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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mega widening of Roads at what cost?

Mega widening of 

Roads at what cost?



Do we need irrational road widening projects of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which has neglected the safety of Cyclists, pedestrians, senior citizens, children, differently abled and so on apart from axing trees and being implemented in a blatant violation of the law?

Nethrakere Udaya Shankara

Environment Support Group with the support of CIVIC Bangalore took this matter to High Court of Karnataka and the Honorable High Court issued interim direction on constituting an Empowered Committee to review all aspects of the road widening and related urban transport projects and to ensure that implementing agencies comply with law.

As per the directions of the High Court, members of Environment Support Group tried to involve public at large on the issue of widening road projects. But unfortunately, the Empowerment Committee Chair decided not to allow any public involvement in its proceedings, advantaging State agencies to make submissions.

Hence Environment Support Group launched online petition/ representation to the Chair Person and Members of the Committee urging them to involve public in planning and decision making processes and It appealed to all to support this I petition Campaigning by endorsing it.

PARYAYA presents here the full text of the appeal of Environment Support Group and I petition to the Chair Person and Committee members of High Power Committee and requests all to support this novel campaign which intends to safeguard the interests of public at large and protect trees which which gives human beings fresh air and oxygen. 

Appeal to All

Dear Friends

After a long hiatus we write to you to support a critical campaign on an issue that will have a long lasting impact on the futures of Bangalore.  We hope your support and cooperation will be extended to us as always.

Sincerely

ESG India Team

Campaign Appeal:  Endorse Petition to High Court Appointed Committee to review Bangalore Mega Road Widening Project



Dear All,

We write to draw your attention to a matter of critical concern to all-- Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike's (BBMP), the municipality of the city of Bangalore, proposes to widen 91 prime roads of the city. This is purportedly to reduce congestion and ease traffic flows and thus make living in the city easier for all. It is claimed by the authorities (continuing in its un-elected state for about two years now) that road widening will increase average traffic flows from the current 8 kms. /hour to 40 kms/hour. Every kilometer of road widening is likely to cost a minimum of Rs. 10 crores (excluding land acquisition costs; Rs. 100 million) thus making the overall exercise a super mega project.

A quick analysis of the project would suggest that road widening programmes will not meet the objectives of reducing traffic congestion in the city, as it is oriented towards advancing private modes of travel. Besides, the project does not take into account needs of different road users and compromises on the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, hawkers, differently abled, senior citizens, children and so on. We also find that the road widening scheme is an irrational exercise that is proposed without any conformity with law and goes against the basic principles of urban planning and design. It is fundamentally opposed to progressive features of the National Urban Transport Policy and the innumerable circulars and notices issued Union Ministry of Urban Development. Most critically the project would destroy hundreds of businesses and homes, causing a serious impact on livelihoods. Additionally, it would decimate the green cover of the city – constituted largely by the charming avenue trees of Bangalore – a heritage of the city.

These concerns have been championed for over four years by Environment Support Group in collaboration with a city based network Hasiru Usiru, focussed on protecting lives, livelihoods and urban public and open spaces and greenery. A series of engagements with various State agencies and Public Consultations have marked this process, often providing the implementing agencies with a range of low cost, progressive and long lasting solutions. Unfortunately, none of these have been considered with the interest and seriousness they deserve.

The city authorities regardless went ahead in implementing the project in blatant violation of the law. Constrained, therefore to mount a legal challenge, Environment Support Group with the support of CIVIC Bangalore filed a PIL (WP No. 7107/2008) in the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka challenging the legality of the road widening and other transport development projects in Bangalore. Considering our appeal favourably, the Court issued an interim direction constituting an Empowered Committee to review all aspects of the road widening and related urban transport projects and to ensure that implementing agencies comply with law. Further, the Committee was strongly advised to involve the wide public in all its decisions and ensure such projects were sustainable and keeping with progressive urban planning and design standards in project development and implementation. The PIL was proposed as a framework in conceiving a process for resolving the various issues involved. We perceived this process as a progressive and productive step towards resolving the conflicts induced by the road widening and related infrastructure projects.

In the months following the 28 June 2008 Court order, we have consistently engaged with the Court appointed Committee on a variety of issues, filed a series of representations, encouraged project affected communities to present their concerns, highlighted the possibilities of progressive solutions that could redeem the congestion without resorting to widening roads. Unfortunately, the Committee Chair has decided not to allow any public involvement in its proceedings, exclusively advantaging State agencies to make submissions. Such in transparent procedures have been repeatedly protested by various Committee members, who have pressed for this quasi judicial forum to be held in conformity with the directions of the High Court.

It is critical that alternative dispute mechanisms, such as the High Court appointed Committee, fulfill their due obligations to society. Success of such fora will go a long way in ensuring a process of conflict resolution on contentious issues, which does not have to resort to litigation. Most importantly, such forums have enormous possibilities in ensuring deep public involvement in shaping a city that values social justice for all and opts for ecologically sensible solutions which are also economically viable.

Attached below is the link to an online petition/representation to the Chairperson and Members of the Committee urging them to involve public in planning and decision making processes. The petition also urges the critical importance of prioritizing safety of cyclists, pedestrians, senior citizens, children, differently abled, street vendors and other vulnerable communities in public projects. It is argued that with intelligent road design it is possible to safeguard lives, livelihoods, homes, heritage and green cover of the city which is largely provided by avenue trees.

