For about six years, Koramangala residents have been waiting for a new road – a shortcut – that connects Ejipura junction on the Intermediate Ring Road, with Agara on Outer Ring Road. Though there has been progress in the plan to connect the two arterial roads, residents will have to wait longer for the work to start. The project has been delayed since sections of the road are to pass through defence land.
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In August 2018, months before the Lok Sabha elections, former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman agreed to part with 16.5 acres of defence land for 10 projects across Bengaluru; this included 5.34 acres for the Ejipura-Agara road. But in exchange, the state government had to offer land of equivalent value to the Defence Ministry.
Recently, the state government offered land in Mandur to defence, but the latter rejected it since much of the area used to be a landfill. A few years earlier, before Nirmala Sitharaman was in the picture, state had even tried to give quarry land in Anekal in exchange for defence land! Defence Ministry had rejected the offer then too.
The result of this long-drawn process is that the proposed road, which is in the city’s Revised Master Plan-2031, got delayed even as the traffic in Koramangala multiplied manifold. The 3-km road would bypass several signals and chokepoints in Koramangala, and reduce traffic congestion. It could get you from Ejipura signal to Agara in just two minutes (given that a vehicle can traverse this stretch at around 40 kmph since there’d be hardly any shops or residences in defence land).
Work to start in three months, says BBMP
BBMP Chief Engineer (Road Infrastructure) S Somashekar says the detailed project report (DPR) for the proposed road is in its final stages and will be ready in a couple of weeks. But there is confusion on whether the road would connect at Agara itself or at the nearby Jakkasandra signal. “Once the final alignment is decided, the DPR technical committee will approve the report, and they would publish the DPR for public scrutiny,” says Manjunath Swamy, Technical Assistant at the office of the Chief Engineer (Road Infrastructure), BBMP.
Though BBMP has not yet acquired the land from defence, officials are confident that the work can continue. “Defence Ministry has given us permission to start the work. Marking and survey of the defence land is complete,” Somashekar says.
BBMP is now acquiring private land for the project. More than a kilometre of the 3-km-long road would fall on private land. The exact extent of the land to be acquired will be clear only after BBMP completes its survey here. “We have asked the landowners to produce documents. Compensation for the land will be paid according to the new TDR (Transferable Development Rights) rules,” Somashekar says.
Once the DPR is completed, tender for the work will be floated, and work order assigned later. “It will take at least three months to start the work,” Somashekar says.
How the road helps
(Retd) Major Promod Kapur, a resident of Koramangala and a member of the Koramangala First Block Residents’ Welfare Association (KFB-RWA), says the proposed road can help residents move freely, and also help those who work in Koramangala to come here without fear of getting stuck in hour-long traffic jams.
“People coming from the Old Airport Road-side and going towards Sarjapur road, can avoid the Sony World signal, the 80-feet peripheral road, ST Bed 4th block and Koramangala 1st block areas, and save time,” Major Kapur says. These commuters have to cross at at least five major traffic signals currently; with the new road, they can bypass these.
On the other hand, vehicles coming from ORR and going towards National Games village or towards Old Airport Road have to cross seven to nine signals. These include major chokepoints like the Sony World junction, Koramangala 4th and 5th block signals, the Koramangala water tank (3rd block) signal, and the SBI Colony signal on Sarjapur road.
Also, new housing projects and malls are coming up in Nirguna Mandir Layout and ST Bed Layout in Koramangala. But there is only one approach road to these areas – the 80 feet road that connects Sony World signal with the Sarjapur main road.
“There are around 400 dwellings coming up here. All the traffic coming into and going out of this area – including the ancillary transport for the malls – will increase the traffic density. Subsequently, the congestion in Koramangala would be so much that it would be a mess in the near future despite the upcoming Ejipura-Kendriya Sadan flyover,” says Major Kapur. He says, if the new road is not built, Sony World signal and the SBI Colony signal would become a nightmare.
Six years, and defence land not yet acquired
Last year, former BBMP commissioner N Manjunath Prasad was reported as saying that getting defence land was the “most difficult task on earth”. On the other hand, defence officials had said that BBMP had no idea how to get things rolling. “Handing over even an inch of defence land needs to be cleared by the union cabinet. Municipal officials say we don’t cooperate. The truth is we don’t have any powers,“ a defence official had the told the Economic Times.
But Koramangala residents’ efforts for the defence land had started way back in 2014. That year, the residents’ group Koramangala Initiative, of which Major Kapur was a part, reached out to Bangalore South MP Ananth Kumar. They requested him to get the Defence Ministry’s permission to build the road through the periphery of the defence land.
Responding to Ananth Kumar’s letter, the then-Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar promised to come to Bengaluru and sort out the matter. Between February 2015 and June 2016, Parrikar held several meetings with Rao Inderjit Singh, the then-Minister of State for Defence, in New Delhi .
In July 2016, Parrikar convened a meeting with state and BBMP officials, five Bengaluru citizens including Major Kapur, and defence officials here. They discussed the possibility of exchanging defence land for land outside Bengaluru, suitability of the land Karnataka would offer, and determination of the value of land.
After joint surveys and inspections of the land, state government, in September 2016, decided to transfer 207.24 acres of land in Survey No 23 of Tammanayakanhalli of Kasaba hobli in Anekal taluk. But local defence officials rejected government’s offer, on grounds that the offered area was quarry land. They wanted land that was usable and would also match the value of the defence land which was Rs 282 crore.
The matter was not resolved since Parrikar became busy with the state election in Goa, and later moved back to Goa to take charge as the state’s Chief Minister.
In August 2017, the then-Karnataka Chief Secretary Dr Subhash C Khuntia wrote to Sanjay Mitra, Secretary at the Defence Ministry, “The defence authorities need alternate land for their own use and not for commercial purposes, and hence comparison of cost of land is not relevant.”
He also said that the land owned by defence had been given by the state earlier “free of cost or at a nominal rate”, and that exchanging land based on equal value was not practical since land in central areas of the city had become extremely costly. He went on to ask the Defence Secretary to take a “quick and favourable decision” with public interest in mind, “without insisting on providing alternate land of equal value”.
A year later, in August 2018, former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asked the state government to use the defence land, but on the condition that the state gives alternative land of the same value as the defence land, to her ministry at the earliest. The state government had to agree to the minister’s demand.
While the Defence Ministry had agreed to transfer only 13.6 acres in 2016, the area was increased to 16.5 acres by 2018, since more projects had been added to BBMP’s first priority list by then. After Nirmala Sitharaman’s decision, the state offered 50 acres of land in Mandur village to defence. However, 30 acres of this land was a garbage dump, and hence the ministry rejected the offer again.
Major Kapur says if the BBMP and the state government had been serious about the land exchange, the road construction would have started years ago, and traffic snarls in Koramangala would have reduced much sooner.