The Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd ( KRDCL), which is implementing authority for the controversial elevated corridor project in Bengaluru, has recently submitted its application to the State level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (Karnataka) for Environment Impact Assessment Study.
Since its inception, the project has met with opposition from several civil society organisations and activists. It has been opposed on several grounds, some of them being – the process being a top down approach with no public consultations, the environmental impact including felling of several thousands of trees, the argument that flyovers and corridors rarely solve congestion in the city, and pro-public mass transport movement gaining momentum.
It is with this background that Citizen’s for Bengaluru, an apolitical movement that emerged in 2016 out of the anti ‘steel flyover’ campaign, organised a consultation on October 3 at Ashirwad Community Centre. The debate was facilitated by Leo Saldanha (of Environment Support Group), to discuss the processes that have been followed or not followed as part of the Elevated Corridor Project.
Leo Saldanha during the consultation noted that currently there is a lack of reflective politics, and that most solutions that exist today for issues of Urban Planning are a result of knee-jerk reaction and poor thinking, planned without meaningful dialogues. The elevated corridor project, he argued, is such a result. He said that across cities in the world, elevated corridors have rarely solved the issue of traffic congestion.
Saldanha contended that several of the provisions related to holding public consultations in such infrastructure projects under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act 1961 have been violated by the state government. The KRDCL has directly asked for clearance from the Environment Impact Assessment Authority, he added. He said that democratic planning requires plans to be formed at the ward level by ward committees, which are later consolidated at the zonal and city level.
Kathyayani Chamaraj (with the organisation CIVIC, Bengaluru) who spoke later to Citizen Matters echoed a similar opinion. She said the people affected by the elevated corridor project must be consulted; and during ward committees, the pros and cons of such a project must be discussed and analysed. She explained the undemocratic nature through which the state has currently decided to introduce the project without any consultations.
The question that needs to be asked is will ward committees, the way they are in Karnataka, ensure democratic participation. While there continue to be several hurdles in setting up ward committees in Bengaluru, even when they are set up, how can it be ensured that they are inclusive and democratic when the corporator has the power to veto any decision taken by the committee.
Mathew Idiculla, a consultant with the Centre for Law and Policy Research, told Citizen Matters that as per the Karnataka Municipal Corporation (Amendment Act) 2011, Ward Committees aren’t empowered to decide on mega-projects such as the elevated corridor projects. Idiculla spoke of the Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill, which empowers ward committees to have a larger role in planning, with yearly and five year plans and implementation of projects and programmes connected with their wards.
He also pointed to the relationship between three tiers of urban local governance detailed in the draft bill, which could possibly act as a check against the upper levels of the government unilaterally making decisions against lower, local levels. The bill remains on paper.
With the current ward committees being dis-empowered, and the legislative route of Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill to ensure better people’s participation in a state of uncertainty, the citizens are left with no option but to create mass movements against the Elevated Corridor project.