Citizens form human chain to protest against steel flyover in Bengaluru

Hundreds of Bengaluru’s citizens formed a human chain on Sunday morning to protest against a Karnataka government move to build a 6.72-km steel flyover that will cut across the heart of the city.

The flyover, which seek to provide seamless commute between the international airport and the city, will run over heritage sites and result in cutting of 812 trees. The stretch connects city centre Basaveshwara circle with Hebbal, a node that leads to an expressway connecting the Bengaluru airport. People from various walks of life — domestic helps, auto-rickshaw drivers, business leaders, politicians and college students — protested against the project from 8 am to 11 am. Civic activists have been trying to mobilise people to participate in the human chain using social media.

The protesters demanded that work on the flyover should not take place and a public meeting be held to discuss holistic development of the city. Bharatiya Janata Party leader and city MLA Suresh Kumar joined the human chain saying the project would create a bigger traffic mess rather than solve it. “BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) should call for a public hearing and meet the civic activist groups fighting against this. They should also give the reason for a sudden hike in the budget for this project, which is about Rs 1,900 crore,” said Kumar. “In 2010, when the BJP was in power, the idea was brought up by the then BDA commissioner, but they themselves dropped the plan.”

BDA is the nodal agency to implement the project, whose contract has been given to Larsen and Toubro and Nagarjuna Ltd for completion in 24 months. As the technology hub of India, Bengaluru is among the fastest growing metros but it lacks efficient public transport.

There are few public buses than required on Bengaluru roads; the Metro rail is still in its first phase carrying 160,000 passengers a day and a three-decade plan for a commuter rail system — the cheapest solution so far — has been shelved repeatedly. A plan by liquor baron Vijay Mallya two decades ago to set up elevated light rail system was scrapped after it was found unviable by the state. There have been discussions on monorail but it has never taken off.

Citizens have sought long-term integrated solutions to ease Bengaluru’s traffic mess than band-aid fixes such as the flyover.  “People’s support is very important. What we see today is the spirit of Bengaluru citizens to keep the city safe and traffic free. We need more people to join to put pressure. The flyover is just going to shift traffic from one point to another and not reduce it,” said Ashwin Mahesh, a civic activist and an urban planning expert.

The proposed flyover will reduce the travel time to airport by seven minutes and most citizens and civic activist have said that this is a move to help only the elite who travel to the airport and not the public in general. According to Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who is a Rajya Sabha member, this a misuse of citizens’ money by the government. Sridhar Pabbisetty, founder of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, who has filed a public interest litigation in the Karnataka High Court against the project, said the massive public support was a major win for their cause.

The government has defended the project saying 60,000 saplings will be planted outside of Bengaluru to compensate for the loss of trees in the city centre.

“There are a lot of alternative measures the government can take rather than this steel flyover. There is a railway line which they can extent. They can also extend the metro and also develop the road route via Begur. The steel flyover has become a prestige issue for the government. I understand that some tress will have to be cut for development, but we should try to minimise the damage,” said Suresh Heblikar, a Kannada filmmaker and a well known environmentalist.

Heblikar suggested that the money used to build the flyover be instead spent on running more buses to the airport and within the city. Civic activist are now organising an open discussion on October 23 where legal, environmental and urban experts as well as citizens will be invited to give their views. Naresh Narasimhan, a prominent Bengaluru architect, who leads a collective Citizens Against Steel Flyover, said they will continue the fight until the contract for the flyover is not taken back.

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