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  • A tale of two cities.
    Subramaniam Vincent on the need for citizen action to rejuvenate the Bangalore-Mysore corridor. This story involves an action item.
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    In Brief

  • The congested Bangalore-Mysore corridor is begging for better transportation.

  • The Rs.4000 crore Bangalore-Mysore expressway and townships project gets special treatment from the state government.

  • The National Human rights commission has directed the state government to investigate the human rights violations of the 2000 expressway public hearings.

  • Two far less expensive railway expansion options with lesser environmental and social costs lie neglected.

  • A World Bank funded and monitored Rs.1700 crore project is underway to upgrade Karnataka state highways. The Bangalore-Mysore state highway has been deliberately excluded.

  • The promoters of the Bangalore Mysore expressway project have not only suppressed information of the availability of alternatives to decongest the corridor, they have dismissed their very feasibility.

  • The state government is independently upgrading the Bangalore-Mysore highway with HUDCO funding.

  • India Together recommends that concerned citizens in Karnataka write to editors of local dailies.
  • The desperate transportation demands of the Bangalore-Mysore corridor are well known. The overwhelming inadequacy of both the current railway track and the state highway is something thousands of commuters face everday. But after almost a decade of planning, proposals and ceremonic inaugurations, the possibilies of improved transport services along the corridor remain mired in controversy and neglect.

    Transportation options

    Let's look at the transportation options that have come our way recently. Conversion of the existing Bangalore-Mysore railway line into a "High Speed Double Track Electric Rail Link" was proposed in a GoK commissioned study in 1998. At a cost of Rs. 500 crores, a 20 min peak hour service is achievable. And marginal land acquisition. Expansion of services upto 10 minutes intervals is possible. Later, in 2000, the Southern Railways said that it was willing to cover half the cost of doubling the track between Bangalore and Mysore, including electrification.

    An expanded and electrified railway connection between the two cities could carry around 60,000 passenger journeys per day. This would take a substantial portion of the pressure that arises from the 80,000 trips daily from all modes of transport. These proposals however gather dust in the halls of the state government.

    Let review the roadways options. Earlier in 2001, the World Bank and the state government signed off on a Rs.1700 crore loan towards upgradation of the entire state highway network in Karnataka to international standard motorable highways. Funding is included for upgrading the organizational capacities of the roads development authorities. The Bank project appraisal document states in no unclear terms that upgradation of the organizational capacities is criticial to achieving world-class highways. A sensible move it seems. Well, as it turns out, the World Bank highways project is NOT upgrading the Bangalore-Mysore state highway. The government is independently upgrading the Bangalore-Mysore highway with HUDCO funding.

    Special Interests

    Meanwhile, the Rs.4000 crore Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project has been given every clearance in the book. In fact the book has even been "updated" to make way for the project. Consider the subsidies or "incentives" granted to NICE Ltd (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises) for BMIC project.

    • Government land is being leased to NICE for Rs 10 (20 cents) per acre per year for a forty year period, i.e. forever.
    • Private land is being sold to NICE Ltd at substantially lower prices than it is being acquired for.
    • The Karnataka Town and Country planning act was modifed earlier in 2001 to exempt NICE Ltd from levies and cesses.
    • The state government has committed 150 million liters per day of Cauvery water to the townships without consulting the Cauvery River Tribunal. An illegal act.
    • NICE Ltd has been legally cleared by the state government of resettlement and rehabilitation responsbilities.
    What is all this for? The primary component is a new expressway that promises 1.5 hour driving times between Bangalore and Mysore. The second and critical component: 5 new townships to be co-located around the expressway. The new townships provide the opportunity to decongest Bangalore, it is argued. But like the Mumbai-Pune expressway, this is an expressway where toll charges alone do not make the project viable. That is where the townships come in. The real-estate proceeds from developing the townships subsidize the cost of the expressway and provide investors their returns. The expressway needs around 7000 acres of land. The townships and associated facilities need the 14000 acres in addition! That is a lot of land in return for 1.5-hour driving times.

    It just so happens that lakes, forests, tanks, wildlife and people thrive on these lands. Prelimimary estimates indicate around 200,000 people are likely to be impacted. Will the land owners get land-for-land compensation? No. How many land-dependent people are getting cash-compensation? Possibly around 20 percent. What we can say about a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package that is being made available? 8 crores of rupees set aside for 1320 families, according to the promoter's R&R report. That's six or seven thousand people. Forget about the unaudited environmental costs - desilting of lakes, lost forests, wildlife habitat, and so forth.


