Bangaloreans to hit streets Sunday for better roads, greenery

November 7th, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 7 (IANS) Being India’s Silicon Valley and one of Asia’s fastest growing cities has not come cheap for Bangalore. Now a group of concerned residents will take to the streets Nov 9 with a simple cry - give the city better roads and do not destroy the greenery.Still a city of gardens, Bangalore’s march from an ideal place for retired life to a 24X7 tech hub has brought in its wake potholed roads - in some places they are huge craters - and a fading green facade.

Ask any old timer about Bangalore and he or she sums up the scene in five words: “It has lost its charm.” Reclaiming at least part of this charm is the aim of Sunday’s walk organised by a conglomeration of city-based community groups under the banner Hasiru Usiru.

“Namma Rasthe.. Namma Uru.. Hasire Usiru!” (Our Roads….Our City… Greenery is Life’s Breath)” is the theme of the “Namma Rasthe Walk to Reclaim Bengaluru”.

The walk beginning from Bangalore’s famous Lalbagh - a lush green botanical garden spread over 240 acres in the heart of the city - and end at Town Hall, another important landmark, covering a distance of almost three kilometres.

“We’re expecting hundreds of participants at the event. The main purpose of the exercise is to highlight the extensive damage that road widening and metro projects are causing to Bangalore, destroying in the process lives, livelihoods and thousands of trees,” Divya, a member of the NGO Environment Support Group (ESG), told IANS.

“Through the walk the participants will also demand an inclusive planning process in shaping the city and ensuring that short-sighted, elite induced infrastructure development does not cause irreversible damage to the city and ruin the lives of thousands,” added Divya.

In fact, it is the charm of a salubrious climate, friendly people, huge gardens, reputed educational institutions, defence establishments and a peaceful atmosphere that prompted many a pensioner to settle in the city after India’s Independence.

But that is almost history today. Bangalore in recent times has lost around 50,000 trees, felled for developmental activities, states an ESG report.

Hasiru Usiru contends that there is no doubt Bangalore’s traffic situation is worsening rapidly. But measures undertaken by the government to ease traffic congestion are highly damaging to the environment and healthy living, it says.

“The fast rise in the number of vehicles has almost choked the city roads. As far as the eyes can see, the roads are jam-packed with vehicles and there is almost no space for pedestrians,” rued R.M. Prasad, a septuagenarian who plans to participate in the walk.

During the early 1990s, the city had less than 700,000 public vehicles plying on its roads daily.

By the end of 2004, the number had crossed 2.1 million and in the last four years another two million cars, three-wheeler auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers have been added to the city roads. On an average, around 1,500 new vehicles come on to the city roads daily.

“Hundreds of trees have been chopped down since 2005 for road widening and metro construction projects. But chopping down trees will not create space for vehicles. If roads are to be widened, can’t more innovative solutions be adopted that work around existing tree lines?” asked Divya.

“The walk is to highlight that there are many progressive and intelligent solutions to current problems of traffic congestion that do not necessarily involve the destruction of thousands of trees, businesses and homes,” she said.

One of the main allegations of Hasiru Usiru against the government is that public consultation as required by the law in road widening and metro construction proposals has never been done.

According to the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, for any development project to be taken forward, public opinion has to be sought.

Also, the ESG points out, large- scale tree felling carried out for these development projects is in violation of the Karnataka Prevention of Trees Act, which clearly states that a huge number of trees should not be cut and re-plantation of trees is a must.

“The walk is to emphasise the importance of seeking public opinion before taking up development projects and assert our rights in decision making,” said Divya.

In the recent past work has been started to widen 140 prime roads, totalling a length of 400 km. The city is likely to see more roads being widened in the coming months.

The first phase of the Bangalore Metro, work on which began in 2006, passes through some areas with thick green cover such as the Lalbagh and Lakshman Rau Park areas, the arterial Krishna Rajendra Road, and the popular youth hangout M.G. Road. Many a building has been razed and trees felled to make way for the metro.

“The walk is to emphasise that the metro is a solution that can work only if integrated with bus-based transport modes. Building an elevated metro will certainly ruin the city forever,” the ESG asserted in its appeal to Bangaloreans to join the walk.

The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) carries three million people - 48 percent of the city’s population - in its 5,000 buses every day. The BMTC buses constitute only one percent of the total vehicles in Bangalore.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at m.boruah@ians.in)

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