Bengaluru came together at Freedom Park on Sunday, in a chorus against a mammoth steel flyover project that will strip the city bare of hundreds of fully-grown trees. The Beda Brigade’s Satyagraha has sent a powerful message to the government’s adamant stance on the project
The one good thing the steel flyover has done for the city so far is unite its people into a force the government will have to reckon with. At Freedom Park on Sunday, Bengalureans poured in like never before for the Satyagraha scheduled in protest against the government’s flyover project that will doom 800-odd trees. Unlike political rallies, no gifts were promised, no buses were arranged, no food or liquor was served. And yet, hundreds turned up.
The Gandhian protest was set to begin at 9 am, but Freedom Park was full even before that. Hundreds of citizens gathered at the venue to participate in the fast. The protesters included not only activists but celebrities, musicians, artists, industry leaders, stay-at-home moms, and even schoolchildren. Their message was so clear, even this 9-year-old could get it: “Trees give us oxygen and we should be taking care of them. I have come here to protest against the flyover because it is a holiday and I don’t want them to cut down the trees,” said Medhini Balachandran.
The Bangalore Development Authority’s decision to build a Rs1,791-crore steel flyover from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal flyover has become a bone of contention between like-minded Bengalureans and the government. Despite widespread protests against the project over serious environmental repercussions, the government has stayed unmoved.
NS Mukunda, founder president of Citizen’s Action Forum, said the government can’t bully the people anymore. “It can’t continue to destroy the city’s green cover in the name of development. For long, citizens have allowed the state to carry out these infrastructure works, but most of them have failed. It’s time we put a stop to it,” he said.
Protesters were of the view that consultation with citizens should become compulsory before any development project is taken up in the city because it is their future that was in jeopardy.
Ramesh B had come to the venue on foot, all the way from Chamarajapet. “The first week of November is over and the heat is still unbelievable. This is because in the name of development, the green cover of the city has been plundered. We don’t want to be in news like New Delhi [whose air quality has gone beyond alarming]. This is the time we put our foot down,” he said. The activist said it was time to introspect. “We want to prove it to them [the government] that this is our city and we won’t let anyone take it for granted. If required, we will up the ante, but won’t allow any more trees to be cut over whims and fancies of the government,” he said.
KH Ramalinga Reddy, an RTI activist present at the venue, said: “I have been fighting against corruption for long and I can vouch for it that development has become the biggest alibi for corruption and by this movement, citizens have made it clear that we won’t sit idle over the issue. When we say ‘steel flyover beda’, we mean it. If the state government can be adamant, then so can we.”
The gathering at Freedom Park has sent a strong message to the government. The question now is whether the government will care to listen.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I have been seeing Bengaluru since the 1940s and the conditions have changed significantly over the years. I have converted half-an-acre of land near my locality into a mini forest. I used to be a railway employee and after retirement, I am a part of the Go Green Go Cycling group that encourages the use of cycles to commute in order to avoid pollution. I want to preserve greenery, and hence I am against the flyover.
—Janardan Bylahalli Raghunath, retired Railways official
“I think they have just made up a story of planting saplings to gain support from people. Even if they do, it will not be well maintained and the cows will probably feast on them. The government should not cut trees and increase the global warming. The protest is a great attempt at saving the city from becoming a steel jungle.
— Karishma Devnani, IT employee
“I was born and brought up in Gandhinagar. I have spent eight decades here and have been a part of the highs and lows of the city. It is painful to see that a city as beautiful as Bengaluru is on the verge of becoming unattractive and unhealthy. Our forefathers made Bengaluru a golden city but it is on the verge of becoming a scrap city. I don’t have the physical ability to protest against anything but this fast today prompted me to come and show my support for the state, for the city and for the people working so hard to turn things in our favour.
— Sundar Raj, High Grounds resident
“I have grown up here since the seventies. I have witnessed the changes that it has gone through and we have all kept quiet for the longest time, but the steel flyover is an eye-opener. First I heard about the number of trees being felled and thought that it was ridiculous but then I learnt about the cost involved and thought it was even more ridiculous. This protest will surely embarrass the government into doing the right thing. We have all the facts that say how badly thoughtout this entire project is, how useless it is, what a waste of money it will be…yet, the government looks hell bent on making the flyover. We have badly built roads, there are children walking barefoot on the footpath, corporation schools are a mess – these are more important things that they should be dealing with.”
— Nazneen Tonse, creative writer
IN THE MEANTIME…
Artist Badal Nanjundaswamy’s handiwork was once again the cynosure of all eyes during the protests. Nanjundaswamy tried to create axed wooden logs and tried to give the impression that the wooden logs symbolised a cemetry. As the protest was against cutting down 812 trees for the construction of the steel flyover from Basaveshwara circle to Hebbal, the axed trees gave the perfect backdrop for the steel flyover protest. There were many a people who tried to either hold placards in front of these log images or clicking selfies. Overall, these images represented Bengalureans’ big ‘NO’ to cutting down trees.
Oxygen masks were in great demand at least at the venue. Many had carried these masks to show their anger against the steel flyover project. Some students stood at the venue by wearing oxygen masks. One of the volunteers said, “The current Delhi condition where a holiday has been declared for school children due to smog is a pointer as to what can happen to Bengaluru. We want better oxygen to breathe and this can happen only if those surviving trees are saved in Bengaluru. If government is forced to cut down trees, then it will also be forced to give oxygen masks to its citizens.”
The protest venue at Freedom park had people from all walks of life and all ages. The most noticeable were small students who had accompanied their parents and holding placards at the venue. Interestingly, some of the students seemed very passionate about what they were doing as they kept holding onto placards for most parts of the day, and were seen running around telling people that they too stand against the construction of steel flyover.
The organisers of the Sunday Satyagraha had asked people to take either the Metro or a bus to reach the venue so that mass transport is popularised. A group of 20 cyclists led by an 83-year old Janardhan BR reached the venue by cycle. They said the steel flyover project was also a green protest. The cyclists were also joined by those who wanted to popularise rail travel.
Some expats staying in Bengaluru too were part of the protest. While some of them said they were excited to be part of the urban satyagraha and had walked into the venue to extend their support, others said they were Bengalureans at heart and they wanted the Karnataka government to scrap the tenders for the steel flover project at any cost.
Jnanapeeth awardee Girish Karnad walked into the venue with portable oxygen cylinder. After Karnad spoke for sometime extending his support for the Satyagraha, everybody sat down to maintain silence for sometime before Vasu Dixith took over the stage for a performance.
Most volunteers were spotted wearing white clothes as they thought white could be associated with peace and harmony. They also tied green bands in their arms with “No!” written on it.
Credits Bangalore Mirror