On Metro, bulldozing its way through South Bangalore

On the afternoon of Sunday, 2nd May, a group of citizens came together at a dance auditorium at Jayanagar to discuss one of the city’s burning issues: the “Namma Metro” project.

Organised by Hasiru Usiru, the discussion  focussed on social, economic and environmental impacts of the construction of the Metro in Jayanagar. The four hour long discussion also included a critique of the current plan, alternative designs, as well as legal issues surrounding the controversial project. 

The participants said that they have very little knowledge about the plans of the Metro. While some appreciated the introduction of the Metro in Bangalore, others opposed the idea. However, all of them agreed that the proposed plan of the Metro passing through Lalbagh and Nanda Road horrified them. They said that they felt insulted as the public had no say in the decision making process. The attendees committed themselves to active participation on issues, including meeting the BBMP Tree Officer, filing an appeal to prevent further felling of trees, organising protests on Lakshman Rao Park and spreading awareness in the community regarding the impending destruction of the neighborhood.

Bangalore Metro: More questions than answers 

Vinay Sreenivasa of Hasiru Usiru introduced the workshop and pointed out that a major issue with the metro’s published plans is that the impact of constructing metro stations has largely gone undocumented.  He said that based on an analysis of the Detailed Project Report (DPR), it seemed that major parts of the Lakshman Rao Park will make way for surface-level Metro infrastructure; including stations, an electric sub-station, and perhaps even shopping malls to help the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) recover costs. He said that the RTI responses indicate that 323 trees will be felled (though the BMRCL in recent press conferences has revised that figure to 188). He presented the following time line of events (reported in the Deccan Herald, Apr 28, 2009), as an illustration of the undemocratic methods underlying the decision making process. 

  • Mar 31, 2003: The Detailed Project Report is submitted for approval to the then Chief Minister, S.M.Krishna.  
  • Apr 1, 2003: Approval was obtained in a single day. 
  • 2004 onwards: BMRCL claims that they held “public consultations”, required by law (Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961).  

However, he pointed out that till date, there is no public record of the “public consultations”. He said that obtaining a copy of the DPR was not an easy task either. After RTI applications and in-person requests, a hard copy was made available (no, it is not available on the BMRCL website). For reasons that are not clear, the BMRCL has so far refused to provide a soft copy, thereby limiting the extent to which the information contained within it can be shared. 

Sreenivasa also informed the gathering that the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), does not indicate any metro stations: neither in the draft (published in 2005), nor the final version (2007). He added that the development of stations will cause surface-level impact, hence a change in land-use policy is required. “By law, this must reflect in the CDP before any development work can proceed,” he said.  

Sreenivasa was critical on the mechanism by which land in Lalbagh and other city parks has been acquired by BMRCL. Instead of debating the issue in the Assembly (which would have been the democratic thing to do), the Governor had promulgated an ordinance in November 2008, granting BMRCL permission to acquire land from the 200 year old Botanical Garden. This involved amending the Karnataka Government Parks Act, 1975. Since then the state assembly has been in session twice and the Council once. But the Bill to replace the ordinance was never tabled. According to Article 213 of the Constitution, an ordinance lapses if it is not tabled within six weeks of the last day of the following session.

Social and Economic Impact

Vijay Narnapatti, an architect, encouraged attendees to look beyond the benefits touted by the proponents of the Metro. He debunked the claim of reducing congestion, and argued that surface-level congestion will increase, as road space will be consumed by the concrete columns. He pointed out the complete absence of any publicly available studies that demonstrate how the Metro in its current form will reduce vehicle density in the city.  

Published ridership projections indicate, optimistically speaking, the Metro will cater to 10 lakh trips per day several years from now, which represents only a small fraction of Bangalore’s commute demand. In contrast, the BMTC today caters to about 40 lakh trips per day. No analysis has been published on the projected energy costs of the Metro either. Neither has analysis of the negative impact on the local economy has been made available to the public.

Small business owners who rely on pedestrian traffic are certain to lose revenue, since overhead tracks reduce ambient light, and overhead trains running at three minute frequencies will dramatically increase noise levels.

He also made attendees ponder on the long-term visual impact the Metro will have on the city. He said the Metro will become the single most visible part of our streets, fundamentally altering the character of the city.    

He also indicated that the elaborate plans that the Metro has for “multi-modal transit hubs” at its stations are laced with risk that no one seems to mention. These locations are likely to become significant choke points, with high potential for encroachment by vendors.

Alternative designs 

Narnapatti, an architect by profession, showed the gathering an illustration of the metro’s current alignment in south Bangalore. The red line in the map shows it making 4 right-angled turns within a 3 kilometer distance. This contradicts statements from the Dr. D Ramachandran, Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development and Chairman of the BMRCL, who is on record stating that zig-zag alignments are not possible from a design standpoint. Narnapatti then proposed three alternative plans

  • Plan B: This involves a straight line alignment: The Metro goes directly south on KR Road. Based on a visual analysis of the satellite image, the population density on the west side KR Road appears significantly higher than the current corridor through RV Road, which could facilitate higher ridership. Additionally, it appears that a large amount of unused industrial land exists on this stretch, which could easily make way for the metro.  
  • Plan C: Have the Metro go south-east along 9th main, which already has a major bus station. Hence the “multi-modal transit point” might be easier to implement. From this point onwards, the Metro would go south along 11th Main. 
  • Plan D: Take the Metro underground: Studies indicate that the per kilometer cost of taking the Metro underground could be up to twice that of an overground design. Considering the huge social, economic and environmental costs of an overground Metro, it appears to be an alternative well worth considering.   

