Stealing the initiative

The BJP has scored a win with the scrapping of the steel flyover project in Bengaluru.

March 06, 2017 01:15 am | Updated 01:25 am IST

Row of trees marked for cutting to make way for the construction of steel bridge between Raj Bhavan to Hebbal flyover, near Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, by Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), in Bengaluru.

Row of trees marked for cutting to make way for the construction of steel bridge between Raj Bhavan to Hebbal flyover, near Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, by Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), in Bengaluru.

Usually, things made of steel are expected to last a long time. But a proposed steel flyover in Bengaluru, commissioned by the Congress government in Karnataka at a cost of ₹1,791 crore, ended up being a political steal for the BJP. The project, to construct a 6.7 km-long six-lane flyover, was proposed in 2010, ironically when the BJP was in power, to deal with Bengaluru’s notorious traffic situation. It was mentioned in the State budget in 2014, estimated at that time to cost ₹1,130 crore.

However, in September 2016, when the State Cabinet cleared the project, it put the cost at ₹1,791 crore. Resident groups called it “obnoxious” and galvanised to protest against it. They formed an extraordinary human chain along the Airport Road where the flyover was to be constructed, and discussed it on Twitter where it trended as #SteelFlyoverBeda (We don’t want a steel flyover).

Congress leaders dismissed the protests and alleged that it was a motivated campaign by the BJP and a Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who is seen to be close to the BJP. Apart from civil society and well-known personalities, the Namma Bengaluru Foundation, which is funded by Mr. Chandrashekar, played a key role in the protests.

The government, however, was determined. Even serious questions about how the cost of the flyover was calculated, tenders allegedly without due process were awarded, and a stay order by the National Green Tribunal did not deter it.

Corruption allegations

Things began changing when BJP State president B.S. Yeddyurappa claimed, about a month ago, that he had evidence to prove that large “kickbacks” from awarding contracts for the project were paid to Congress leaders. Initially this was dismissed as a political allegation but later, when Mr. Yeddyurappa said that he would make public the contents of a diary belonging to Congress MLC K. Govindaraj, the issue began to simmer. The Congress, in turn, released a video of a purported conversation between Union Minister Ananth Kumar and Mr. Yeddyurappa, claiming that they were conspiring against the State government.

The contents of the diary were then “leaked” to the media. They suggested that bribes amounting to ₹65 crore were paid to the top leadership, sending the Congress into damage-control mode. The BJP demanded a CBI probe.

The State government, which had until then held a tough stand, was forced to retreat in order to avoid further snowballing of the controversy. This meant that the BJP won politically. Given that there is only a year left for the State Assembly elections, the State government buckled under pressure.

Nothing has changed in Bengaluru’s traffic situation though. After he announced that the project was scrapped, Minister for Bengaluru Development and Town Planning K. J. George was asked if there was an alternative project to ease the traffic. His answer: ask Rajeev Chandrashekhar.

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