On protecting Bengaluru’s public space

A day-long workshop held last Saturday looked at the slew of challenges in Bengaluru ranging from loss of livelihoods, public spaces and commons.

Many of us know that hundreds of trees are  felled all over the city under the guise of road widening often with no prior approval. Traders, home-owners, street vendors and slum dwellers are  dislocated without appropriate compensation apparently for various infrastructure projects without guarantee that these tasks will meet their proposed objectives and deadlines.concerned Bangaloreans

If these citizen groups hadn’t intervened, BBMP would have implemented its road-widening scheme launched in 2005 (pic courtesy: Hasiru Usiru/ESG)

Knowing that we could either accept or question the largely brazen and undemocratic approach adopted in the name of the city’s development, some groups such as Hasiru Usiru, CIVIC, Environment Support Group (ESG) and other individuals have been doing the latter with some success. To further their efforts and involve more people, a workshop was organised to help understand the laws and policies for urban planning and infrastructure development and devise plans for collective action.

Incidentally, if these citizen groups hadn’t intervened, BBMP would have implemented its road-widening scheme launched in 2005. Consequently,
  • The remaining trees would have also disappeared
  • Wide roads would have replaced most houses and businesses in about 91 streets
  • Street vending zones would be swiped out rendering thousands jobless
  • Hundreds would be injured and killed in road accidents, leaving behind suffering families
  • Considering that the metro construction was a recent election issue, they believe that more and better informed citizens would file RTI applications to question governmental decisions
  • If thousands protest against the alignment of the Metro through Lalbagh and Lakshman Rao boulevard, even now, no Government would have the strength to defend its illegal actions of selling Lalbagh (Yes, the government has ordered a piece of Lalbagh to be sold to a Japanese bank!).
  • The Race Course and street trees could still be preserved in Bangalore’s landscape

It was a Saturday, the 4th of July. But that did not deter almost a 100 Bangaloreans to attend this day-long worskshop at the Institute of Agricultural Technologists (on Queen’s Road). Organised by Hasiru Usiru, Environment Support Group and CIVIC, it was aimed at meeting the challenge of protecting livelihoods, public spaces and commons.

The workshop began with Vinay Sreenivasa of Hasiru Usiru and Divya Ravindranath of ESG highlighting how widening roads is two or four-wheeler centric as vehicles can run faster and also pointed out the need for alternatives like better public transport, walking/cycling zones. They also shared details about the PIL regarding the impact of road widening on pedestrian access especially for the differently-abled. Bhargavi Rao of ESG reminded us that public spaces are faces of identity that support livelihoods and house the homeless. They are also places of socio-cultural expression, heritage, and enjoyment that host various species of flora and fauna.

civic awareness progamme

Issues such as water woes, climate change , tree felling, illegal construction were also discussed. (pic courtesy: Hasiru Usiru/ESG)

Leo Saldanha of ESG reiterated that the plan of “Converting Bangalore to Singapore” is unacceptable and that we should meet with Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) officials with ideas for an underground metro. An insightful dialogue on the need for inclusive development, public participation in decision making, the impact of water woes, pollution, climate change, tree felling and illegal constructions in Bangalore followed.

Kathyayini Chamaraj and Selva (CIVIC) discussed the adverse impact of slum demolitions in Hosakerehalli (Veerabhadra Nagar) during the (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise-Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor) NICE-BMIC project and metro construction on weavers’ livelihoods on KR Road. They mentioned that according to the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy 2007 (NRRP), the government must:

  • Appoint a special commissioner to consider alternatives
  • Do social impact assessment, perform a survey, publish results and call for objections
  •  Hold consultation with affected families, provide benefits and redress grievances
  • Do a post-implementation social audit

They also explained how BMRCL, BBMP, Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) and other government bodies not only bypassed these stipulations but also kept shifting blame and responsibility. The officials from these departments denied the applicability of the NRRP as the affected people were Dalits and SC/ST Atrocity Act for their defence. Further, the government has been transferring its duties such as garbage collection and disposal, water supply and sewerage removal to private organizations. This denies basic amenities and developmental benefits to  marginalized and unorganized workers who does all ‘dirty jobs’ for a pittance at great risks with minimal or no gain.

Sunil Yadav, a lawyer with ESG elucidated the scope and significance of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act (KTCPA), the Parks Notification Act (PNA) and the proposed Heritage Bill. The first law requires all plans for creation, maintenance and modification of public commons and spaces such as roads and lakes to be published in English and Kannada news media and shared with direct stakeholders such as  residents, businesspersons and others. The  PNA specifies that all parks and gardens must be notified and used only for the stated purposed. The Heritage Bill which is under debate currently aims to protect and preserve historical spots and buildings in Karnataka. He narrated the following instances of gross violations in their implementation:

  • BBMP has not notified any park since 1988.
  • BMRCL lacks a Master Plan for land acquisition, destruction of roads, parks and other public spaces.
  • BDA circumvents the TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) provision in the KTCPA that governs exchange of ownership and expansion rights while modifying government buildings.

After these informative and thought provoking sessions, the participants divided themselves into focus groups to brainstorm on understanding and working on aspects pertaining to legal, communication, policy, road widening, public transport and common spaces. Representatives of each subgroup then summarized their overall plan to the larger audience. The workshop ended with a resolution for continued, joint, visible and strong action to ensure that Bangalore is for Everyone!

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