Leo Saldanha from the Environment Support Group clarified that the DPR has presented Plan C, but discarded it, citing that at the end of 11th Main, the extendability of the Metro is limited. On the other hand, the RV Road Terminal (at the end of Nanda Road) has enough “government land” for not only expansion, but for “integration areas”, and “an electric substation”.  He pointed out that the DPR fails to make the important distinction between “park land”, and “government land”.

Pondering the DPR

Saldahna said the DPR clearly concedes that the Metro will not solve Bangalore’s traffic crisis. According to the DPR, about 48% of those living within 0.25 kilometers of the Metro will shift to using the Metro. Examining Nanda Road, the width of Lakshman Rao Park, and the relatively high wealth of the residents of this area, Saldanha pointed out that actual ridership from this area will be far lower. He explained that the DPR admits that the Metro will not be financially viable, and hence envisions the creation of commercial space in and around stations under the euphemism of “integration centers”.  

An ominously related development recently came to light: The FAR (floor-area-ratio) for buildings on Nanda Road has been increased to 4, clearly indicating a commitment from the city administration and the BMRCL to commercialise the neighborhood. Saldanha said that none of these plans have been documented in the CDP, demonstrating once again, the lack of transparency in decision-making.

According to the DPR the Metro will run a train every three minutes. Saldanha highlighted the challenges of managing embarkation and disembarkation of up to 1000 passengers at various stations. He raised concerns about parking, reduced road space owing to massive concrete columns, and reduced pedestrian access owing to raised medians guarding the concrete columns. 

Legal aspects

Sunil Dutt Yadav, an advocate, spoke on the legal aspects of the on-going metro project. He explained that when an implementing agency such as the BMRCL executes a project, the law requires that the CDP be maintained as a guideline. The same applies to the BBMP when it widens roads, for example. However, the CDP today has no indication that stations will be constructed at Lalbagh or Lakshman Rao Parks. While the law does provide for potential deviations from the CDP, it does so in accordance with the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act. Chapter 5 details the process by which the proposed changes should be published, and provides a framework of consultations within which the public is allowed to review, point out objectionable parts of the plan, and ask for revisions. 

Sunil told the gathering, neither in the case of BBMP’s road widening project nor in the case of the Metro, has the agencies followed the rule either in letter or spirit. By their action, the BMRCL has denied the people the opportunity and right to understand the exact plans of the Metro and raise objections as they deemed fit.

On the subject of Lalbagh, Sunil said that the Government Parks Act of 1975 stipulates that park land cannot be sold, mortgaged or leased. He also argued that Lalbagh in reality is more than a park – it is a Botanical Garden, and hence qualifies as a “representative sample of an ecosystem”. Adding that though the Supreme Court has recognised the right of such places to exist and be protected, it would seem ludicrous that one government agency (the Horticulture Department) could sell such land at a fixed price to another (BMRCL). So, Sunil said, half-jokingly, “Why not let Vijay Mallya come up and buy all the 240 acres of the garden?” On a more serious note, Sunil argued such a process creates a very dangerous precedent.  Once we allow it to pass, there is nothing that can stop further encroachment of city parks. 

Environmental Impact

Harini Nagendra, an urban ecologist, spoke on the impact tree-felling along Nanda Road will have on the immediate environment. Harini and her team (Lionel Sujay and Divya Gopal) collected data on the trees adjoining Nanda Road, as well as the ones in Lakshman Rao Park to record the loss the planned felling will cause. She mentioned that her research of numerous large cities across the world shows that Bangalore has the highest bio-diversity in terms of tree population.

According to their field study, the trees in the affected parts of Nanda Road constitute eight different species, and in general, are very large trees (40% of the trees they studied on Nanda Road have a girth that is at least 2.5 meters). In her studies over the last 2 years, she has noted that the ongoing tree planting efforts in the city tend to be drawn from species that are thinner, have lower likelihood of interfering with wires, and are more easily managed. The complete study is available for download here

In addition, it is likely that local temperature may rise by an average of 1-2 degrees.

Saldanha cited research from Columbia University, which demonstrates the relative value of tree on a street compared to a tree in a park. The street tree shields black, tar covered road from the sun, significantly reducing the extent to which the road absorbs and therefore radiates heat. This not only leads to a cooling impact on the immediate surroundings, it could also help reduce air-conditioning costs in nearby buildings. In addition, the presence of street trees encourages walking and cycling as a mode of transport, thereby reducing the city’s carbon footprint. She also cautioned against the touted tree-transplanting exercise, citing huge costs and poor success rates as the main reasons. 

Next Steps 

The formal presentations were followed by a lively open discussion session. Strong opinions were voiced opposing the ideas of malls and parking areas in Lakshman Rao Park.

Many members felt that the additional burden of a few hundred crores to send the disputed three kilometres stretch underground a worthy expenditure. One member said we have in recent years, been paying a Re 1 extra on each liter of petrol to help pay for this project, arguing that we should not unduly worry about the extra cost of an underground construction.

The participants decided to go in a group on Monday to the BBMP office and appeal to the Tree Officer not to grant permission for any further tree-felling in Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks. Attendees were also encouraged to sign the petition posted on the Hasiru Usiru website, and share the petition with other concerned citizens. A protest was planned at Lakshman Rao Park for Saturday, 9th May.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent, articulate report, no matter how many times I read it Kanishka! Thank you.

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