An elevated corridor to nowhere

At an international conference in Bengaluru which showcased how incentivising public transport buses had solved traffic congestion in several cities across the world, a decision-maker in Karnataka, when asked to respond, said, “Yes, we too are doing our best to solve traffic congestion. We are building elevated corridors for cars”. We have been hearing many more such wondrous statements on how to de-congest traffic in Bengaluru.   

Much has been already written on the absence in public domain of the feasibility report, the cost-benefit analysis and the rationale of how this elevated corridor is the most affordable and sustainable solution, when compared to various other options available, such as more public transport buses, bus-priority lanes, feeder systems, suburban rail, etc, and the disincentivisation of private vehicles.

There has also been total indifference to scientific studies pointing out the futility of this project and the high pollution it will cause. The violation of various laws, the lack of due process and the forgotten promise of public consultation in approving this mega project have also been pointed out by various citizens’ groups.

A consultation organised by the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) revealed that Rs 1 lakh crore is being spent merely to ease the traffic problem of Bengaluru, which includes the elevated corridor, Metro rail, Peripheral and Satellite Township Ring Roads, etc. A pertinent question is, what happens to the development of the rest of Karnataka if Rs 1 lakh crore is spent to merely tackle one problem of Bengaluru, and that too on measures that won’t solve it?

An analysis of the state budget of July 2018 shows that the combined total amount allocated for fulfilling the basic needs of six crore Kannadigas is Rs 25,508 crore — food security (Rs 3,866 cr), health (Rs 9,317 cr), education (Rs 2,658 cr, excluding salaries), housing (Rs 3,942 cr) and women and children’s development (Rs 5,725 cr).

This is almost equal to the estimated cost of Rs 25,000 crore for the elevated corridor alone, meant for Bengaluru’s 15 lakh car-owners. It can be assumed that less than Rs 1 lakh crore was spent on these basic needs over the last five years, which is the projected amount to solve Bengaluru’s traffic problem alone.

The previous Congress government spent Rs 19,561 crore over five years for the beleaguered farm sector, which sustains almost four crore people in the state. This amount, too, is less than the cost of the elevated corridor. While the government is finding it difficult to adhere to its promise to waive farmers’ loans of Rs 34,000 crore, it is determined to go ahead with the elevated corridor.

While the state budget of February 2018 says that under the Hyderabad-Karnataka Region Development (HKRD) scheme, a sum of Rs 3,750 crore has been sanctioned in the last five years, one HKRD Board member claims that since 2013, the Board has received Rs 2,928 crore, out of which only Rs 2,745 crore has been spent. Is it any wonder then that swarms of migrants from these underdeveloped areas rush to Bengaluru to eke out a living and live in squalid squatter settlements here, making investment for more infrastructure in Bengaluru inevitable?

More than 6.18 lakh households are estimated to be in such slums in the state. Slum Janandolana leaders at the BBPV consultation revealed that only 36,000 houses have been built for slum-dwellers in the last five years. Slum Janandolana contends that five lakh houses can be built with the Rs 25,000 crore for the elevated corridor, and cities made almost slum-free. While 20,000 acres of land are encroached in Bengaluru, only 92 acres have been given for housing slum-dwellers.  

Children are the future of this country. But how do they fare? During the last five years, only 1,987 anganwadi buildings have been completed and 2,314 buildings are under progress in the entire state, whereas analyses reveal that 8,000 anganwadis are needed in Bengaluru alone. But only Rs 17.5 crore is earmarked this year to start a mere 250 new anganwadis in urban areas. A mere Rs 10 crore is earmarked to set up 100 mobile anganwadis/crèches for construction workers’ children.

Only Rs. 2,430 crore remains for the actual betterment of education out of the budgeted Rs 26,864 crore as 90% of it goes towards salaries. Recent reports point out that 5,272 villages do not have the mandated primary school within 1 km radius. As an expert revealed at the BBPV consultation, out of one lakh posts sanctioned for teachers, 28,000 are vacant. Over 73,000 classrooms were unusable in 2016. A mere Rs 150 crore has been allocated for school repairs this year.

So, can we prioritise affordable public transport, increased investment in the under-developed areas and other cities of Karnataka to stem migration to Bengaluru, and the fulfilment of the basic rights of citizens, rather than dreaming of building elevated corridors that lead us nowhere?

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bangalore)

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An elevated corridor to nowhere

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