Campaign to Reclaim Bangalore's Commons
PRESS RELEASE : 19 April 2009
If Metro Cannot go Zig-Zag, then stop implementing the Zig-Zag alignment through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks
Dr. Ramachandran, Secretary, Union Ministry of Urban Development and Chairman of Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. has issued a clarification in response to the ongoing protests initiated by Hasiru Usiru, a network of organisations and individuals concerned about conservation of public commons, open spaces and greenery in Bengaluru, against the alignment of Bangalore Metro through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks. In his clarification, Dr. Ramachandran states that: "The route alignment of the metro was done after a detailed study and approved by the Central and State governments. The cost of constructing an underground station is an expensive proposition. A metro with a zig-zag alignment is not possible. All decisions were approved well in advance." ('BMRCL clarifies on Lal Bagh station', Deccan Hearald, 19 April 2009).
Hasiru Usiru welcomes the clarification from Dr. Ramachandran, in particular the fact that "a metro with a zig-zag alignment is not possible". If this were true, then the elevated track alignments of the Metro through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks is clearly not feasible. A cursory view of the North South alignment of the Metro, in particular from K. R. Road to Banashankari through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Parks reveals clearly and beyond any doubt that the proposed alignment is infact zig and zag. Here the alignment takes four 90 degree turns in about 4 kms. Such a proposal is unseen in any Metro alignment, anywhere in the world. Clearly, therefore, Dr. Ramachandran must take initiative to ensure that the implementation of the project on this alignment is immediately suspended so that there is no waste of public resource, and destruction of Bengaluru's heritage parks and private properties.
Dr. Ramachandran's other statements are rather contradicting, however. It is possible that the Metro project has gone through a series of reviews within the Government. But not once has BMRCL conducted any statutory Public Hearing on the project ever. In fact, the alignment of the Metro has been fixed and realigned largely internally, without any statutory public involvement and largely shaped by political considerations. For instance, the original proposal does not have any extension into Kanakapura Road, and this section was introduced only during the term of the present Government.
On the issue of taking the Metro through Lalbagh, BMRCL has always been aware that this involves an amendment to a special law that protects this heritage botanical garden – Karnataka Parks Preservation Act, amongst others. Even though during the term of this Government there have been at least three Legislature sessions, in a devious and undemocratic process, an ordinance was preferred to take away a portion of this heritage park for a Metro station. Considering that BMRCL has repeatedly stated that its stations would also be Malls, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the stations proposed in Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao Park will not be turned into Malls in some future. Such decisions aren't the prerogative of bureaucrats alone and must be debated in the public domain through statutory processes as provided in law.
It is widely known that BMRCL has repeatedly stated that wonderful line of trees on the Lakshman Rao Park boulevard will only be pruned, and not cut. However, it has been put beyond any doubt that BMRCL intends to fell all the trees that line this boulevard.
Such inconsistent statements do not bode well for developing the wide public's confidence in BRMCL. The fact that the Lalbagh wall has been razed and trees cut without any permission from the Tree Officer is a clear case of BMRCL claiming rights not found in law. We applaud the decision of the new Tree Officer (Bangalore South) in confirming that he would take action against the guilty officials for violating the Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act, while unilaterally cutting trees within Lalbagh – a botanical garden.
The Metro is a project that will take decades to build. Such a project must therefore be implemented by due and deliberate consideration of public opinion. BMRCL officials, at best, have only visited some clubs and associations to share their proposals, but this does not constitute a statutory public consultation.
On 16 March 2009, the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka issued a direction to all agencies involved in management and implementation of urban projects that they would "strictly follow" the provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act (in WP No. 7107/2008, Environment Support and ors., vs State of Karnataka). BMRCL is a respondent to this PIL and the order is binding to the agency. Yet within weeks of this order, trees have been illegally felled over the past two weeks in Lalbagh and also on Lakshman Rao boulevard. Only timely action from Hasiru Usiru volunteers has prevented any further felling.
The past week's protests have put beyond any doubt the fact that the Southern alignment of the Metro is flawed and unpopular. Hasiru Usiru gratefully acknowledges all contestants from the Bangalore South Lok Sabha constitutency who have taken a stand on this issue. In particular we acknowledge Capt. Gopinath (Independent) who has joined the protests, Mr. Santosh Min (Independent) who has consistently expressed his concerns against the project's impact on the city's heritage and Mr. Krishna Byregowda (INC) who has stated that the project should not destroy the city's heritage.
We also acknowledge the initiatives and protests of Mr. B. N. Vijayakumar (BJP), MLA from Jayanagar, who has called upon BMRCL to stop work forthwith and conduct public review of this section of the project. Mr. Dinesh Gundu Rao (INC), MLA from Gandhinagar, Dr. Hemachandra Sagar (BJP), MLA from Chickpet and Mr. Narendra Babu, MLA from Mahalakshmi Layout have all joined protest actions of Hasiru Usiru against such undemocratic implementation of the Metro in Bengaluru. Unfortunately, because of the continuing undemocratic nature of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, which for two years now does not have an elected council, the citizens have no legitimate forum to air their grievances.
Clearly, the fact that even Legislators have not been consulted is not a good indicator of the quality of governance in Bengaluru.
Dr. Ramachandran is a Secretary who has spearheaded several innovative approaches to urban infrastructure development, and is particularly credited for the National Urban Transport Policy. This policy clearly articulates that public transport projects will succeed only when the public is involved in all decisions. BMRCL has no history of such consultation whatsoever. In this context, we protest the statement of Mr. Chavan, PRO of BMRCL, who in a charitable dispensation has claimed that the agency was "willing to arrange for a presentation for NGOs so that it could convince them about the feasibility of alignment already arrived at" ('BMRCL unrelenting, 1,800 trees in Lalbagh face the axe', The Hindu, 19 April 2009). We demand that such efforts notwithstanding, BMRCL must fully take the public into confidence and ensure public involvement in decisions relating to the Metro in full conformance with the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, as directed by the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka.
About Hasiru Usiru:
Hasiru Usiru is a network of organisations and individuals concerned about conservation of public commons, open spaces and greenery in Bengaluru. Over the past several years, Hasiru Usiru has served as a platform to explore various approaches to resolve urban challenges through a series of efforts including meetings, workshops, campaigns and public interest litigations. A key concern has been to develop sensitivity of implementing agencies involved in urban infrastructural development to involve public in decision making and ensure that projects developed are in conformance with law and equitable benefit all sections of society.
ESG is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes the cause of environmental and social justice through research, documentation, advocacy, training and campaign support. We aim to support the rights of local communities and voiceless ecosystems in a responsible, progressive manner that keeps contextual complexities in mind.