Living with Namma Metro construction: Dust, traffic, safety and livelihood issues

The kickstart of Metro construction across many Bengaluru localities has made daily life painful for residents and shop owners of these areas.

Peak traffic on the busiest section of Tannery Road in East Bengaluru occurs around 6 pm. The heavy traffic makes driving through this narrowest stretch of the road time consuming — taking about six minutes to cover a mere 500 metres.

Small shops line one side of this street which earlier was 40 feet wide but has now been reduced to a little less than 20 feet. The other side has the now familiar blue barricades of Metro construction. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) has had to demolish a water tank, gas agency and a few other shops when they began work in this section. 

Work began late in November of 2019 with a Tunnel Boring Machine carrying out daily construction for the underground Metro stretch that will connect the proposed Pink Line’s Cantonment Junction and Tannery Road Junction.

Noise, pollution cause health issues

Hassan (name changed) has worked for the past 10 years in a sweet store directly opposite the Metro barricades. He says there’s no clarity on when the project will get completed. The pandemic had stalled construction which has only recently picked up pace again. “They’ve dug out the whole compound (the portion of the barricaded Metro work site),” said Hassan. “They sound sirens before any blasting takes place and when it’s over. It can happen at any time of the day”.

Read more: Metro sites causing health hazards for workers; employing children – Citizen Matters, Bengaluru

The BMRCL conducts blasts within the Metro site in order to speed up the process of digging and drilling into the ground. The compound, fenced off from view, has a large open pit in the middle where the blasts are carried out.

Metro workers block off the entire road when they schedule the blasts. Residents complain that there are frequent traffic jams due to this. Buses still ply on the route and often buses coming from opposite sides have to stop till bikers and cars are moved to enable them to move. Traffic also slows down if two buses are crossing each other at the same time as the two-lane road isn’t wide enough for them to pass by easily. Making it more difficult, even unsafe, are the ditches and dug up sections in the road.

The blasts and construction work has increased dust problems for those living in the area. One shop owner in a small lane perpendicular to Tannery Road said the dust makes it harder for them to breathe. Moreover, his lane and others parallel to it have been dug up to lay a pipe. Locals are unsure of who is carrying out the project or when the pipes will be laid and the paths fixed.

All the shops in the area have been there for many years, with one hardware store right by the entrance to the metro site having existed at the spot for more than 40 years. Vegetable vendors have set up shop right along the barricades. “The problem is when the Metro staff closes the whole road for their blasts and we have to leave for some time,” said a muskmelon vendor. While this vendor was pleased with the increase in business with the barricades helping get more foot traffic to his cart, many other shops were removed or moved out from this road. 

Bengaluru metro construction Tannery Road
Vegetable vendors have set up shop right along the barricades. “The problem is when the Metro staff closes the whole road for their blasts and we have to leave for some time,” said one vendor. Many other shops, some of which had been there for over 10 years, were shut or moved to another location. Pic Nihira Ram

Metro construction multiplies traffic woes

Six kilometres south of Tannery Road adjacent to Shivajinagar Bus Stand, work on another Metro site is chugging along. Its proximity to a major bus stop means the narrowed road sees plenty of bus traffic. But lack of signs have made the intersection confusing and riders say they often have to dodge cars who are unsure of which direction they are allowed to turn. Rickshaw drivers complain that they are unable to slow down and pick up passengers on the road without blocking the traffic entirely.

Read more: How commute can be easy, safe during Metro work on ORR 

A recent research paper on the effects of Metro construction in Delhi by Ravi Bhutani, Dr Sewa Ram, and Dr Kayitha Ravinder revealed that queue lengths of vehicles increase substantially when in a construction zone. The average increase due to one Metro site studied by the paper was over 60%. Further, narrowing of the roads reduces vehicle speed by almost 30%.

The paper also found that the total value of lost time for vehicle users on Swami Dayanand Marg, where a Metro station was constructed. While the metro station cost around Rs 18 crores, the cost of fuel loss due to idling on the slow-moving route crossed Rs 19 crores. These economic losses were calculated based on surveys conducted by the researchers.

Affecting lives and livelihoods

More than 40 shops from both Tannery Road and Bamboo Bazaar were forced to relocate in November 2019 to make way for the construction work. Shop owners who were moved believe they got the short end of the stick.

Zaid Khan of Royal Cane Furniture in Bamboo Bazaar, Shivajinagar claims that they were promised compensation at market rates for their land acquired by BBMP. But they were paid only Rs 35,000 as shifting fees. BBMP, the original owners of the land, had been collecting a monthly rent of Rs 3,500 from the shopkeepers in Shivajinagar. Since 2015, shop owners have not been in possession of a rental agreement with BBMP. However, shop owners say collection of rent continued but the BBMP did not provide shop owners with any receipt of the transactions. This has now made the owners ineligible to receive any compensation beyond the shifting fees as there is no record of their tenancy.

The new shops to which Khan and others were relocated are smaller than their original shops, says the shop owner. According to a report in The New Indian Express, the shops cannot move back to their original locations till 2024.

Metro construction has impacted Shivajinagar residents in multiple ways. Leakage of slurry from the construction has led to evacuation of residents for safety reasons. The construction’s storage unit also caught fire, raising safety concerns among citizens living around the site.

The fire that recently erupted at Bamboo Bazaar, next to the Shivajinagar Metro site, had spread to homes. Shahid Rahman lost his house in the fire. Another resident’s grandson had to be admitted to the hospital for oxygen support due to inhalation of smoke.

Steps to mitigate the problem

Bhutani, Ram, and Ravinder’s study recommends “systematic work zone scheduling and traffic management techniques” to reduce the negative consequences of Metro construction. But with no traffic police staff in sight, it seems the city has left management of work zones to the BMRCL. Who seem unable or unwilling to give proper attention to this. 

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