The issue of road widening promises to get more charged as residents, traders and property owners of Dr Rajkumar Road threaten to take out emotive protests against the BBMP’s development plans for the road.
This 5 km stretch of road in northwest Bangalore, from Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Factory Ltd to Prasanna Theatre, has been earmarked by BBMP for construction of a signal-free corridor. The property owners and tenants along Rajkumar Road, led by Citizen’s Support Group (CSG) Dr Rajkumar Road, are calling the plan an “urban disaster,” and are opposing the road widening project with the argument that road widening is unnecessary and illegal.
“For the sake of lifeless vehicles, you are killing people with life,” says an emotional A S N Kumar, property owner and core member of CSG, as he explains that road widening along this stretch is unnecessary.
Named after the thespian of Kannada cinema, Dr Rajkumar Road is one of the earliest 80 ft roads in Bangalore. Hospitals, health care centres, temples, colleges, small shops, residences, and commercial complexes are located along the stretch. In recent times, the road has also seen the development of an extensive residential and commercial complex by the Brigade Group of developers.
The protests also allege that although the BBMP has submitted plans to extend the road to up to 30m, markings on the walls indicate that at some places, this may go up to 34 m.
In the second week of August 2009, the BBMP announced plans to develop a signal free corridor along the stretch, at an estimated cost of Rs 125 crore. A notification to this effect was put in newspapers, a copy of which is with the citizens.
According to the Citizen’s Support Group, this notification also mentioned that road widening would be carried out as part of the project. “The next thing we knew, our properties were slated for demolition,” says Kumar.
Work began on the corridor, on 21 October 2009. However, no date has been given for the start of the demolition.
BBMP claims widening necessary, citizens argue otherwise
BBMP assessment as given during the announcement of the project says that the road sees traffic of 15,000 passenger car units (PCU) per hour. “This means that there are approximately 300 vehicles passing by every minute. The signal at Navarang is three minutes. You mean to say that 900 vehicles pile up?” asks Kumar, dismissing this figure as improbable. He adds that CSG is working on getting an independent assessment.
According to the citizens, currently, Dr Rajkumar Road had “artificial, huge traffic”. With metro construction work in progress along the parallel west of Chord Road, much of the heavy vehicle traffic originally meant for WOC Road has now been diverted here. According to CSG, if High Tension Vehicles (HTV) traffic is moved back to the parallel WOC Road, traffic will reduce by 40 per cent. In addition, they quote BMRCL’s estimate that traffic in the area will decrease by 30 per cent once the Metro is operational.
Also, the group insists that bus traffic will be further reduced as KSRTC goes ahead with its plans to decongest the Majestic area, by shifting many buses out of Kempe Gowda Bus Stand. This move, announced in November 2009 would not only free up land for Metro construction work in the area, but would also ease the bus traffic in Rajajinagar, from where many buses enter the Majestic area.
BBMP chief engineer (Major Roads) T N Chikkarayappa does not agree with this assessment. He says the BBMP has considered all options, and adds, “This is a major link. Naturally there will be traffic.”
“Traffic management is more important than blind road widening,” says Narasimha Prasad, core member of CSG, suggesting that the authorities explore alternative roads, and one way systems before resorting to widening.
Citizens are rejecting BBMP’s TDR compensation
The traders and property owners say they have not been officially approached by the government with the offer of TDR or compensation.
“We have intimated the Commissioner via legal notice, from the entire Rajkumar Road, that we don’t want TDR. TDR has been rejected by all on Rajkumar Road, except for one or two (such as St. Theresa’s Missionary Hospital and properties owned by Congress state unit working president Mr DK Shivkumar),” says Kumar.
The CSG says that if the BBMP is prepared to explain to them the necessity of the project, and offer them compensation and two years time to move out, they are willing to consider giving up their land. However, they allege that as of now, the government agency’s actions contravene various laws.
Kumar complains that the BBMP did the markings on October 2nd, after 7 pm. “This marking is illegal. It amounts to trespassing. We were not aware when they were going to come.”
