23 Nov 2016 19:53 IST

The Flyover Case

Does Bengaluru need a steel flyover?

A view of the Hebbal Flyover. The steel flyover will be built 5.5 metres above the current one | Sudhakara Jain

Advise the Karnataka govt and BDA on how to improve connectivity to Bengaluru airport

On October 28, the National Green Tribunal, the country’s highest environmental court, imposed a four-week interim injunction against the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), the city’s principal planning authority, from going ahead with the construction of a steel flyover that was expected to ease traffic between Bengaluru international airport and the city centre.

The interim petition was filed on environmental grounds by the Citizen Action Forum (CAF), a non-profit civil organisation. The CAF alleged that the steel flyover project would result in felling of more than 800 trees and the demolition of heritage buildings. In its petition, it also stated that the BDA had not carried out public consultation, which was mandatory before going ahead with the project. The NGT ordered the State to file a detailed environmental impact assessment report before proceeding with the work.

Ever since Bengaluru’s international airport opened nearly a decade ago at Devanahalli, 37 km from the heart of the city, political parties, town planners and citizens had been debating on ways to improve its connectivity (see Figure 1 showing location of Kempegowda international airport in Bengaluru). Reaching the airport from different parts of the city is difficult and time-consuming, not only because of the distance, but also because of the heavy traffic. In 2014, the State government proposed the construction of a steel flyover to unclog traffic on the route, especially during peak hours.

Flak for flyover proposal

The flyover was to be the longest one made of steel in India, at 6.72 km. It would start from Basaveshwara Circle and end at Hebbal (see Figure 2). The project was estimated to cost ₹17.91 billion and was to be executed by Larsen & Toubro Ltd (L&T) and Nagarjuna Ltd, with the BDA overseeing it. The flyover was proposed to be completed in 24 months and opened by 2018.

The project came in for severe criticism from citizens, political parties, and environmentalists, who said it had been planned in a completely opaque manner with the public not being consulted earlier. Senior citizens who were nostalgic about the green Bengaluru they had known objected to the fact that hundreds of trees had to be cut down to make way for the flyover. Several middle-class and upper middle-class people and residents’ welfare groups rallied against the proposed project.

On October 16, a human chain of over 5,000 people carried out protests against the steel flyover. There were huge concerns that the steel would corrode if the flyover was not maintained well. Several environmentalists objected to the cutting down of trees on the ground that it would lead to heating of the environment and cause more problems for the citizens. However, the flyover had its supporters too. Some residents of north Bengaluru came out in its favour, stating it would cut their travel time to the Kempegowda international airport by more than half.

Demand for feasibility report

The project required over three acres of government land and over one acre of private land. While those facts were available online in the tender documents, they were not outlined in official briefings or press reports. Since these details did not reach a larger audience, Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF), a non-governmental organisation, filed a Right to Information application asking for the project feasibility report and for the detailed project report to be made public. The BDA, however, refused to make the information public; this led to the NBF moving the court with a public interest litigation.

According to Suresh N Ranganath, who filed the RTI applications on behalf of NBF: “Without giving details of such a big project, the BDA called for public consultations. Sources told us the opposition to the project was higher than the mails that supported it, but the BDA says only 299 e-mails came in, of which 73 per cent supported the project! There is no transparency, no attempt to make the feedback public, how can we trust BDA?” After much uproar, the BDA provided access to the project report and other details on its website.

 

 

Interim injunction

Amidst the controversy, in October 2016, the CAF filed a petition with the NGT seeking an interim injunction against the construction. After the NGT granted the injunction and restrained the BDA from proceeding with the steel flyover project, N Mukund, General Secretary, CAF, and V Balasubramanyam, former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, expressed happiness with the tribunal’s decision.

 

The NGT’s decision also received appreciation from Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP, Rajya Sabha, who said: “I welcome the NGT granting an interim injunction on BDA’s steel flyover project. This petition and interim order open the door to a detailed scrutiny of the environmental impact of government’s action on the steel flyover project. This also puts the brakes on the unholy and brazen rush of the State government to award and start the contract despite the visible and widespread opposition by citizens. Yet again, it is the judiciary that steps in to protect interests of city and citizens from an insensitive and apathetic government that seems to be more driven by vested interests than the interests of its own people.”

Mukund pointed out that the steel flyover was not a long-term solution. He said several studies had revealed that airport passenger traffic would cross 35 million in the next 10-12 years (see Table I for annual passenger traffic and aircraft movement at Kempegowda international airport). He suggested that a cost-effective and long-term solution would be to develop two alternative roads and revive commuter rail links to the airport as traffic would only increase every year.

 

Alternative road routes

According to Mukund, an alternative proposal would be to segregate the traffic by developing the existing alternative roads to the international airport by widening them so that all commuters would not have to use the Hebbal flyover. He said air passengers from the CBD and other areas could continue using the Hebbal flyover, while travellers from the other two regions — Krishnarajapuram and Electronic City and Attibele — could use these alternative roads.

Another option would be to develop commuter rail links, Mukund explained. He said the rail link could ease traffic by up to 25 per cent. The remaining 75 per cent of traffic could use the three roads.

Environmentalists said that developing the existing roads and widening them and improving the commuter rail link looked like a feasible solution to ease the traffic as it would hardly cause any environmental pollution and would not disrupt the regular airport traffic, in contrast to the steel flyover project. The light rail transit was expected to transport 15,000 to 20,000 passengers per hour per direction, at ₹2 billion per km.

Rail links

Some also suggested using the city’s metro rail on elevated tracks, which would carry 20,000-25,000 passengers per hour per direction and would cost ₹3.85 billion per km. A commuter rail system could also operate from Bengaluru’s City Railway Station and Cantonment Station with a frequency of one train an hour, with a transit hub at Hebbal. All these options would cost much less than the ₹17.91-billion steel flyover, experts said.

Some experts also said the steel flyover would reduce travel time by only seven to 10 minutes — and for this, 800 trees would have to be cut down. However, the BDA maintained that the project would ease traffic and that, to compensate for the trees cut, it would plant 60,000 saplings across the city.

The BDA also argued that building a steel flyover would take a fraction of the time it would take to build a concrete one. It pointed out that building a concrete flyover would take more time and cause pollution. The steel flyover, on the other hand, would require 60,000 tonnes of steel, which would come pre-fabricated and would be assembled at the site. The State government also maintained that the flyover was essential.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah added: “The decision to spend ₹1,791 crore for development was not taken just like that. It was done after a lot of deliberation. When it comes to development of the city there will have to be a compromise on some things. For every tree that is cut, we will compensate with 10-20 saplings. Environmentalists must understand this.”

The challenge

Now, imagine you are part of an expert committee that has to advise the Karnataka State government and the BDA on ways to improve connectivity to the Bengaluru international airport. Prepare a brief report analysing the BDA’s problem of easing traffic to the international airport, including the option of a steel flyover, and giving your recommendations for the roadmap the BDA should follow.

You may gather additional information on the challenges faced by the BDA through secondary research.

(This case study was developed at ICFAI Business School (IBS) by Hadiya Faheem (freelance case writer) and GV Muralidhara (Dean-Case Research Centre.)

Recommended for you