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Karnataka CM bows to protests, cancels Bengaluru flyover project

03 March 2017

Faced with intense citizen protest, the Karnataka government has scrapped a plan to build a 6.2-km steel flyover at a cost of Rs1,791 crore in Bengaluru, a year ahead of the state assembly polls.

The project involved cutting over 800 trees to facilitate faster traffic movement towards the city centre from a hub that connects to the airport. Citizens had, apart from other concerns, made accusations of corruption in the proposed deal. The flyover was to be jointly built by Larsen & Toubro and the Nagarjuna Group.

Karnataka is among the last large states to be still ruled by the Congress party. In 2013, the Congress had wrested control from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which lost the state partly over scandals regarding alleged corruption and misuse of power.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah's government had similar apprehensions on the citizen protests. "We have been forced to prove our sincerity. There are corruption charges being levelled against us when not a single rupee has been taken as a kickback by us. We do not want to take the blame for something that we have not done, so we are dropping the project," said K J George, the state's minister for Bengaluru Development and Town Planning.

"The project had become a pain point for us, as the media has been speaking on a daily basis about corruption in it," he added.

Various citizen activists had united under the banner of 'Steel Flyover Beda' (beda is Kannada for 'no' or 'not wanted'). There were human chains held and demands for informed public discussion. The cost and the trees being sacrificed were the major concerns.

"The news of the government's climbdown is very welcome. This project was characterised by unseeming hurry, no public consultation, no environment impact assessment, inflated costs and finally an alleged diary with kickback entries," said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent Rajya Sabha member from the state, who was part of the fight.

Chandrashekhar added, "Governments and politicians will be well advised to remind themselves that they are here to serve the people and our city, not to exploit. Those who do so will be held to account under law. The demand for investigation into the alleged diary remains and must be followed through."

Another prominent activist, architect Naresh Narasimhan, said one should appreciate the chief minister's decision in accepting the mistake and withdrawing the project. "The CM has shown leadership and we should appreciate it. I hope the partnership between citizens and the government continues for betterment of the city," he said.

Some said the fight would move to allied issues. Srinivas Alav, founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, said the movement had turned from 'Beda' to 'Beku' (Kanada for want), "where we ask for (better) public transport".

"We have only 6,000 buses on the road and the fares of buses are the highest in the country. We will continue our fight for a suburban railway and more buses with lower fares. This is a victory but the fight will continue. The victory has taught us that a physical citizens' movement will always be heard and a social media citizens' movement is not enough," he said.

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