A death-trap awaits more victims

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Another day at Hebbal-Kempapura junction, Photo by Naveen Bilagi

Ipsita K and Sushmitha B
NSoJ Bureau

It has been a year and a half since the tragic demise of Arpitha Janardhan, a 19 year-old student from Sindhi College, Bengaluru. She was hit by a speeding tanker when she was waiting to cross the Hebbal-Kempapura junction.

Arpitha is just a memory now. Worse, work on the proposed sky walk at this death-trap of a junction is yet to begin.

When NSoJ students went to the college and asked about Arpitha’s needless death, students at her alma mater looked blank. When told the circumstances of her tragic death, the students were emphatic that a sky walk is needed more than ever today. They continue to put their own lives at risk every day, they stressed.

Sagarika and Rohini, third year students at the college, told NSoJ they participated in a protest on 27th February, 2015, just a day after Arpitha’s death. They, however, seemed a little fuzzy about the details of the horrific accident. “But since that day, we have had orientation classes on safety measures and traffic rules,” the students said.

When NSoJ asked Dr. B.S. Srikanta, the college principal, if the institution had taken any initiatives to engage with the authorities (the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is supposed to put up the sky walk) on the project, he was resigned to the situation. “There is no use in asking the students to go and protest again,” he maintained. “After the initial protest, the Government has realised that there is a problem here and that a sky walk is required. They are working on that,” he added.

The construction, as promised by the concerned authorities, was supposed to have been completed by March 2015. In reality, nothing much has changed. The junction continues to be a nightmare both for pedestrians and motorists. It is a bottleneck because it links the Hebbal flyover and the elevated expressway leading to the Bangalore International Airport (BIAL). And it continues to be devoid of a sky walk.

Long-standing demand

This delay or rather, this lack of action, does not surprise Hari Kanniah, the Secretary of the Coffee Board Layout Residents Welfare Association. He has been fighting for an underpass at this junction since 2004. Over the years he has sent so many letters petitioning various ministers and Government officials that today, he has compiled the missives into a book. “There have been assurances. That is all,” he said.

Mr Kanniah has also been fighting for a lift or an escalator to be provided with the sky walk to help senior citizens, persons carrying luggage (coming from the airport), physically disabled people and pregnant women to easily cross the road. However, the NHAI has clearly refused to provide a lift or an escalator, only agreeing to provide a staircase if and when the sky walk is finally built.

 

But will the sky walk actually be built? That is a question that personally affects N Shanker Murthy, Head constable at Hebbal traffic police station. “A sky walk is vital here. It will not only help pedestrians, but will also reduce our work load,” he told NSoJ. Like Mr Kanniah, Mr Murthy is also waiting for work on the project to begin.

A bottleneck

Kempapura road is a narrow lane with the under-construction Esteem Mall on the right and Columbia Asia hospital to its left. This road leads to a number of educational institutions such as Presidency College, Sindhi College and Sindhi High School. After the February 2015 protests by the students, the mall compound wall was demolished to facilitate road-widening so that there would be space for a sky walk. Columbia Asia had initially offered to fund the building of the sky walk, but at another location, catering to the needs of patients and their families. But the Government rejected this public requirement.

Professor M N Sreehari, a technical expert on the committee that planned the sky walk and a traffic expert himself, does not understand why the project is being delayed. “Resident welfare associations and local entrepreneurs are ready to help, but the Government is not bothered,” he told NSoJ. Prof. Sreehari, who is an advisor and expert member to the Government of Karnataka (BBMP, BDA, BMTC, METRO rail, Traffic Police and Transport Department) for Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure, also lashed out at this apathetic attitude. “Will more lives be lost before the authorities concerned take a decisive stand,” he wondered.

In fact, Arpitha’s death has not been an isolated incident. Anand Sampangiramaiah, 25, was also killed in that same horrific accident. Since then, other tragic deaths have occurred. Many people have also been gravely injured while crossing the junction.

Yet even today, there is no progress on this vital project. All that is visible today is a skeletal frame, supposed to be part of the staircase of the sky walk. And it is already rusting.

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