A city divided against itself

one
At the rally organised against the proposed steel flyover

Ipsita Kabiraj and Stephen Neil Gershom
NSoJ Bureau

A city that recently saw thousands of people forming a human chain in protest of one of the latest undertakings of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA)—a steel flyover from Bashaveshwara Circle to Hebbal— also witnessed hundreds of people taking to the streets to say “Steel Flyover Beku” (We want a steel flyover).

The 6.7 kilometre flyover that proposes to alleviate traffic woes, costing a whopping 1791 crores and the axing of over 800 trees faced dire criticism from citizens who wanted to preserve the heritage of the Garden City. Arguments were raised against the building of a behemoth in the middle of the city when development of alternative routes to the airport or development of a high speed railway line from the main metro terminal in the city would also help ease the flow of traffic. ‘Divide and rule’– a policy often undertaken to gain control over two parties by encouraging dissent between them can be used here as well; solving the problem by dividing the traffic. The authorities need to keep in mind the fact that this steel bridge would not help those who do not own vehicles and depend only on public transport.

Architect and activist Naresh Narsimhan told NSoJ, “Everything points towards the non-viability of a project like this. First of all, steel flyovers are not very aesthetic. Also, no city should bring a highway into the heart of the city, so close to the legislative centre. It’s a flyover for someone who wants to leave Bangalore and not live in Bangalore.”

However, in non-compliance with the 8000 odd citizens and activists who shouted “Steel Flyover Beda” (We don’t want a steel flyover), 500 citizens from North Bengaluru came out to voice their support for the steel flyover project. The counter-campaign saw residents of Sahakarnagar, Judicial Layout, Yelahanka, Kodigehalli and Jakkur who face the brunt of the traffic everyday en route their workplace. They argued that the building of the steel flyover will be a blessing for North Bengalurians.

“By cutting trees, the environment is surely paying a price but if we look at traffic congestion in the city, one needs to consider the amount of natural resources being wasted every day,” said Narendra Kumar, a citizen fighting for the steel flyover. Studies show that 14.3 lakh litre of petrol is wasted every month, worth Rs. 10 crores. The beku rally from Kodigehalli to Esteem Mall had students from Presidency College actively taking part. Nandhini, a second year student said, “Lots of lives have been lost at the Hebbal-Kempapura junction due to the traffic congestion. Since the Government hasn’t yet provided a skywalk for the pedestrians to safely cross the road, we are hoping that a flyover will decrease the traffic overflow at this bottleneck.” She, along with other students, pledged to plant more trees in lieu of the 800 that will be axed down.

One interesting alternative that surfaced on social media was that the Government of Karnataka should take over the golf course land and translocate all trees there to encourage afforestation. The feasibility of this solution can be debated upon, but this is just an example of how every citizen of Namma Bengaluru are concerned about the flyover, while keeping in mind the best interests of the heritage of the city.

Resident welfare associations that participated in the beku rally alleged that none of the citizens protesting against the flyover project were from north Bengaluru. “We are the ones who are suffering owing to traffic snarls every day. People sitting in south Bengaluru cannot decide on whether we should have a flyover or not,” he said.

Unperturbed with public outrage against the flyover, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said, “When the BDA opened the window for a public consultation on the steel flyover project, it received 299 responses. At least 73% were in favour of the project. Suggestions are welcome, but the project is finalized.” Recently, Bengaluru development minister KJ George tweeted an animation video of the simulation of the flyover, which in itself shows the dedication shown by the Government towards this project.

However, extending the steel flyover would violate the provisions of the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Act of 2014 as well as the buffer zone guidelines issued by the state high court and the National Green Tribunal.

The BDA has so far maintained an elusive stand on this issue even though they are at a risk to be sued by the KLCDA for not taking prior permission on violating the buffer zone of 50 meters around the Hebbal lake.

Meanwhile, the city remains divided over the development of the steel flyover as over 41,848 citizens voted against it in a campaign organised by ‘Citizens for Bengaluru’, a forum that played a major role in the protest against the impending flyover. Voices clash as citizens of Namma Bengaluru stand both united and divided over an issue that has brought everyone on their feet and out on the streets.

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