Can you believe this: A mammoth project such as Namma Metro in Bengaluru has, so far, been built without a broad mobility blueprint for the city in mind? In other words, Phase 1 — which is already up and running — and Phase 2 — which is under construction — do not integrate either with the existing transportation infrastructure (public bus service, pedestrian infrastructure, cycling infrastructure, cab aggregators and bike taxis) or with developmental plans of other civic agencies (BBMP, BDA, BWSSB etc).
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If so, will seamless travel in Bengaluru remain a distant dream? It also begs the question whether the Metro infrastructure created thus far can reach its full potential.
These questions have existed ever since the Bangalore Metro Rail Project was launched in May 2003, when the project was first announced. But it was when the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited and Directorate of Urban Land Transport unveiled a draft Comprehensive Mobility Plan, in December 2019, that the officialdom seems to have acknowledged its complete lack of a vision or blueprint for mobility.
After the draft CMP was put in the public domain, transportation experts and citizen activists have raised doubts over its very validity. They have cited failures on the part of the BMRCL and DULT in following the Metro Rail Policy, 2017, and the National Urban Transportation Policy, 2014.
The need for a CMP
The CMP for Bengaluru had been in the pipeline for years. Preparation of a CMP is one of the conditions set by the Central government for the BMRP (or for that matter, for any city planning to build a metro rail).
The vision behind the CMP was to introduce an integrated mobility plan for the coming decades, which would also work in conjunction with the Master Plan. For this purpose, both the National Urban Transport Policy 2014 and the Metro Rail Policy 2017 envisioned the creation of a dedicated body called the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority.
The UMTA would have the authority to prepare the CMP, organise investments in transport infrastructure and coordinate between various transport agencies. The MRP 2017 makes it mandatory for State Governments to set up UMTA for central assistance in metro projects.
The NUTP 2014 even connects UMTA with the 74th Amendment of the Constitution, which contains provisions for the creation of a city’s Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC). It further grants UMTA far-reaching powers to integrate and approve proposals from the municipality, Development Authority and transport agencies.
Even the draft CMP prepared by BMRCL and DULT acknowledges the need for a powerful UMTA to solve the problem of “Bengaluru’s history of multiple (and often competing) transport agencies”. However, it goes against its own recommendation, as one of UMTA’s primary responsibilities is to create the CMP.
While the CMP has been drafted by the BMRCL with support from the DULT to meet the condition for the funding of the Metro, the authority of the two agencies to prepare the document has been questioned.
“BMRCL is one of the service providers covered by the CMP. Them drafting the CMP is like Airtel drafting the telecom policy for the entire country,” says Sandeep Anirudhan, founder of Citizens Agenda for Bengaluru.
Activists’ sustained RTIs yielded no response
The Central government’s sanction letters and MoUs with the State government for the BMRP reveals several conditions which the latter has to comply with. The sanction letters for Phase 1 and 2 are dated 11/05/2006 and 21/02/2014 respectively. The MoUs are dated 24/12/2010 and 24/02/2017 for Phase 1 and Phase 2 respectively.
|The conditions in the sanction letters and MOUs relating to the BMRP include:
Citizen activist D T Devare and the Bangalore Environment Trust wanted to know if the State government was keeping its side of the promise – whether it was following the conditions mentioned in the sanction letters and MOUs relating to the BMRP. So, Devare filed queries under the RTI with various agencies, to find out what was happening with the conditions.
However, his RTI applications kept getting transferred to different agencies, and the replies were very vague. This indicated that the planning and transportation agencies were working on their own, without much integration.
Writ Petition in the Karnataka High Court
When the RTI route was exhausted, towards the last week of April 2019, Devare (Petitioner 1) and the Bangalore Environment Trust (Petitioner 2) filed a Writ Petition (WP 20031/2019) before the Karnataka High Court.
The Respondents to the petition include the Government or Karnataka, the Union Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation limited, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation Limited, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the Bangalore Development Authority, and other specialised agencies and departments linked to urban transport in Karnataka.
