Malls: It’s BBMP Vs Traffic Police

New malls mean entertainment hubs in the neighbourhood. But it also adds hundreds of cars to the very street. A Citizen Matters inquiry exposes a huge hole in BBMP's mall approval rules.

As is widely experienced by Bangaloreans, malls, high rises and tech parks are now congestion hotspots around the city. A recent update at the Bangalore Traffic Police (BTP)’s Facebook page talks about traffic congestion at Nagavara junction in north Bangalore. Traffic at the junction is four times the capacity during peak hours; BTP attributes this to the nearly 10,000 vehicles that go to and from Manyata Tech Park for two hours every morning and evening.

Citizen Matters has found out that the city’s sanction process for malls and similar complexes is at the root of the rapidly worsening problem. Traffic management does not seem to be a concern in BBMP. Palike does ask mall developers to submit a Traffic Management Plan (TMP) to the Traffic Police and get their NOC, but it is not mandatory and there is no system to ensure that this happens.

Malls galore in Bengaluru. Pic: Pranav B

An independent traffic management consultant prepares the TMP for the builder. The plan, when prepared is to be based on traffic census of the area. It would suggest entry and exit points, driveways etc depending on this. TMP will also suggest how government agencies can regulate traffic in the vicinity once the mall comes up. So far this seems to be happening only on paper.

BBMP officials say that neither the building bye-laws nor the RMP (Revised Master Plan) demand a Traffic NOC and hence it cannot be insisted on. "TMP is not mandatory, but we ask very big projects – both residential and commercial – to submit it while they are applying for sanction, due to the traffic situation," says an Assistant Director of Town Planning at the BBMP Head Office, on condition of anonymity.

Traffic Police Chief at odds with BBMP

Praveen Sood, ACP (Traffic) says that BBMP bye-laws themselves are inadequate to handle the traffic situation. He says that the biggest problem regarding malls is their entry and exit points – they should merge into the road, allowing vehicles to move smoothly. "For many malls, entry/exit lanes are at right angles to the building. Also, for every entry point there should be 2-3 exit points. The bye-laws are silent about all this. According to bye-law there should be one car parking for every 25 seats in a multiplex. Is this rule even relevant today?" he asks.

Many malls are also located at junctions. "Garuda mall, Bangalore Central are all located at junctions, for better business. They do not let in autos, causing autos to be parked outside, at the junctions. When Kempfort in Old Airport road became Total Mall, no additional parking was provided. Now the building has many shops and all parking happens in its vicinity. In the case of Royal Meenakshi mall in Bannerghatta road, the road width was not considered while giving sanction," he says.

Implementation of the sanctioned plan is another issue. Sood cites the case of Mantri Square in Malleshwaram. "It was supposed to have an exit on the backside. The ramp that people climb was supposed to be an auto lane. It was there on the plan sanctioned by BBMP, but not implemented."

The plan sanction route

Royal Meenakshi Mall on Bannerghatta Road. Pic: Pranav B

The sanction goes through different levels in BBMP’s Town Planning department – Assitant/Junior Engineer, Assistant Director, Deputy Director, Joint Director, Additional Director, Engineer in Chief, Special Commissioner (Projects) and then Commissioner. Once the draft copy is approved, builder submits fair copies of the plan, which has to be approved again by Additional Director. Any minor changes from the draft plan can be incorporated in the fair plan. Fee endorsement and affidavit (stating that parking lot will not be misused, building debris will be removed regularly, etc.) also need to be submitted along with the fair plan. Multiplexes inside malls require DC’s approval.

BBMP Engineer-In-Chief B T Ramesh, says that BBMP is now considering a proposal to prevent malls from coming up in core areas. "They would be allowed in outer areas only. The proposal is still under discussion. Nothing has been finalised yet," he says.

Confusion about Traffic Management Plan approval

There seems to be no clear process for either requesting or approving a TMP. The BBMP, Town Planning department and traffic police have different versions of the process. None connect. BBMP says that the builder has to submit the TMP to the local traffic police station which would have jurisdiction over the mall. A copy is submitted to BBMP also. After seeing the plan, traffic police should give their NOC. "The plan has to go to the office of ACP (Traffic) and get approved. But there is no formal mechanism for this – sometimes traffic police vet it and give something in writing, otherwise they just orally approve it," says a senior official in BBMP’s Town Planning department, on condition of anonymity.

The official says that all malls that came up over the last decade were asked to submit TMPs – including Forum mall in Koramangala, Garuda mall in Magrath road and Mantri mall in Sampige road. "The recent ones – Royal Meenakshi mall and Vega mall in Bannerghatta road – were also asked to submit it," he says.

Many high level officials in the Town Planning department were not sure of the procedure itself. Joint Director of Town Planning (South) T Nataraj says that TMP is submitted to BBMP only and that he was not sure of whether it was submitted to the Traffic Police. Ramesh, on the other hand, says that traffic police is not involved in the plan sanction process. "TMP is submitted to BBMP and we only ask the opinion of traffic police. We can sanction the plan without the approval of traffic police also," he says.

Realtors confirm that they submit TMPs for mall sanctions. N Veeraraghavan, Director at the real estate consultancy One Source Technologies, says that all multi-storeyed commercial establishments should submit TMPs to get BBMP’s sanction and that all malls have been doing this. Veeraraghavan previously worked as Corporate Director at Sobha Developers.

Sood however categorically says that in the last three years since he took charge, he has not received any TMPs for sanction. "Even if we receive TMPs, we cannot do much about it. Traffic police are not engineers to understand and approve building plans. BBMP should have a transport planner to do this," he says.

BBMP officials however say that the data on traffic situation should not be difficult for the traffic police to understand, and that traffic police should shoulder the responsibility.

Bye-law amendment to make TMP mandatory still not approved

News reports in 2007 suggest that former BBMP Commissioner S Subramanya had taken initiatives to make traffic NOC mandatory and to make it a provision in the amended bye-laws. BBMP’s Traffic Cell was also supposed to look into TMP.

The amended bye-laws are pending government approval. BBMP’s Traffic Cell does not look into building plans now. "Traffic Cell is only concerned with improving junctions, creating traffic islands etc. They are not concerned with town planning at all," say Town Planning officials.

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