More than six years after a massive citizens’ movement on the beautiful tree-lined streets of Bengaluru against a proposed steel flyover eventually led to the cancellation of the ₹2,100 crore project, there is a buzz around yet another flyover.
Much smaller in terms of size and scale at approximately ₹50 crore, the Sankey Tank Road widening and flyover is now the talk of the town.
The Sankey tank, a man-made lake, is one of Bengaluru’s well-preserved and functional water bodies. It brings much-needed lung space to residents of historic Malleswaram, affluent Sadashiva Nagara, and Vyalikaval.
The lake comes alive every morning and evening with thousands of walkers, children, and senior citizens.
Why are people opposing Bengaluru’s Sankey flyover?
Widening of the Sankey tank road has been proposed earlier, around 2011, and was vehemently opposed by locals and environmental activists. Fully grown trees were mercilessly chopped back then.
When media reports emerged that the project is not only back but now also includes a flyover at Bengaluru’s Bhashyam circle, public opposition once again gathered steam and now has evolved into a movement.
The main reason for opposition is the futility of both the road widening and the flyover. Citizens believe these will not solve any problem and are a wasteful spend of precious public money that should be utilised elsewhere.
The flyover will simply shift the congestion from point A to point B. Citizens believe traffic congestion cannot be addressed with vehicle-centric interventions without shifting more commuters to public transport.
Bengalurueans love their trees and the prospect of losing majestic trees and the very character of the area is not acceptable to many.
Also read: 60 trees have to be cut for Bengaluru’s Sankey flyover
Impact of #SteelFlyoverBeda in 2016
The high-voltage #SteelFlyoverBeda campaign in 2016 fundamentally changed the narrative around mobility in Bengaluru.
Traffic congestion has been a big dent on brand Bengaluru and citizens realised that apathy and bad policy are the root cause of the traffic problem. Lack of mass transport led to proliferation of private vehicles (1 crore vehicles).
Globally, sustainable urban mobility runs on the principle of “move people, not vehicles’ — this means do not prioritise roads and flyovers that actually increase traffic but prioritise sustainable mass transport that focuses on moving people around.
Unfortunately, this philosophy is lost on decision-makers due to ignorance coupled with greed for commissions — part of any big-ticket infrastructure project.
No major flyover in Bengaluru in 2016 except Shivananda
The Beda movement made an impact not just by stopping the steel flyover, it also triggered grassroots demands for suburban trains, more buses, integration of train, metro and bus, and non-motorable transport. Political parties and leaders too got the message and in the last few years have been advocating “public transport” as a solution in public forums, though actions are suspect.
What the Beda movement did, undeniably, is to build confidence in citizens that they too have a say in matters of governance and their voice will be heard if presented well in a language understood by the decision-makers.
Many civic groups have been formed and are fighting for the local area. Ward committees have come to life and hundreds of citizens participate to address local civic issues. No major flyover or road widening has been undertaken other than the Shivananda flyover, which only serves as an example to show why flyovers don’t work.
Citizens for Sankey is a textbook example of how a few committed citizens can work together to organise and mobilise public opinion from all sections of society, work with experts and authorities, conduct awareness sessions, question authorities in public forums, and put forth their demands to politicians of all parties.
As the momentum builds up, the citizens’ group is leaving no stone unturned — from postcard campaigns to consultations, legal proceedings, and on-ground mobilisation — to exert enormous pressure on the system to reconsider the project.
With elections around the corner, no government would want to anger a large section of citizens over what clearly is an ill-conceived project with questionable outcomes, if any.
Once again, public transport activists and advocates have an opportunity to create awareness and demand.
With metro work progressing faster than ever and the suburban train project finally taking shape, Bengaluru is actually on the right track in solving its infamous traffic problem. The Bengaluru Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) has now been put in place, bringing a lot of cheer and hope that we can see better integration between various modes of transport and coordination among agencies.
Now is the time for policymakers to double down on bus, train, metro, footpath, cycle, and auto, and declare a 10-year holiday for road widening and flyovers unless there is a well-established need with no other alternatives.
(Srinivas Alavilli is cofounder of Citizens for Bengaluru, which spearheaded the #SteelFlyoverBeda movement in 2016 followed by campaigns for suburban train, bus, walkability, ward committees #ChukuBukuBeku and #BusBhagyaBeku #NadeyaluBidi #NammaSamitiNamagaagi
He was, until recently, head of civic participation at Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy where he worked on strengthening ward committees and deepening public participation in local governance. These are the personal views of the author)