Be a part of the campaign by signing the petition at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nammaraste.  Alternatively, you may send in your endorsements to the address below or email: divyarrs@esgindia.org.  We request you to endorse this petition preferably by Tuesday, 21 October 2008.   Please do provide your full name, affiliations and contact details when you endorse.  A copy of the petition is attached.

More details on the issue, including a copy of the High Court judgment, are accessible online at: www.esgindia.org.

Thank you for your cooperation and support.


Best regards

Divya Ravindranath

Environment Support Group
105, East End B Main Road
Jayanagar 9th Block East
Bangalore 560069
Tel: 91-80-22441977/26531339
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26534364

Campaign Appeal

Chairperson and Members
Karnataka High Court Empowered Committee on Bangalore Roads
Per interim direction of Hon’ble High Court in WP No. 7107/2008
C/o Convenor/Tree Officer
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike
NR Square
Bangalore 560002

16th October 2008

Dear Sir/Madam,

For over four years now, Hasiru Usiru (a network of citizens, community organizations and NGOs) and concerned individuals from the wider public have proactively campaigned against irrational road-widening projects of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). These efforts have been simultaneously supplemented by working with different agencies of the Government to evolve appropriate and long term measures for reducing traffic congestion and to ensure that roads are safe for all.

In keeping with progressive understanding of urban planning and design, our campaign has worked to advance the interests of all road users, and not just of motorised transport. We have argued that public involvement in decisions relating to road development work would help prioritise safety of cyclists, pedestrians, senior citizens, and children, differently abled and so on. Further, we have demonstrated that with intelligent road design it is possible to safeguard lives, livelihoods, homes, heritage and green cover of the city which is largely provided by avenue trees.

In spite of such deliberate efforts, BBMP proceeded irrationally and illegally on its road widening works in complete contravention of various laws, in particular the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, and the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act. We also brought to the attention of the relevant officials and agencies that such action totally disregarded various policies such as the National Urban Transport Policy, National Policy for Hawkers and Street Vendors, and a variety of circulars issued by Union Ministry of Urban Development. Further, we highlighted that such actions were in contempt of Hon'ble High Court's directions in WP No. 14104/2005, wherein the agencies were required to take Hasiru Usiru and the wide public into confidence before implementing projects.

Deeply troubled by lack of conformance with law in implementing transport projects, Environment Support Group and CIVIC Bangalore filed a PIL (WP No. 7107/2008) challenging the legality of the road widening and other transport development projects in Bangalore. By an interim decision the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka constituted an Empowered Committee to review road widening and related urban transport projects and to ensure that implementing agencies comply with law while also adhering to progressive urban planning and design standards in project development and implementation. The Hon'ble Court also directed that the Committee was “duty bound to take into consideration the views of the public before any developmental works is to be undertaken keeping in view the public interest.” This decision of the Hon'ble Court was welcomed by all.

In order to assist the Committee in fulfilling the directions of the Hon'ble Court, Environment Support Group, Alternative Law Forum and CIVIC Bangalore organized a workshop entitled Namma Raste drawing together over 80 representatives from various sectors. The workshop developed various progressive ideas to ensure that High Court's directions were fully met even as the problems of congestion of traffic could be resolved without resorting to irrational road widening options. This report was widely disseminated and many affected communities benefited from the awareness thus generated.

Subsequently, many attempts were made by various affected communities, Petitioners and concerned individuals in bringing to the Committee concerns through formal submissions and representations. However, these efforts were frustrated because it was claimed the Committee was out of bounds for anyone except Committee Members and Government agencies. In a questionable exception, certain proposals of M/s Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise were entertained by this Committee. It seemed to us that while there were particular agencies that were privileged in accessing the Committee, the wide public, and in particular the affected public, was denied rightful opportunity to participate in Committee's proceedings. In a matter of months, our hopes that this Committee would work progressively as mandated by the Hon'ble High Court have been dashed.

Meanwhile, the BBMP has unrelentingly proceeded with its tree-felling and road-widening works—on Kanakapura Road, Bellary Road, Race Course Road, Palace Road, Sarjapur Road, amongst others—without conforming with law or securing assent of aforementioned Committee as required per directions of the Hon'ble Court.

Such issues we have learnt were debated in the Committee and there has been strong disapproval by several Members of the manner in which the committee has failed to take action as required by the High Court's directions. We understand that several Members are dismayed and disappointed over arbitrary conduct in the Committee’s proceedings. By disallowing the Petitioners, affected communities and larger public from meetings of the said Committee, it also seems to be abdicating its public character by entering into private deliberations behind closed doors.

Keeping all this in view and to ensure that the Committee abides by directions of Hon’ble Court and is able to perform its duties, we request you to take the following steps with due dispatch:

1. Take action against officials of BBMP and the Tree Officer for carrying on road-widening works and tree-felling without consent of the Empowered Committee.

2. Suspend road-widening works until there is compliance with Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act and relevant provisions made in various policies and circulars of Union Ministry of Urban Development.

3. Proper procedures are instituted to conduct meetings in a transparent and publicly accountable manner befitting a quasi judicial forum.

4. Ensure that interests of affected parties is taken into consideration and the constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing is secured.

5. Allow Petitioners their due right to engage with the Committee in developing “interim arrangements” to resolve the problems the projects pose as directed by the Hon'ble Court.

We submit this representation in the hope that immediate action would be taken to correct the process of the working of this Committee in order that wider public interest is secured, special rights are particularly protected, and urban greenery is not senselessly lost due to undemocratic, illegal and irrational decision making.   

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