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