Of the metro rail, malls and urban ‘malware’

Proposal to construct eight malls in the metro rail corridor makes one wonder whether the project will decongest city roads.

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:04 pm IST

Published - June 23, 2015 01:17 pm IST - HYDERABAD:

Conscientious citizens and urban planners will be aghast at the recent grand announcement of the L&T Metrol Rail Hyderabad (LTMRH) to build not one or two but eight malls, most of them in the core highly congested parts of the city.

Whatever may be the argument, from making the metro rail project viable, ensure reasonably good returns for the concessionaire to entertainment for the commuters, the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project, Hyderabad Next, not only adds to the congestion at all these locations but brings forth, yet again, contradictions in the policy governing Hyderabad city development. Is metro rail for tackling acute transportation problem and de-congest city roads or add to the jamming by creating malls every square foot of which is seeped in real estate exploitation?   

For no city planner worth his salt would ever imagine a mall with a multiplex on a busy stretch already bursting at seams, whatever the compulsion. Particularly galling are the two malls with multiplexes planned by the concessionaire on the Punjagutta-Ameerpet stretch where traffic crawls at snail’s pace. It may be a wonderful shopping experience for the elevated rail commuters but how about the hapless road users on the ground? One has to just take a cursory look at the havoc played on daily basis by the existing malls and multiplexes -- the Hyderabad Central on Punjagutta crossroad, City Mall and the GVK One on Banjara Hills Road No. 1 and the Cinemax on Banjara Hills Road No. 2 -- to cite a few examples.

With grossly inadequate car parking space, they have all turned into bottlenecks to the smooth flow of traffic on these roads. Three or four layers of private cars, cabs, auto-rickshaws and vendors occupy major part of the road in front, at any given point of time, drastically reducing the carriage way. This is not a sound urban policy. You permit a mall to come up creating all sorts of traffic and other related problems and then desperately try to find a solution in the given restricted space, almost next to impossible task.  It is not an exaggeration and there are lot of contrasting examples to look at, the best of them being, Raj Bhavan Road from Khairatabad intersection to Dilkusha Guest House.

Traffic here moves smoothly without a metro, flyover or a skyway as it remains a virgin no-development road stretch devoid of monstrous malls or commercial complexes. Long recognised as a model road by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) with a perfect standard footpath and a central median full of trees, it showcases how development control can be an effective weapon in the armoury of a diligent civic authority for ensuring hurdle-free flow of traffic, irrespective of the exponential growth of population and the automobiles. Of course it may not be the same litter- free model road, if the present Government having a fancy for building string of skyscrapers, has its way.

Quite often it is the Government and civic authority’s policy decision taken under political and realtors’ pressure that a particular road stretch becomes a nightmare for the users. Overnight, roads are arbitrarily declared commercial and massive complexes and malls are indiscriminately permitted (and regularised) on either side without taking the consent of the local people, conducting a proper public hearing, a thorough study of the carrying capacity and creation of commensurate infrastructure like basic car parking facilities. The best example is Jubilee Hills Check Post and Road No. 36. From a silent swanky sparsely populated residential colony it has transformed into a crowded ghetto all in a short span after the main arterial roads were turned commercial.

When things go out of control, the Government looks at quick fix solutions like flyovers and now skyways at enormous costs while all it requires is to say a strict no to malls and commercial complexes on busy stretches using municipal permission as development control instrument. If such projects are approved they would soon mutate into a sort of malware destroying the existing liveable part of the urban eco system. Yes, malls are needed and their proper place is outlying areas of the city to be promoted as getaways from a crowded city. A beginning could be made by turning TOD incorporating these malls into transfer of development rights models to shift them to the outskirts.

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