N Sivasailam, BMRCL chief, explained Metro’s position to a group of citizens waiting to hear him out, while those against the tree felling and metro’s way of functioning voiced their protest. However, on the question of the Metro using the Lalbagh and R V Road, the Metro’s own Detailed Project Report and Sivasailam’s explanations do not sit well together.
The morning of Saturday, 9th May, saw a motley crowd of hundreds assemble along RV Road (popularly called Nanda Road) in Jayanagar. Two events were being held simultaneously. The first had been called by Jayanagar MLA Vijaykumar, who at the behest of Citizen’s Action Forum and some Jayanagar Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), had invited N Sivasailam, Managing Director (MD), Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (BMRCL), to talk to residents about the impact of Namma Metro on trees along Nanda Road.
The second, a protest meeting had been called by the coalition Hasiru Usiru (HU), media collective Maraa, women’s organisation Sanmathi and the Lakshman Rao Park Walkers Association.
While the protesters were against the tree felling and at being denied a say on something that is going to affect their lives so drastically, the general sentiment of the RWA members seemed to be that the Metro is needed to improve the traffic situation.
The presence of two groups with divergent viewpoints explained the unusual sight of banners proclaiming “We support Namma Metro”, hanging next to banners about saving trees and exhorting Metro to go underground.
Saturday morning’s meeting between two distinct groups saw plenty of drama. Said an indignant Subhadra Venkatappa, Jayanagar resident and Prof Rajeev Gowda’s mother, “I didn’t come to all those protests. We need the Metro to improve the traffic.” Added an agitated Anil Gupta, who lives along Nanda Road, as he chastised a protester, “You should have said this four years ago.”
Narayan Margasahayam, 83 years old, seemed largely okay with the current plan but was miffed at not being included in the decision-making: When Sivasailam said “all designs were finalised”, he shot back: “But without the consent of the public.”
As Vijayakumar together with Sivasailam and his band of Metro engineers walked into the site of the future Jayanagar Metro station near 30th Cross, they were bombarded with questions by people concerned about their parks. “Why can’t the Metro go via KR Road?” thundered one. “How many trees are going to go here?” questioned another. A heated war of words ensued between those wanting to hear out Metro officials’ plans and those wanting answers immediately, until finally, questioners from HU and like-minded organisations were shouted down and literally shunted out.
As the demonstrators retreated to the adjacent park to continue their protests with songs and slogan-shouting, other residents, most of whom appeared to favour the current alignment, accompanied Metro officials on their site visit. Capt. Doddihal, Chief Engineer, BMRCL, and Sivasailam, explained that 8.5 meters of park land on either side of Nanda Road would be taken up for two stations, the so-called Jayanagar Station at 30th Cross and the RV Road Station near 40th Cross.
“We also want trees and beauty in the stations,” said Sivasailam, “but it is not possible to build stations without cutting trees.” According to him, trees along the alignment between stations would mostly be pruned and not cut, a pronouncement that was met with applause by the crowd. He said 188 trees would be cut along RV Road, of which only 41 would be cut along the viaduct, and the remaining to make way for stations.
“No vendors, no shops, no parking in any of the stations here,” said Sivasailam, Metro Chief on Jayanagar station.
The Jayanagar station would have a generator room at one end, said Sivasailam, but there would be “no vendors, no shops, no parking in any of the stations here,” he emphasised over and over. He also said that there would not be any bus stations, only 3 bus bays on either side of the road at each station. These would not affect traffic on the main road, nor would service roads be affected in any way, he said to more cheers from the listening crowd.
Alternatives not possible
In response to a question by Citizen Matters on the feasibility of the KR Road alignment, which HU has suggested as an alternative straight alignment that would spare both Lalbagh and Nanda Road, Sivasailam dismissed it as techno-economically impossible, elaborating that it was not possible to take the Metro along KR Road since ridership was lower there than in the current alignment.
To further questions by Citizen Matters on the possibility of underground stretches, Sivasailam responded, “The government in its wisdom has decided the Metro will be above-ground,” adding, “You would need 30 feet by 30 feet areas for service areas, ventilators would be required, air-conditioning ducts… 3-storeyed structures would need to be built… more land would be needed and more trees would be cut.”
As several citizens asked repeatedly about trees, Sivasailam said he would have Metro-affected trees colour coded, with one colour for trees to be cut, one for those to be pruned and a third for trees that fell within the project area but which would not be cut.
Clash of two opinions
At the end of the walk down to 40th Cross, Metro officials and MLA Vijaykumar returned to address the protesters waiting at 32nd Cross Park. Tense moments followed as the early morning clash between pro- and anti-current alignment groups was replayed. Several protesters reported being intimidated and threatened into silence by some members of the Federation of Jayanagar Resident’s Associations.
After a brief speech by Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group and HU, MLA Vijaykumar urged the protesters to meet with BMRCL officials in their office to get their doubts cleared. Prof BK Chandrashekar addressed the restive crowd, saying that while the Metro was important for Bangalore, it needed to be discussed properly in the legislature. He expressed his disappointment on the chief minister ruling out changes in alignment and also echoed the idea voiced by many residents of having only one station along Nanda Road as a means of reducing the amount of parkland affected.
