In a letter about the construction of elevated corridors, A N Yellappa Reddy, Chairman of the NGO Bangalore Environment Trust, has appealed to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy to reconsider the project.
Quoting his previous letter to Kumaraswamy, Reddy explained that hasty steps to start construction without assessing the carrying capacity and without the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) in an urban congested area, was potentially dangerous. This would massively impact the well-being of the entire population.
In his letter, Reddy also produced proficient inputs from a report by Dr M K Ramesh, Professor of Law at NLSIU. In his report, Dr Ramesh had raised several concerns with the project. According to him, the project would not just be an error in judgment but a quixotic decision made in a hurry, with irreversible consequences.
Dr Ramesh’s full report is shared below.
ELEVATED CORRIDOR PROJECT- OUTSTANDING ISSUES OF CONCERN
By Dr M K Ramesh, Professor, National Law School of India University
- Objective and justification:
(a) to de-congest the city by increasing road-capacity;
(b) improve the quality of life of those using public transport by distribution of private traffic. This needs to be backed by clear and credible evidence both in quantitative and qualitative terms. This requires assessment as to –
(i) traffic volumes and pollution caused thereby
(ii) projection as to the same, for the next 50 years or there about
(iii) health impact on account of the execution of the project
(iv) additional load of inconvenience caused to the users of the road. This is in addition and over and above of the misery that is already inflicted on them, owing to the current crop of construction work that is still going on.
(v) measures taken in aligning the existing construction projects with the proposed one – to prevent overlaps, conflicts and inconveniences etc.
(vi) whether this is the result of a well reasoned decision, after having exhausted all other available options – like, investing in mass rapid public transit system and by encouraging people to shift to mass public transport system and minimise taking recourse to private arrangements, working on suburban rail network etc.
- Environmental concerns:
(i) Is it not harmful to the environment? What is the rationale adopted by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) in giving the clearance?
– Has the SEIAA, in relation to Environmental Management Plan gauged noise levels,vibrations and their impact on the neighbouring areas? Have they figured out the use and disposal of hazardous material and construction waste?
Have they considered the following factors (not an exhaustive list, just an indicative one) before clearing the project?
(a) Positive environmental impact of improvement of subproject road sections
(b) Adverse environmental impact of improvement of sub-project road sections
(c) Impact related to project location, preliminary planning and design
(d) Environmental impact – construction stage;
Environmental impact – operation phase;
Cumulative and Induced Environmental impact
(e) Potential environmental enhancement/ protection measures;
Reasons as to why it has not considered public consultation as a prerequisite for consideration for clearance
(f) Anticipated adverse environmental impacts and proposed mitigation measures, if any
(g) Analysis of alternatives- Has it insisted on environmental monitoring and reporting to ensure compliance of the conditions under which the clearance has been issued? Is there any assurance of conforming to the mitigation measures (if any) proposed under the project? Or, has it issued the Clearance without environmental safeguard measures?
(ii) The government’s own DPR for the project in pages E-10 and 6-3 states that building and construction projects open to the sky is qualified to be considered for environmental assessment under Schedule 8A of the EIA notification 2006 of the EPA 1986. So is having activity area more than 20000 sq metres. Hence it is mandatory to carry out EIA before approval.
(iii) The Secretary to SEIAA has gone on record stating that, “public consultation was not a prerequisite for the project.” What is the basis for such an assertion? Does the law say so?
All that the law states is that the public consultation, which is a prerequisite for such projects, may be skipped only when there is a report by the concerned that the Consultations were not possible on account of a law-and-order problem and the like.
In such a situation there is a duty on the part of the decision-makers to explore avenues for eliciting public opinion by various other measures like, social networking, consultation with the representatives of the local bodies etc.
The secretary has also gone on record in asserting “we held widespread stakeholder consultations with the departments concerned”, as if to mean that this was a good substitute for Public Consultation. There is an erroneous assumption that the concerned departments of the government are stakeholders. They are not. They are neither stakeholders or stake gainers. Under the Constitutional scheme, they are public trustees.
Consultations with them is a routine and mandatory statutory requirement. This is the case in all administrative functioning and decision-making and is not confined to EIA.
Public consultation involves, consultation undertaken with project beneficiaries, local government officials, community leaders, women groups, NGOs, stakeholders in the corridor project. It also includes people likely to be affected due to the project. Various measures pertaining to environmental issues are chalked out based on the responses from the people.
This sacred duty cannot be wished away for administrative convenience. This gives a lot more legitimacy to the decisions made “in public interest” and it is for this reason, this has been mandated under the EIA Law.
- Constitutional and legal concerns over the status, role and responsibilities of LSGs:
Under the Constitution, the local self-government institutions are entrusted with distinctively clear role and responsibilities on all matters concerning resources planning, management and development (Arts. 243, 243G & 243 W read with 11th and 12th Schedules). Legislations do exist (Panchayat Raj Law, Municipalities and Municipal Corporations laws, Town and Country Planning Act etc.) to translate the Constitutional Commands to statutory prescriptions and action.