However, the BBMP insists that they are following the rules. “RMP (Revised Master Plan) has been developed by BDA. We are not required to do consultation with the people. The three MLAs have been consulted, discussions are over. Along with them we’ve inspected the spot,” says BBMP chief engineer (Major Roads) T N Chikkarayappa.
While asked if they have taken their complaints to the three MLAs – Narendra Babu (Mahalakshimipura), Suresh Kumar (Rajajinagar), Ashwath Narayanan (Malleshwaram) – in whose constituencies the road passes through, the protesters say, “They are least bothered.” The Citizen’s Forum claims it has approached the MLAs and has even met with Ashwath Narayanan, who assured them that he would look into the matter.
The three MLA’s were not available for comments.
The Revised Master Plan2015 prepared by the BDA suggests that the road width be increased by 3m; locals believe, based on the BDA’s assessment, that this should be sufficient to solve traffic problems.
The BBMP’s plan is to build a signal free corridor. (The initial plan was to build an elevated expressway. This was scrapped.) The signal free corridor is not included in the BDA plans, only road widening is.
In 2008-09, the BBMP was taken to court by the Environmental Support Group and Hasiru Usiru for irregularities in the BBMP process for road widening. In a statement released then by ESG, they had said, “BBMP failed to comply with planning provisions, statutory public consultation requirements or even standards for safe road design.”
The PIL alleged that trees were felled in violation of the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, and that the BBMP seemed to, “arrogate a right for the private motor car over all other modes of travel, thereby extinguishing many fundamental rights.”
The Karnataka High Court, in its interim verdict in July 2008, instituted a review committee for the projects. In its verdict on 16 March 2009, the court ruled that the BBMP must adhere to the provisions of Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act in its road widening projects.
The verdict, in effect, applies to the road widening project along Dr Rajkumar Road as well. As a result, if the BBMP continues with its plans for demolition, the protesters feel they have a strong case for contempt.
Road widening is turning into a highly emotive issue in the area. It is also in danger of turning into a standoff between the old and the new residents of the road.
“BBMP is only doing to ensure that the big malls coming up on RKR, it will help them directly,” alleges Kumar. Narasimha adds that the theatres, mall, swimming pools, over a thousand apartments, and large office space are, “for high living people”. “For those people’s sake, it is worth to kill the middle class man?” he asks.
CSG claims that since authorities are not forthcoming on information, they are using the RTI to build information, as they try to establish a connection between BBMP’s road development plans and possible irregularities in new constructions along the road. They allege large scale corruption and are trying to collect proof to substantiate their charges.
Allegations of foul play and intimidation are also made. CSG narrates that they received a threatening phone call for having asked for information under RTI, about the Occupation Certificate issued to the Brigade group. They claim that in early February, they were asked to, “Mind your own business,” by someone pretending to be from the BBMP.
While Chikkarayappa dismissed these allegations as “baseless,” Citizen Matters’ phone calls and email to representatives of the Brigade Group received no response.
“We are not against them,” Narasimha claims, while adding that they are only seeking answers. He says, “We don’t want to create problems for others, we are law abiding citizens. But as a mark of protest (against the entire project), we would like to have a silent, peaceful, non violent dharna, with the consent of authorities.”
Citizens believe that the project is on hold until after the BBMP elections. However, there is a feeling of uncertainty among the locals, and the rhetoric is high. Suresh Chandra, also a core member of CSG says, “We don’t want to trouble the government, we will trouble ourselves with fasting.”
About 200 people and properties are expected to be affected. Suresh also warns, “If the government continues with demolition, there are many small owners and aged owners who are ready to attempt for suicides.
“If at all we fail, in Rajkumar Road, we will never vote again,” Chandra says. ⊕
How long will we keep widening roads? In 5 or 6 years we will again find that cars have increase by 70% and are we then going to widen roads again?
Is there some method to the madness? E.g. all arterial roads should be 3+3 lanes with each lane being 10 feet with a 3 ft divider making it 65 feet of road + 12 feet pavements on each side making it a total of 85 to 90 feet. Or is it just widening with no brain involved?
What is needed is to maximize the utilization of current road width by ensuring that edges are tarred and no mud sits near the pavement before taking an axe and a bulldozer around.