80 more underpasses – what about the people?

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This is my response to Citizen Matters’ article on ‘Junctions where grade separators are to come up‘. The thought of having the prolonged construction of yet another set of grade separators foisted on us is really scary. As everyone knows, the underpass on 24th Main, 15th Cross, J P Nagar is way behind schedule as was the case with Jayadeva circle flyover. When the Jayadeva flyover construction was going on between the years 2003-06, traffic was diverted through Bilekahalli Dollar Layout adjacent to Bannerghatta Road, where I live, for years on end.

The decision to divert traffic through our layout, was just dumped on us one fine day with boards coming up and nothing having been done to upgrade the roads to withstand heavy traffic. By the time the flyover construction ended, our internal roads had almost become mud tracks. Through the years of construction, the dust and noise was unbearable, more so to people with allergies. Residents, particularly seniors and children found it impossible to move around freely. We had to put up with years of inconvenience due to this.

As concerned residents, we spent a lot of time and energy, making futile representations to the traffic police who made a token visit and said they could not do anything about it. We also reported our issues to BDA who had taken up the construction of the Jayadeva flyover and to CMC, Bommanahalli and the local governance body. It all fell on deaf ears. Finally, relief came to us when the flyover construction was completed after three long years. We have just begun to settle back into a peaceful life.

So when I read in Citizen Matters (and several local newspapers), that  among others, six grade separators had been approved on Bannerghatta Road from Jayadeva junction to Hulimavu Road,  my reaction was "Oh, no, not again!".

So what are the lessons to be learnt from our past experience? In answer, I strongly feel that residents groups can start pre-emptive processes in participation with BBMP before the commencement of these projects.  The broader goals can be to make sure that processes are put in place firstly to mitigate inconvenience caused to local residents during the execution of such projects and secondly to ensure that these projects are completed within the scheduled time.

I increasingly have a sense that the citizens are being sidelined in making decisions about the city. As I have observed, decisions seem to be taken based on the biases and preferences of those who are in power at a given point of time (maybe an universal truth!).

I remember reading somewhere in Citizen Matters that a retired senior IAS officer had commented that participatory processes delay execution as the citizens  come up with varying opinions and obstruct processes (may not be exactly those words,  but something to that effect). I had then commented that though this possibility exists, the processes have to be gone through before they mature enough for the citizens to participate meaningfully. Maybe the construction of grade separators can be used as a starting point to bring these kinds of processes into place.

What can be the specific objectives and processes of such an initiative?

Participation by the local residents/citizens should be mandated before decisions are taken on infrastructural projects such as underpasses.  All citizens are not obstructive, many of us do understand that there needs to be a balance between the concerns of the ‘development’ and ‘environment’ enthusiasts and are willing to be taken along if we understand the need for it and suitable measures are put in place to address our concerns. But we certainly do not enjoy having decisions dumped on us. This does not sound quite democratic to me.

Mechanisms to ensure timely completion of projects should be shared with the citizens. Local residents should be allowed to participate in monitoring the execution of these projects. As I always like to say, who can be more interested in the area that I live in than I?

Mechanisms for avoiding and redressing inconvenience to the local residents should be put in place after discussion of potential problems with the residents.  I can think of one example, if traffic diversions are to be made, the inner roads taking the load have to be upgraded to withstand the load. At the end of the project, all roads should be brought back to good condition. There must be several such others.

What else can you all think of?

I would also like to explore any other mechanisms. I do not want the whole process to become confrontational; there must be a mid point somewhere where we, the citizens and the BBMP, can meet to address our common interests.

When I see history repeating itself, with infrastructure projects being dumped ad infinitum with little notice on the unsuspecting citizens of my beloved city, I am tempted to turn activist again, at least in writing!  ⊕

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1 Comment

  1. Great article. Who says we live in a democracy? At best we’re a ‘mobo-cracy’ or a ‘functioning anarchy.’ The concept of BBMP is in itself a joke, not to mention their idea of citizen involvement in their efforts to make the city livable. It shows how deep and how vast, incompetence and mediocrity has seeped into our so-called democracy. It’s the moneyed who will always win.

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