Having a say in the decision-making process and a role in the implementation of them, as to projects that include, infra-structure development, providing for civic amenities etc. There is thus the requirement of detailed deliberations about planning, action plans and execution of such projects, with in the local bodies and their communication to authorities at different levels and the State Legislature, for the consideration by the latter and action thereafter.
This democratic spirit is not just an aspiration but a mandatory Constitutional Command.This appears to have been breached in the current instance, as there is no mention of whether this issue figured in the deliberation of the concerned local bodies and whether their concerns, demands, and apprehensions got addressed before any decision with regard to the Elevated Corridors were made.
There is not even a mention of, let alone consultation with local bodies, any deliberation with in the local bodies resulting any recommendations emerging from them, as a trigger for the decision in the execution of the Project in context. This is a serious lapse and it is bound to invite constitutional challenge to be resolved by the higher judiciary.
- Need for and relevance of elevated corridors in the urban milieu:
Finally, the need for utility and relevance of Elevated Corridors for a City like Bengaluru has to be raised. Going by the experience of such experiments carried out in the big Cities, in the rest of the world, this will be an exercise would be,instead of sustaining development result in destructive development.
Far from achieving the goal of de-congestion of traffic and improved quality of life for the users of the road, it is bound to heap more misery and suffering to the denizens of the City, if we really go by the experience of others who have suffered on account of such ill-advised measure.
The following notes, drawn from experiences elsewhere, may highlight what is in store for us in Bengaluru:
Elevated highways are a thing of the past
Did you know cities around the world are tearing elevated highways down to revitalize communities? We must deliver new solutions for our traffic problems and learn from past mistakes.
Life and death
“While the following report is about urban highways, more importantly, it is about cities and people. It is about community vision and the leadership required in the twenty-first century to overcome the demolition, dislocation, and disconnection of neighbourhoods caused by freeways in cities.” The Life and Death of Urban Highways (Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and EMBARQ, 2012) TxDOT’s plan includes more than 2 miles of elevation:
“Long segments of elevated alignments cause greater aesthetic and neighbourhood disruption than do at-grade (surface) alignments.”
– Indianapolis Northeast Corridor Transportation Study, Marion and Hamilton Counties
Why Are They The Wrong Choice?
Blight: “Land directly below an elevated freeway is not easily visible to the public and can be a haven for undesirable or criminal activities.” – Rethinking the Urban Freeway, Mayors Innovation Project, 2013
Noise Pollution: “Perhaps the most problematic roadways in urban areas are elevated highways because (1) it may be difficult to introduce some mitigation measures on these roads, and (2) they have a greater potential for visual blight.” – The Built Environment and Public Health, Russell P. Lopez, Jossey-Bass; 2 edition (January 3, 2012), Page 78
Decreased Property Values: “Planners, policymakers, and legislators must look at noise damage costs caused by motor vehicles when considering transportation options” – Factors that Determine the Reduction in Property Values Caused by Traffic Noise, Road Engineering Journal
Bad for Business: Obscured store-fronts, increased signage costs, and more difficult access. “At-grade construction was found to have the most positive impact on commercial property values” – Impact of Highways on Property Values, prepared for Arizona Department of Transportation
Shadow Effect on Vegetation: “the objections that Hudson anticipated to the ‘obtrusiveness and darkening effect’ of the elevated roadway, which he quantified by the length of shadow it would cast at different times of day.” – Concrete Utopia: The Development of Roads and Freeways in Los Angeles, 1910, Matthew William Roth, May 2007, Page 151
Barrier effect: Elevated highways are “a significant visual and psychological barrier” – Seattle Department of Transportation director Grace Crunican
More Expensive to Build and maintain: “Elevated structures typically cost three to four times as much.” – Indianapolis Northeast Corridor Transportation Study, Marion and Hamilton Counties
More Susceptible to Inclement Weather: “One of the most dangerous types of road icing threats comes from bridges and overpasses. A bridge is exposed to air on all of its surfaces – on top, underneath and on its sides.” – Icy Bridges: Taking Drivers by Surprise
Can Bengaluru draw lessons from the experiences of others?
It is said, “History repeats itself as men repeat their mistakes”. We cannot even afford this history of the experiences of others get repeated here as to Elevated Corridor projects. The magnitude of destruction would be such that repair and restoration would be well-nigh impossible. It will not just be an error in judgment. It will be quixotic decision made in a hurry, from which we may, perhaps, not be able to recover, forever!
Last but not the least, the disease burden on the emaciated citizens of Bengaluru will increase by leaps and bounds, if the elevated corridor project is implemented.
[The text is shared by BET, and published as is]