Road widening not an ideal solution
By Manish M Mehta - BANGALORE
31st July 2012 08:20 AM
From a population of 26 lakh in 1971 spread over 250 sq kms, Bangalore now supports over 80 lakh people working, studying and living in about 1,000 sq kms. In less than a decade, this population will grow to 1 crore, and there are serious questions arising if there are enough resources to support such a vast population comfortably.
One among the many issues is the traffic. Over the past decade, the city has seen an unsustainable rise in the use of personal modes of travel causing massive traffic jams. With a 1:3 private vehicle:population ratio, Bangalore as a city will fail to function efficiently if it does not think intelligently to immediately resolve its traffic and transport problems.
In this context, it is highly disappointing that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) and the Urban Development Department of the Karnataka Government — all agencies that are required to offer progressive and inclusive solutions that work for all - are peddling projects that are disastrous for the city and its peoples.
Road widening is one among them. The proposal to widen roads, for instance, was initially promoted by identifying 91 inner-city roads in 2004. This list has since grown to 216. Now a bunch of signal free corridors have been added as well. Together, these projects involve a massive displacement of communities and the careless refashioning of core city areas. In addition, the proposed projects will undoubtedly affect thousands of businesses, homes, street vending spaces, trees and critical pedestrian and cycling zones in an adverse and illegal manner.
“It is more than certain that widening roads is a short term solution. These very roads will have to be widened again in a few years unless we are able and willing to think differently. Such solutions must be focussed on bringing down the need for private vehicle use, on promoting bicycling, walking and other non-motorised transport, and on augmenting the efficiency and attractiveness of public transport options,” says Jaidev C, a resident of Rajaji Nagar.
Today, 40 lakh commuters in 5000 buses and 1 lakh autos occupy merely 2 percent of Bangalore city’s road space. In contrast, 35 lakh using private motor vehicles monopolise 90 per cent of the city’s road space.
Urban Transport Projects are proposed and implemented in violation of law and policy. There has been absolutely no opportunity for participation (both for the directly and indirectly affected publics) in the formulation of decisions promoting these mega projects. This dismal democratic deficit exists despite the fact that applicable statutes, such as the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, the Bangalore Development Authority Act, the Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, the Karnataka Parks and Open Spaces Act, and several more, mandate that agencies must consult people in decisions that affect their lives, livelihoods and their futures.
The Karnataka High Court has repeatedly held the importance of complying with the letter and spirit of these laws. Courts have also threatened contempt action against officials violating provisions of law that mandate public involvement in decision making. Further, Courts have also held such massive projects must be promoted only after considering comprehensively their environmental and social impacts. Yet, various civic and infrastructure agencies of the local and state governments continue to promote projects in flagrant disregard for such binding legal directives.
Ramesh S R, a resident of Jayanagar said “It appears that greater the investment in urban transport infrastructure, the more interested political and administrative setups are in such projects, even when it is proven that they may not necessarily serve in resolving the problem at hand.”
The decision making processes resulting in these projects have also comprehensively ignored the need to follow the principles articulated by various progressive national policies such as the National Urban Transport Policy, the National Street Vendors Policy, etc. In many a case, it appears that even elected representatives of the civic body have been kept out of the process of formulating decisions on these mega-projects.
Project affected communities have been denied their fundamental right to compensation, as the State and City Governments have promoted a Transfer of Development Rights scheme while claiming that such a scheme is indeed compensatory. The fact remains that such Transfer of Development Rights scheme are almost always never truly compensatory. Besides the unpopularity of this scheme, it is also a fact that the first person who accepted this voluntary scheme has not yet received his TDR certificate, and that too since 2006! Further, in its desperation to push ahead with road widening and other such projects to relieve traffic congestion, the Government is forcing beleaguered and weary citizens to accept this scheme as though it were mandatory.
Speaking to City Express about the solution of the problems, Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group said, “We should promote only such road improvement and urban transport projects that fully secure the rights of all communities, minimise the displacement of communities and the destruction of greenery, and provide affordable and accessible mobility for all. We should work as a network of solidarity amongst impacted communities to resist illegal displacement and unsustainable and wrong projects.”
Progressive and long lasting solutions are ignored. People across the city have come up with intelligent solutions to resolve the problem of traffic congestion through a variety of initiatives - not just in the short term, but permanently. These include creating streets that are safe public zones, fully accessible, cycling and pedestrian friendly, with preference for public transport and emergency vehicles, that uphold Rights to Livelihoods of street vendors, and conserve trees and open spaces.
Cheriyan Alexander, Professor, St Joseph’s College says,“Repeated Governments have been talking about making Bangalore world class. That would mean they should work with the people in promoting solutions that severely restrict private vehicle use while providing a variety of public transport options, both within the central parts of the city and also the outskirts. In addition, inter-city travel modes could shift to low carbon rail based alternatives, rather than investing wastefully and heavily on expressways and elevated corridors that only benefit a tiny section of the population. Such measures will save the country valuable foreign exchange and would drastically reduce the need for consumption of petrol and diesel, while also helping step up India’s efforts to tackle climate change.”
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