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Rails vs roots: City must strike a balance

Rails vs roots: City must strike a balance

Bengaluru has lost 97 per cent of its green cover in just 50 years. It was 70 per cent in 1970, today it is less than 2 per cent, which is nothing less than a disaster.

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Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 08:09 IST
Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 08:09 IST
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There are two online petitions on change.org related to the suburban rail issue. The first one, called change.org/Stop Bengaluru Ecocide signed by almost 12,000 people, was started in 2020 against the ecocide in Bengaluru both by government projects as well as by private bodies and individuals.

Bengaluru has lost 97 per cent of its green cover in just 50 years. It was 70 per cent in 1970, today it is less than 2 per cent. This is nothing less than a disaster.

This explains the extreme heatwave and worsening microclimate of the city, along with the loss of 90 per cent wetlands and 95 per cent concretisation.

If we had a sensible city administration, it would prioritise the saving of every single tree, not allow any more felling and make it the No. 1 priority to bring back green cover to at least 30-35 per cent.

However, in project after ill-conceived project, we see that the government has no concern about the city, it is hell-bent on spending money and building non-statutory and ill-advised projects, felling thousands of trees in the process and making things worse.

The second petition called change.org/ Bengaluru Suburban Now was started in 2019 asking the government to start the suburban rail service on existing rail infrastructure.

At that time, it was recognised as an easier way to kickstart the suburban rail as it would require very little investment and it could be implemented quickly, in a matter of months, because all it required was setting up of automatic signaling, a computerised control room and crossover points or stations.

But today, it has even more relevance as it would also mean saving 35,000 trees in the city.

Since the controversy regarding the felling of trees broke out, we have updated both petitions with a release on how not a single tree must be felled, and also how the Bengaluru Suburban Now petition suggestions are apt to make this happen as not only would it not require any additional railway lines, and hence won’t require tree felling, it would also enable K-RIDE (Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) Ltd) to quicken the project, which would benefit the entire city in decongesting its roads and traffic.

The public furor about the axing of so many trees has forced K-RIDE to come out with a statement and the announcement of a public consultation. 

But here’s the thing. Every project requires a mandatory Environment Impact Assessment and Social Impact Assessment, and public consultation is meant to be part of that. That the K-RIDE did those without a public consultation shows that it has avoided the due process to begin with.

It seems obvious that now that it’s caught on the wrong foot, it is trying to make a show of fulfilling the due process in retrospect. If previous experiences with the government are anything to go by, it
will be a sham public consultation with no outcome to
be expected.  

But these unfortunately are just the symptoms. The real disease is ‘unplanned development’, which the Supreme Court called out in 2023 January when it termed Bengaluru a template for urban ruin caused by unplanned development.

It means that the State is firstly in violation of the Constitution — the 74th Amendment mandates that the city has to have a planning authority, the Metropolitan Planning Committee, capacitated with urban & transport planners, with the mandate of master-planning the city. 

The city’s master plan needs to be holistic and require both conservation of its ecology and greenery as well as include a sustainable mobility or transport plan, finding the balance through proper expertise.

Since our city doesn’t have this master plan, in blatant contempt of the Constitution, every project that it announces is technically illegal. 

Be it the metro plans, the surrounding roads project, the major roads, inner roads, or the various harebrained flyover and tunnel projects, are all non-statutory.

If someone took the government to court, these would stand exposed
as illegal and would have to be scrapped. 

Why do elected governments violate the Constitution that they swear on?  The simple reason is that they don’t care for the city. The other requirement of the 74th Amendment is that the city must have a unified, decentralised and devolved city government.

The state government has been continuously in contempt of this too. If we had a city government on these lines, it would care about the city, as it would be of the city, by the city and for the city.

The residents of the city would be in control of the city’s fate. It would be collaborative with ward committees and area sabhas; even the planning of the city would be bottom-up, rather than top-down.

The Constitution holds the key to better planning, effective governance, and the prevention of grave mistakes in Bengaluru. All we require is for citizens to persistently voice their demands, amplifying them until the government responds.

(The writer is convenor, Citizens’ Agenda for Bengaluru)

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