The long-pending Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) has turned controversial for its environmental impacts and lack of transparency. The project would lose Bengaluru over 33,000 trees, including in the Thippagondanahalli Reservoir catchment and in reserve forest areas.
On Wednesday, September 23, the Deputy Commissioner of Bangalore Urban District will hold a public consultation (webinar) on the project’s environmental impacts. BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) is implementing the project, and its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is available online.
Here are details of the public hearing and how you can attend it.
Do the environmental impacts of the PRR justify the project? Will PRR help reduce traffic congestion in the city’s inner roads, as envisioned?
Ring Roads have not helped reduce traffic in Bengaluru
Since the 1960s, ring roads or circular highways built around the city centre have been a common feature in large metropolitan areas. These roads allow vehicles to travel from one end of the city to the other without having to pass through the busy centre.
In Namma Bengaluru, the only complete ring road is the Outer Ring Road (ORR), constructed between 1996 and 2002. The 60-km-long road, built at a distance of about 10 kilometres from the city centre, can accommodate two or more lanes of traffic in either direction for much of its length. Multiple flyovers and underpasses have sprung up since its construction to ‘ease’ traffic flow at intersections, eliminating the need for traffic lights.
However, it is a nightmare for everyday commuters to take the ORR and navigate its infamous traffic jams. Authorities have failed to limit development adjacent to the ORR. Hence it doubles up as an access road for abutting commercial and residential properties. These numerous access points, combined with the short distance between intersecting roads, end up restricting traffic flow where lane discipline is “more honoured in the breach than in observance”.
Within the ORR, there is the confusingly named Inner Ring Road, a 10-km-long connecting road between Koramangala and Indiranagar.
An elevated Core Ring Road, at a distance of about 5km from the centre, was proposed in 2007, but later declared unfeasible in the Master Plan published in 2018, only to make a swift return in the form of the infamous ‘Elevated Corridors‘ project comprising several elevated radial roads extending inward from the ORR and terminating in a central loop.
PRR is the new kid on the block
Outside the ORR, at a distance of about 20 km from the city centre, is the semicircular NICE (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises) Road connecting Tumkur Road in the north-west to Hosur Road in the south-east. This corridor was conceived in 1997, and the first section was inaugurated in 2006.
Several successive Bengaluru Master Plans have proposed a road connecting the two ends of the semi-circle, to complete an orbital road. This project has been called the Peripheral Ring Road (PRR).
Proponents of the PRR argue that connecting all the major highways coming into the city would remove intercity traffic from the busy centre. They say that heavy vehicles like lorries, passing through the inner city, could be diverted on to the PRR. Besides, PRR would be an alternative route to the Kempegowda International Airport from suburban areas around the city, which is now much needed.
Contrary to the aims of the PRR, there are reasons to believe that the road would induce new development and new traffic. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) would have helped citizens understand the network of these roads, but BDA has refused to release the document saying it’s not yet final! However, the EIA report admits that “considerable local traffic” is expected, and provides for service roads parallel to the highway.
On balance, there seems to be more justification for the PRR than for projects like the ‘Elevated Corridors’ which involve building radial roads much closer to the city centre. But there are serious concerns about PRR’s effects on the city’s almost-depleted green cover, its water bodies and biodiversity.
Environmental impacts are severe
Bengaluru has been losing its green and blue cover at an alarming rate. For nearly half a decade, the BDA tried to argue that only 200 trees would be felled for the PRR, based on an erroneous EIA. It was forced to submit a fresh EIA after the National Green Tribunal ordered it to. The current EIA reveals that 33,838 trees would have to be removed to build the road.
Construction of the PRR would involve the loss of 10 hectares (25 acres) of forested land in Jarakabandekaval Reserve Forest. Besides, there are six lakes along the proposed road alignment. Hence, its construction is expected to result in significant loss of habitat for small mammals like squirrels and bats, and for birds like the Black kite, Brahminy kite, Common buzzard and the Indian peafowl. About 555 hectares (1,371 acres) of farmland will also be lost to the PRR.
The BDA has proposed a ‘catch-all’ solution to the impact of the PRR on the environment. It plans to plant 10 trees for every tree removed – that is, a total of 3,38,380 trees. Of this, 10,020 trees are to be planted on a 5-m-wide proposed green belt on either side of the road alignment. About 83,200 trees are to be planted in the Thippagondanahalli Reservoir catchment area. Details are thin on where the rest of the trees (nearly 2.4 lakh) would be planted, and how land would be acquired for it.
The EIA proposes building barriers on both sides of the road construction site, to mitigate dust and air pollution. It asserts that no materials will be dropped from a height greater than 3 feet, so as to minimise dust, and that water will be sprinkled on the construction site at least three times a day.
Road construction will not be carried out at night, promises BDA, to reduce noise pollution and the impact on birds and animals. It also plans not to construct labour camps in environmentally-sensitive areas, and to build covered drains on either side of the road to avoid stagnant water accumulation.
Even with all these mitigation measures, BDA estimates that the total CO2 emissions from construction and maintenance of the road would be 5.52 lakh tonnes. This number is the equivalent of burning 24 crore litres of petrol or adding 1.2 lakh additional cars to Bengaluru.
Heavy on the pocket, too
The project cost of PRR was estimated at Rs 3,850 crores in 2016, but the latest estimate is over Rs 15,000 crores for the 65.5-km road. Thus the cost of each kilometre of the road works out to be a hefty Rs 229 crores. The project will be jointly funded by a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the state government.
The BDA issued a preliminary notification for acquiring 1,989 acres of land in 2004-5 for the construction of PRR, which barred farmers from selling the land or building anything including borewells, cowsheds, etc. In the last 15 years, however, not a single km of the road was constructed, and the affected farmers continue to be in limbo.
A haphazard and lackadaisical approach to planning means there’s no consideration of alternative plans that may have higher transportation efficacy and lower environmental and economic impacts. Instead, individual projects are proposed and withdrawn on a seemingly random basis. A flyover here, an underpass there, and a bit of road widening here and there only costs money and leads to environmental problems without necessarily resolving transportation issues.
While these are long-term problems that require attention, for the moment, the BDA must release the project’s DPR immediately to enable informed participation by residents in hearings and debates.
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