A 6.7-km steel flyover project costing Rs 1,791 crore proposed by the Karnataka government to improve connectivity between Bengaluru and the Kempegowda International Airport, 37 km away, has run into protests online and on the ground.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah defended it Monday, calling it a transparent project that is much needed to decongest traffic flow. This was after 3,000 protesters, many of them prominent citizens, had taken out a human chain in protest against the project Sunday. The flyover, which will link central Bengaluru to an airport expressway, had been cleared by the Congress cabinet on September 28.
An online campaign initiated by Namma Bengaluru Foundation, run by BJP-linked Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, has found a lot of social media support which has translated into a campaign on the ground backed by the BJP as well as AAP. Their grounds are that the project will lead to the loss of over 800 trees and end up promoting private transportation rather than public transport systems.
“This project is transparent, our government is transparent, the chief secretary has had four meetings on the project and I have had two meetings. We have called for public opinion where we have heard people democratically and the majority have approved. Karnataka High Court has given the go-ahead to the project as well,” Siddaramaiah said.
The CM said the government is simultaneously pursuing public transport projects such as extension of the Bengaluru Metro to the new airport as well as development of a commuter rail system to connec t to the new airport.
Siddaramaiah accused the BJP of playing politics after having conceived the project in 2010, when it was in power. “The first study for the project was done in 2010 when the BJP was in power. They are now jealous that we are going ahead with it. They gave birth to the project and abandoned it for lack of funds, we have taken it up now,” he said.
“The overall intent is to decongest Bangalore. There will be some problems in all projects like the loss of trees but we will attempt shifting of trees and planting of saplings to compensate,” he said. “People want development, they want us to do things democratically, they want roads decongested, but when we set out to do these things they raise protests. What is to be done in these circumstances?” he said.
A global tender was called for the project earlier this year. Two companies — L & T and Navayuga — participated in the bidding, and L & T won the contract on the basis of a lower bid, Siddaramaiah said. One of the reasons why the cost of the project has escalated from Rs 1,350 crore stated in the detailed project report to the present Rs 1,791 crore is an increase in the VAT on steel from around five per cent to 14 per cent, the chief minister said. Out of the nearly 300 suggestions received on the project, as many as 73 per cent has been in favour of the flyover, he said.
While developing the main link road to the Bengaluru international airport, the government is also developing existing roads on the outskirts of the city leading to the airport, Siddaramaiah said.
During the protest Sunday, several prominent citizens of Bengaluru, such as former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, termed the project a foolhardy one. There have been suggestions that the project is being initiated with an eye on kickbacks as the Congress prepares for polls. Leaders of the BJP also participated in the protest.
“Bengaluru needs a comprehensive mobility plan with focus and large-scale investment in public transportation. Keeping this in mind, the proposed steel flyover comes across as a strong signal from the government that they prefer to cater the private sector instead of giving public transport a much-needed push,” says an online petition by the Namma Bengaluru Foundation.
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