As India votes for a new Central Government, the city of Bangalore has been demonstrating democracy’s true potential by coming out in large numbers protesting the destruction of the world renowned Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks by the insensitivity and lack of care for progressive planning by the Bangalore Metro authorities. Pictures of the protests can be accessed online.
Hasiru Usiru, a network of organisations and individuals focussed on conserving public commons, open spaces and greenery in Bangalore, has successfully initiated a popular movement against the destruction of Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao boulevard by the Metro. Over the past week protestors have come out in large numbers throughout the week to demand public involvement in redesigning the Metro. More details at: www.hasiruusiru.org and www.esgindia.org.
All Lok Sabha candidates of Bangalore South constituency have endorsed their support for this stand. Pressed by public protest, Mr. R. Ashok, Karnataka Transport Minister has categorically stated he would instruct the Bangalore Metro officials to stop work forthwith. He has also assured that there would be no tree felling on the note that the Government would be willing to consider realigning the southern reach of the Metro. However, the Bangalore Metro authorities have intensified work on this reach, in total disregard of the Minister’s assurances to the public.
The Metro is about serving the public for now and into the fuure. The public have had no role whatsoever in shaping the process of Metro design, alignment and development. This is in blatant violation of various laws and policies that mandate public involvement in decision making.
If the Bangalore Metro, a mega Rs. 9,000 crores project (i.e., per latest revised estimates approx. USD 2 billion), should truly serve the public, it has to be sensitive to public concerns about its adverse impacts on the city. To press for such transparent and wise approach, Hasiru Usiru has initiated a signature campaign for an appeal to be presented to the Chief Minister of Karnataka.
Leo F. Saldanha, Coordinator, Environment Support Group – a part of the Hasiru Usiru network
Vinay Sreenivasa, Volunteer, Hasiru Usiru
Mr. B. S. Yeddyurappa
Chief Minister of Karnataka
In the week before the General Elections – 2009, large numbers in Bangalore have come out in protest against the construction of an elevated track for the “Namma Metro” through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks. I/We join these protests, initiated by Hasiru Usiru, and demand that the Government suspend all work on the southern reach of the Metro till such time it has duly consulted the wide public on viable and environmentally friendly alternatives.
All political candidates contesting the Bangalore South Constituency for the Lok Sabha have endorsed the position that Lalbagh should not be destroyed in any manner, considering its heritage status and unique features as a botanical garden. This is a welcome sign. Again because of the mounting protests, Mr. R. Ashok, Karnataka Minister for Transport, has stated in the media that he has asked the Bangalore Metro authorities to suspend all work on the Southern Reach of the Metro, including tree felling. He has further assured that the Government is open to realigning the Metro keeping in view public opinion after the elections. This is welcome sign.
Despite such assurances at the highest levels of the Government, Bangalore Metro officials have categorically stated that they will not suspend work, and would continue with business as usual. Dr. Ramachandran, Secretary, Union Ministry of Urban Development and Chairman of the “Namma Metro” has confirmed that there cannot be any change now in alignment as all approvals have been obtained from the State and Union Governments. He has also said that a zig-zag Metro is not feasible.
There are many disturbing aspects to these statements, and I/we wish to highlight these:
- Undemocratic approach to issue Ordinance: It is a fact that the Government of Karnataka took a very undemocratic step of issuing an ordinance on 22 November 2008 to amend the Karnataka Parks Act to allow a portion of the world famous Lalbagh gardens to be used for a Metro station. Such an issue should have been first debated in public and also in the Legislature. There have been four Legislative Sessions since June 2008, and not once was this issue tabled for discussion. To instead choose to issue an Ordinance on such a sensitive issue is nothing short of a betrayal of democratic traditions and the right of the people to know and participate in decision making.
- If zig-zag alignment is not feasible, then why have a zig-zag alignment at all: Dr. Ramachandran’s statement that a Metro line is not feasible if it goes zig-zag is contradictory to the defense of Zig-Zag alignment for the southern reach of the Metro. As now proposed, the southern reach from K. R. Road runs through Vani Vilas Road, Lalbagh/R. V. Road, Lakshman Rao boulevard and then Banashankari, all this within four kms and involving four zig-zag 90° turns. This will substantially slow down the Metro, increase wear and tear and make maintenance a costly affair. If this zig-zag alignment is not feasible, I/we demand to know how this alignment was at all approved in the first place.
- Elevated Metro and its long term consequences: All things considered, an elevated Metro will remain for all time to come. There are many instances where Elevated Metros and transport corridors have been pulled down (Eg. Boston) and put underground as they have caused various negative impacts including depressed neighbourhoods and local economies, increase in crime rates, increase in noise pollution, decrease in availability of road space, etc. None of the Metro stations on this reach have any parking zones, and it is more than likely that in the near future more acquisition will take place to create parking areas – with Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks becoming easy targets. It is well known that the Metro also proposes to use its stations as Malls, so there is no guarantee that this will not happen to the Metro line proposed through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao parks. It is also very much in the realm of possibility that in order road space lost to the Metro track to accomodate increased vehicular density, existing roads may be widened in time to come, and this could result in further displacement of communities and loss of parks and open spaces.
- Alternatives not explored: Much against the claim of “Namma Metro” there has been no statutory public consultation whatsoever in consonance with applicable law (in particular the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act). This has denied those directly affected with the right to Prior and Informed Consent and caused serious disruptions in their lives and livelihoods. Equally serious has been the impact on parks and open spaces, with the Bangalore Metro authorities arrogating to themselves the right to apportion such lands to the Metro without due public consultation or adopting a transparent approach.
Keeping in view all of these concerns, I/we demand the following:
- The Government of Karnataka must immediately instruct “Namma Metro” authorities to stop work on the southern reach.
- Such a move is in order as all candidates contesting the Bangalore South consituency have supported the stand that Lalbagh should be protected as a sacred space for all time to come responding to popular sentiment.The Executive must bow down to the will of the people. Consequently, the Government must allow the Ordinance issued to acquire Lalbagh for the “Namma Metro” to lapse on 22 May 2009.
- The possibility of taking the Metro underground or through alternate alignments without causing much loss of greenery and property must be publicly explored. This must be done with due dispatch and in total conformance with law. Funds for this are easily available if only the Government stops investing in the elitist High Speed Rail Link project, which costs nearly Rs. 5,000 crores, and caters to the needs of only 30,000 air travellers. That money should instead be invested in the Metro to take it underground and thereby serve the interest of lakhs of people now and into the future.
- The High Court of Karnataka in its order of 16 March 2009 in PIL 7107/2009 (Environment Support Group and ors. vs. State of Karnataka) has directed all urban infrastructure development agencies, including Bangalore Metro, to “strictly follow” the provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act while implementing projects. The Government must ensure strict compliance with this direction.
- The National Urban Transport Policy has many progressive and futuristic perspectives and ideas that needs to be adopted for Bangalore. Only such actions will serve in providing the right mix of public and private transport options, while also protecting the rights of pedestrians (especially elderly, children and the disabled), cyclists, and livelihoods of urban poor.
I/We hope that you support these progressive initiatives and immediately suspend the Metro authorities to stop work on the southern reach of “Namma Metro”. Not only would such action be popular now, but would also prove to be regarded by future generations.