From six-year-olds holding placards to citizens proudly calling themselves ‘old timers of the city’, a wide range of Bengalureans participated in a protest on Sunday against the Rs. 1,791-crore steel flyover project.
By 9 a.m., protesters had lined up on one sidewalk of the stretch between Mehkri Circle and Basaveshwar Circle on the busy road leading to the airport. They were carrying banners and placards, and shouting slogans against the project.
It was not just residents along the proposed route who had turned up. People from as far as J.P. Nagar and Jayanagar came in droves to voice their opposition to the project that has become a symbol of the ‘rampant development at the cost of the city’s charm’.
Tugging along with his parents, 12-year-old Vinayak Vishwanath said he was drawn to the protest as trees would be felled. Giridhar Patnayak from Malleswaram believes the government should instead focus on public transport – with metro, carpooling, bus services as priority.
The protest saw participation by numerous expats, who said hurried large-scale projects were destroying the beauty of the city.
Tiggy Allen from the United Kingdom, who has been working with an NGO in the city for the past one year, says Bengaluru can learn from London where traffic management does not rely on expensive flyovers. “Develop the metro and impose decongestion charges to reduce traffic on the streets instead of building steel flyovers,” she says.
A Swiss artist, who has been living in the city for over two decades, said this was another example of ‘hurried, ill-planned’ projects that cause more problems than offer a solution.
Who’s Who turn up
A number of well-known personalities joined the human chain. These included former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, theatre artist Arundhati Nag and actor Prakash Belawadi, film-maker Pawan Kumar, writer and historian Ramachandra Guha.
Mr. Hegde, who paced through the length of the protest, found it ‘suspicious’ that the project was being supported by the government despite the vehement opposition. “Is the government working for the people or for ulterior motives? They are being arrogant about it. It is true that traffic is bad, but there are alternatives that do not require so much money. Alternative roads to the airport can be developed,” he said.
Pawan Kumar said trees were always the first victims of any large-scale infrastructure project as the government did not consider them a priority. Arundhati Nag said the views of citizens must be incorporated in any democratic society, ‘particularly when large-scale destructive projects’ are being undertaken.
Among the political figures who turned up were MLA Suresh Kumar, MP P.C. Mohan and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrashekar – all from the BJP. “Instead of a destructive flyover, the government should focus on the problematic junctions of Windsor Manor and Cauvery theatre. Flyovers at these two spots would suffice,” said Mr. Kumar.
“I have seen the steel bridges at Kolkata, Patna and Delhi. In terms of aesthetics, they are ugly. After a few years, they start to rust, and governments do not maintain them,” says Javed Ahmed, a software engineer who stays at R.T. Nagar.
“It is important to protest so that the people in power hear the citizens’ voices. There are cheaper, alternatives ways of easing traffic congestion,” says Anita Reddy, co-founder of the NGO, AVAS.
Great to be part of this citizens' protest in Bengaluru today; the proposed steel flyover is a scam, and must be scrapped
Ramachandra Guha @Ram_Guha
Citizens form human chain against steel flyover project…GoK shd listen to citizens n come up with alternate plans
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw @kiranshaw
Politicians selling this myth of flyovers will reduce traffic since Early 2000 today there r traffic jams on Flyovers !!!! #SteelFlyoverBeda
Sadhu Maharaj @SadhuMaharaj
#SteelFlyoverBeda Ella my dog accompanied me at the steel flyover protest Bangalore is a beautiful dog & tree loving city, keep it that way
Drama Queen @GhosalkarAnuja
Kumbiegel’s kin extends support from Germany
Nearly 7,000 kilometers away, the great grand-daughter of Gustav Krumbiegel – the man who is credited for making Bengaluru green – extended support to the protest.
In a short note on Facebook, Alyia Phelps-Gardiner said she got up early in Germany to catch live feeds of the protest. “Great grandfather would have been so proud of you all. He loved India. I can hear it in all his letters. An early letter he wrote to some one at Kew, he expressed what a wonderful country India was… How plants, vegetables and trees just grew in abundance without the need for greenhouses,” she said. Though her great grandfather was German by birth, Ms. Phelps-Gardiner says he was ‘Indian by heart’.
No political symbols, please
Despite the presence of numerous persons from political parties, the message from the protesters was clear: ‘this is not about politics, it is about saving the city’.
A number of Aam Aadmi Party members, who joined the protest, were chided for wearing the party cap and carrying the party symbol (a broom) during the protest. An argument ensued and they were asked to remove the caps. “We have nothing against the party, but the attempt to give a political characteristic to a citizens’ initiative is condemnable,” said an irked Archana Bagri, a resident of Jayanagar.
Disappointment over Vision Group no-show
Many protesters expressed anger that barely a handful of members of the Bengaluru Vision Group had lent their support in person. This, said one, despite an open letter written to them by a few ‘concerned citizens’ seeking their opinion on the controversial project.
The Group, formed earlier this year to advice the government on the city’s infrastructure, includes Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji of Wipro, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart, Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan of Janaagraha.