    Not surprisingly, during the public hearings held between March-July 2000, severe opposition surfaced on the supression of information about the social and environmental aspects of the project. Note this critical fact. Several citizens and groups at these hearings pointed out that alternatives to BMIC had been deliberately suppressed in the promoters documentation. And what were these alternatives? Precisely the ones discussed earlier. The Railways proposal and the World Bank funded state highway upgradation project.

    In response to the police brutality at selected individuals during the public hearings, the National Human Rights Commission issued a directive in August 2001 asking the state government to take appropriate action and respond to the commission within 4 weeks. There is silence from the state government on that front. But if there is one signal that the GoK has always given, it is that the BMIC project would get all its support, whatever be the outcome of the public-scrutiny processes.

    BMIC is the reason that the state government decided NOT to upgrade the Bangalore-Mysore state highway under the World Bank project. The viability of the BMIC project was cited by the World Bank its state highway project appraisal. Why did the Bank buy into the GoK assertion that BMIC is viable? After all.. Is viability something that is established prima facie on the basis of the promoters' assertions, or is it established by the process of techno-economic closure and environmental clearance? Why have these processes otherwise? The truth of the matter is that even as the Bank wrote in its appraisal that the viability of BMIC obviated the need for upgrading the Bangalore-Mysore state highway, the BMIC promoters dismissed the Bank funded state highway upgradation as unfeasible.

    Look at what the Union Government's Environmental arm did. In Aug 2001, the Ministry of Environment and and Forests (MEF) granted conditional clearance for only the road-expressway component of BMIC. The clearance was in effect not given for the townships. Let there be no doubt that the Ministry had indeed considered the townships and expressway together for clearance together. Many representative endorsements were sent in April-May 2001 by local environmental and social justice groups. The MEF is aware of the Cauvery water issue. What's worse, the Cauvery Tribunal is already locked in a stalemate between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The promoters of BMIC do expect clearance for the rest of the project to come at a later date. But what new information will be presented to the MEF to make this happen, remains unknown.

    If you get the feeling that there is a privately manufactured preference that exists for some projects and not for others, you are headed down the right track. We're talking of comprehensive corruption. Like Enron.


    So to round up, this is where we are along the bumpy Bangalore-Mysore corridor.

    • The BMIC expressway project is being pushed forward by its promoters and the state government, despite the political risks involved. Risk one is that the movement for justice is gaining ground along the corridor. Risk two is the prospect of a political crisis between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the question of water. If I were an investor in this project, I would be worried.

    • In the meantime the merit-worthy and much less expensive railways expansion proposals lie in wait. The World Bank funded highways project will expand and upgrade other state highways of Karnataka, but the Bangalore Mysore highway is going a different way.

    • The state government in 2001 decided to upgrade the Bangalore-Mysore state highway on its own, with funding from HUDCO. The quality control parameters, and the costs and benefits of this project remain unknown at the moment.
    And yet, a particular criticism is leveled against those who have been questioning the clearances given to the Bangalore-Mysore-Expressway project. It runs as follows: "True, there exist problems of resettlement and rehabilitation, transparency, and environmental questions. But who wouldn't want to drive between the two cities within 1.5 hours, as opposed to the 3 1/2 hours it takes today? There will always be someone who the pays the price for development... So why don't we all work towards making sure the problems are 'remedied by the authorities' and stop opposing the expressway?" While this criticism in itself is not meaningless, it is an indicator of the pulse of the millions of urban Indians. We want driveable roads, desi autobahns, and fast cars. We're tired of stock excuses and delays. We don't deny there are problems, but why should we deny ourselves the momentum that our now more accessible counterparts in developed nations enjoy?

    To the critics, this. We have every right to a better infrastructure. But at what cost? Unless we say NO to corruption, we are saying YES to it. Yes to more Enrons and more BMICs. Yes to undermining our already fragile democracy. Is this how we want our infrastructure developed? Surely, it should not take us another forty years to figure out that expensive, unviable and risky infrastructure projects being foisted by our governments and industrialists in complete disrespect of the laws of the land are NOT the answer to the sarkari socialism that we got for the first forty or so years.

    Citizen action

    Here is how you may bring greater accountability to the process, by your participation. Write to the groups that are demanding more transparency and reversal of clearances from the government. Ask them how you can help. Some of them need funds. Still others will be happy to have your presence at meetings if you are based in the region. Be informed about the alternatives. Raise the level of public discourse by writing letters to editors of daily newspapers. Demand that the alternatives be brought back to life.

    Subramaniam Vincent
    India Together
    November 2001

    This article is based on the May 2001 representation made by Environment Support Group, Bangalore to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and several other developments that have been covered on this website.

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