needs to be stressed that while citizens should remain vigilant about the use of taxpayers’ money and usefulness of the projects being taken up, the government – the present and the future ones – should adopt transparency and public hearing as the mantra for accountability and good governance. Instead of arrogating all the powers to themselves, the government functionaries should understand that they have much to gain from co-opting people in the development process.

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