Sivasailam then took the mike, sparking off a flurry of questions from the protesters. “How did you give Lalbagh and Cubbon Park to the Metro? Ordinances are only for emergency situations,” said one. “How would you feel if the Metro went over your house?” screamed another excited protester. An equally angry N Mukund, of Citizen’s Action Forum and the Jayanagar 5th Block Residents Association responded, “Why are you asking him these things? Ask pertinent questions.”
Responding then to queries on alternative alignments, Sivasailam said that the BMRCL was “only an implementing agency, not an alignment-deciding agency. The government has accepted this alignment for the present, so we will be going ahead with this.” He added that the present alignment had been chosen as being most cost-effective based on ridership, constructions costs and land acquisition.
Not according to the written word
However, as Leo Saldanha later pointed out, several of Sivasailam’s explanations are at variance with Metro’s own written plans. A Detailed Project Report (DPR), prepared by BMRCL’s consultants Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) in 2003, lays out the blueprint for Namma Metro. In contrast to Sivasailam’s assertion of no parking areas at stations, the DPR says, “Integration areas are required at stations”; integration areas are explained as areas for bus and car parking and approach roads. The DPR also lists how much area will be required for scooter, car and auto parking in each station. For example, though only 3 bus bays and no parking is said to be required at Lalbagh, 250 meters of parking area is stated to be needed at the Jayanagar station.
As per the Detailed Project Report of the Metro, some of the highest traffic densities are seen at Tumkur Road, Bellary Road, Hosur Road, Koramangala Ring Road and JC Road, none of which are going to be served by the Metro. So on what basis did DMRC decide on the alignment? The DPR does not say.
Further, in contrast to what Sivasailam claimed, the DPR has not considered the KR Road alternative at all. However, surveys of traffic density were carried out which do not exactly corroborate Sivasailam’s statement of lower ridership on KR Road. According to the DPR, the average daily traffic at KR Road was 52,621 vehicles, and at RV Road, was 52,870 vehicles, a negligible difference.
Other DPR figures on traffic density raise more questions. For example, some of the highest traffic densities are seen at Tumkur Road, Bellary Road, Hosur Road, Koramangala Ring Road, and JC Road, none of which are going to be served by the Metro. So on what basis did DMRC decide on the alignment? The DPR does not say.
While no alternative is mentioned to having a station at Lalbagh, an alternative to Nanda Road was considered, viz., from Southend Circle to Jayanagar via 11th Main and thence to JP Nagar. Comparing this with Nanda Road, the DPR says “Ridership on the corridors is more or less similar. However, the alignment in JP Nagar comes to an (sic) dead end with no possibility for its extension in the future.” As Saldanha says, this does not seem logical since the alignment could go either left or right at the end of 11th Main, just as it can go either way at the end of 40th Cross on RV Road.
But crucially, the DPR goes on to state: “Enough space for stabling of rakes in JP Nagar area is not available” whereas “the RV Road alignment is straight with sufficient land on both sides of the road for stations, integration areas, receiving substations and stabling of rakes.” Elsewhere, the report reiterates, “Sufficient space is available on both sides of the (RV) road for making terminal facilities.”
Given that with the extension of the Metro to Puttenahalli, RV Road station is no longer a terminal and will not require land for stabling rakes, it is not clear if it is still necessary for the Metro to go through RV Road.
“If BMRCL doesn’t follow the DPR, which plan are they following? How are people supposed to know their plans if they won’t consult the public in making these plans? And if they make unilateral plans, how do we know if they will follow them?” – Vinay Sreenivasa of HU
Vinay Sreenivasa of HU voices concerns over these discrepancies saying, “If BMRCL doesn’t follow the DPR, which plan are they following? How are people supposed to know their plans if they won’t consult the public in making these plans? And if they make unilateral plans, how do we know if they will follow them?”
Meanwhile, Namma Metro steams ahead regardless of protests. Soil testing work on a Phase 2 connecting Puttenahalli with NICE Road and RV Road with Electronic City has already begun in earnest. According to Sivasailam, DMRC is preparing the DPR for these stretches. “Public consultations will be held after the DPR is ready,” he said.
Concurrently, opposition to the current alignment along RV Road continues to spread. HU, Maraa, Sanmathi and the Lakshman Rao Park Walkers all plan to continue with different protests, aiming to get the government to take note of widespread public opposition to the current alignment. A group of artists, meanwhile, is contemplating exhibitions to highlight the potential loss of parks and trees. Musician Ricky Kej’s short music video calling for an underground Metro has aired on TV.
A group of people, including former Deputy Mayor Rame Gowda and industrialist Mahavir Ranka, had challenged the ordinance transferring 1135 square meter of Lalbagh to BMRCL for a station. On 7th May, the High Court issued a stay on tree felling in Lalbagh and RV Road.
In the meantime, Abhijit Shashidhar, a Jayanagar resident, together with the petitioners and some friends, has decided to bring NRIs who grew up in Jayanagar into the protests. “We want the world to know what is happening in Bangalore,” he said. The informal group also plans to seek expert help to work out technical details like the incremental cost and possible financing of having an underground Metro along RV Road. “The government has to look into the matter seriously,” says Shashidhar.