Smart City plan and Malleshwaram Market redevelopment: What’s going on?

Malleshwaram Market is high value real estate land. But developing it needs a lot of money. Will the Smart City Plan develop it as part of its project?

The 80-year-old prime land site of Malleswaram Market seems to be buzzing with construction. Founded in 1940s, the Market located at 11th cross, Malleswaram in Bengaluru is a prime property of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), in the pulsating city of Bengaluru. What was a local market for residents of Malleswaram, with its high real-estate value, but old single level market that accommodated a few vendors, was deemed to be a low-earning area for the city government

In June 2017, when Bengaluru became the seventh Karnataka region to get included in the Smart City plan, Malleswaram Market development got earmarked as an important project, with an allocation of Rs 131.83 crore, as BM Vijay Shankar, Special Commissioner (Projects), Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), who was earlier in charge of the Smart City plan, revealed to Citizen Matters in a list of its projects.

However, according to other reliable BBMP sources, Malleswaram Market is actually out of the Smart City list. That is because once the Urban Development Department realised that the BDA is already involved in the development of the market, there is no point in the overlap, so it just decided to withdraw. “This is prime land,” said an official. “If the BDA takes charge and gets involved in the funding, then why should the Smart City planners do it? Moreover, there are some political implications involved, so we did not want to get embroiled in that.”

But actually, there seems to be some confusion even over the decision and communication. While the grant for its development is mentioned in the list given to Citizen Matters last month, the decision to leave out the market from the plan seemed to have been taken in January this year, according to other reliable BBMP sources. 

Meanwhile, CN Ashwath Narayan, MLA of Malleswaram, who had campaigned to build up Malleswaram Market for the sake of the vendors, is also not too clear about its status in the plan. “I have asked for the details, but they have not been revealed to me,” he said.

“I think some small portions like waste management in the market area will be dealt with by the Smart City project, but the overall market development will be undertaken by the BDA.” He says he is not too sure whether Malleswaram Market is part of the Smart City project or not.

Projects yet to take off, changes in pipeline

Apart from the market, other areas from Malleswaram that were listed in Smart City project include the building of a parking facility for 375 cars, a water treatment plant, CCTV surveillance, KC General Hospital, Sankey Tank development and energy-efficient lighting. The parking facility is supposed to come up in one floor of the market redevelopment project.

These earmarked features of Malleswaram have not been removed, yet confusions multiply due to lack of coordination. In January, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), headed by BBMP Commissioner, N Manjunath Prasad, like a full-time Managing Director, was formed, in order to take charge of the project.

The SPV had the right to decide on the issue and change or relocate. Yet, there was still a lot of planning that had to be put in place.  Although the SPV is run like a private company, its staffers point out that they belong not to the corporate but the government world, where the wheels turn slowly! “It takes six months for execution to take place,” said one staffer.

But then, after the creation of the SPV in January, haven’t six months flowed by? 

“Sure, but elections got in the way,” explained the official. After all, the staff of five to six employees was finalised only this month. However, even the staff strength is actually not the problem, he added. The overall responsibility lies with the Project Management Consultancy, iDeck, which will draft the Detailed Project Reports and work out the plans. The staff will only execute them. Yet, currently, no tenders have been floated, nor have decisions been taken, so the PMC seems to have delayed its decisions.

How did Malleswaram Market get into the Smart City list?

The main reason for the inclusion of the Malleswaram Market in the Smart City plan was its status as a heritage site, Historic Economic Centre and Central Business District. It was only later that the department decided to give it the go by, so the market seems to be in a sorry state. BBMP officials say that some work is ongoing, with the BDA building up the area on the ground floor, while commercial construction is happening on the floors above it.

But RTI activist, BM Shivakumar, who has been fighting a losing battle over the market, is quite cynical. “Construction? Not in the least,” he exclaims. He says that BDA has no money for building anything here. “There is obviously going to be an indirect sale of the prime land,” he sighs.

Malleswaram Market’s story has been an eventful one for the last few years. In 2014, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), which were supposed to develop the market, just decided to backtrack from it. Vendors have been fighting to reclaim their place in the market, and Ashwath Narayan, their MLA, promised his support.

But now, he is quite firm that development is happening, although he is not in the least clear about the Smart City project. “The land belongs to the BBMP, while the development is being done by the BDA,” he explains. “Malleswaram Market is a self-financing module. Once it succeeds, the revenues will be shared by both the BBMP and BDA,” he says.

No funds released, nothing is final yet!

B M Shivakumar agrees that some encroachments have taken place in the market area, but denies that now there is any development, nor is there any likelihood of it. “Reconstruction of the market was taken up as a joint venture with the BBMP. However, I can assure you that there will be no development at all, as I suspect that there will only be a secretive sale of the market land in order to reap its benefits.”

Scarce funds for development of the market seems to be the pain point. The Central Government needs to finance every Smart City project, which should be matched by the state. However, no funds seem to be coming from anywhere, at least now. The Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation (KUIDFC) has written to the Centre asking to release the mandatory funds. Yet, there has been no reply, so the state too will not release funds that would match the Centre’s scale of grants for its development if it had been part of the plan.

Meanwhile, the decisions too are not final. “Only during the meeting on the 19th of this month, the board meeting will decide which projects should be taken up and which should be dropped. Till then, many projects are in the grey area, explained the official.

Hence, the problems seem to be following each other in a loop. Even as one problem leads to the other, Malleswaram Market is the scapegoat. “Currently, there is absolutely no development here,” exclaimed Shivakumar, although he feels it would be good if the Centre can fund the market through the Smart City plan.

However, even with no funding guaranteed from anywhere, some work for the market has been proceeding in the area for some time now.

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