Citing the 17 conditions, he pointed out that the progress on them has not been satisfactory and that authorities have been taking an ‘ad-hoc approach’ to transportation. The petition lists out four major issues:
1) That relevant authorities have failed to prepare and implement the CMP and the ITRRP despite a lapse of 13 years since the first sanction letter was issued.
2) The failure to take an integrated approach to infrastructure development and transport planning, including of the BMRP;
3) That non-compliance to the conditions has had a direct and crippling effect not only on the proper development and utilisation of the the BMRP, but also on the planned development of the mobility infrastructure in Bangalore city.
4) That the failure to implement the CMP and ITRRP has had a trickle-down impact on the environment and the well-being of citizens, resulting in a violation of their fundamental rights.
|The petition before the High Court of Karnataka also lists out the consequences of non-implementation of mandatory conditions and ad hoc measures. They are:
Hearing the Writ Petition, the High Court passed an order on 21 October, 2019 in which it said: “It is pointed out that at present the implementation of the first phase of the Metro Rail is completed and the second phase is on going. The consequences of the failure of the State and the other Authorities to implement the conditions imposed in the said documents have been set out in the writ petition. Even the second and third respondents, which are the Ministries of Union of India have not taken the note on the fact that the said conditions have not been complied with by the State Government.”
The hearing was adjourned to Nov 8, 2019, but was further adjourned. The petition awaits its next hearing.
Interestingly, the draft CMP (dated October 2019) — which was one of the primary conditions in the letters of sanction and MoUs — was published by one of the respondents in the petition, namely the BMRCL.
Bengaluru’s failed experiments with UMTA
The MRP and NUTP prescribe a model wherein the UMTA and the MPC work in conjunction to plan the city’s mobility and master plans respectively. However, both the MPC and the UMTA have failed to materialise for Bengaluru. The MPC’s primary role – creating the Master Plan – is still carried out by the BDA.
As for UMTA, the first attempt to create one was made in 2007 in the form of Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA), which was recently changed to Bengaluru Mobility Management Authority (BMMA) according to the CMP. The BMLTA failed to acquire any authority over the years, primarily because it has no financial or legislative authority. As a result, transportation agencies have continued to function in silos, leading to a host of problems.
Recently, the formation of BMMA was announced to deal with traffic congestion in high-density corridors. However, there are no indications that the BMMA will have any legislative or financial powers either.
Critics of the draft CMP see it as an ad-hoc solution that defeats its own purpose with some even pointing out that it violates the Municipal Council Act and is, therefore, illegal. “This CMP is just a paper exercise to get funding for the Metro…It violates the Nagar Palika Act. It can’t be separate from the Master Plan, which should be made by the MPC according to the 74th Amendment,” says Sandeep Anirudhan.
DULT and BMRCL remained unavailable for comment. However, a source who wished to remain anonymous justified the BMRCL preparing the CMP thus: “since no other city has UMTA yet, it makes sense for the Metro agency to prepare the CMP”.
However, it turns out that 15 cities had constituted an UMTA of some sort according to the last review report by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2014. Of them, three cities — Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi — created UMTAs with legislative backing, while 12 others (including Bengaluru) created them by passing executive orders.
Source – State of the Art Review and Structures for UMTA and UTF – Final Report, Ministry of Urban Development
The report observes that “most of the cities have established UMTA as a mandatory requirement rather than from actual need. This has resulted in UMTAs being established only on paper without any active functional role.”
The need for an UMTA had first been recommended by the NUTP 2006 and made a mandatory condition for JNNURM funding in 2008, which is when most UMTAs were created. Even international stakeholders like Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) had advocated for its creation and had in fact made it a condition for the funding of the Kochi Metro Project.
According to the report, UMTAs in most cities have been seen as compulsory conditions for funding or merely coordinating agencies, even though their primary function, like that of the CMP, is a much wider task of integrating urban transportation and land-use planning.