A Tale of Two Public Opinions

For the people, by the people, of the people. That’s democracy by the textbook. Very little of that exists today. Representative governments have time and again abandoned the spirit of democracy and ignored the fundamental pillar of a democracy – its people. But, there are times apart from elections when these governments remember the people – times when they realize that the public opinion is going against them and that there’s an imminent need to appease the public by handing over a bone to lick. Yes, that’s how the general public is treated in a representative democracy, especially in India.

Bengaluru’s two (in)famous infrastructure projects – the steel flyover to the airport and the airport metro-link – proposed in the recent times stand as the best proofs for the opportunistic behavior of the governments. Ever since the airport was launched in 2007, Bengaluru citizens have been demanding a better access to the airport which is located 40kms from the city’s CBD. And it’s this demand for better access that has fueled the ambitions of Karnataka’s politicians who want a pie of the ‘credit’ that would be bestowed on them for gifting the city of Bengaluru with a state-of-the-art solution for its problems. The nature of the credit, whether in the form of appreciation or hard-cash, is debatable.

When the airport was developed, the then Yeddyurappa government played with the idea of laying a 4-lane tunneled road originating from BRV Grounds near MG Road, providing a road-based express link between the city and the airport. Once enough mileage was gained out of the project in terms of high-techness of the government, the project was shelved citing high costs. A High-speed Rail Link (HSRL)  project was also dilly-dallied with for many years before the Metro Man suggested that a Metro would be the better solution. True, we didn’t need an elitist approach towards mobility in the city. A Metro-link would truly serve the citizens and the airport. The metro-line was first discussed almost 8 years ago, and we are still discussing it.

After almost a decade and an elevated highway commissioned to provide the much necessary airport connectivity, Bengaluru is still plagued with connectivity problems with the airport. That this time the problem is only based on how you perceive it is a different debate altogether. While the elevated expressway has cut down the travel time between Hebbal and the airport to 20 mins, the travel time between Hebbal and Chalukya has only increased over time. During peak-hours, this stretch measuring 6.7 kms can take more than an hour to traverse thanks to the absence of uniform-width roads throughout.

When travelling from the airport towards the city, Hebbal flyover is the first bottleneck. Traffic from two stretches and a total of 5-lanes merge into two lanes. The road widens again till it reaches Palace Grounds where it narrows down to two lane in each direction. This stretch is dotted by Bengaluru’s heritage – its trees. Road-widening projects on this stretch have always been shelved in order to spare the trees from laying down their lives for the city’s greed.

Yet, the government is all-in to build a steel flyover even though it requires 800+ trees to be axed. It’s even ready to spend a whopping 1600 crores and sacrifice the beauty and aesthetics of the city in and around High-Grounds. Public outcry against the project has only been treated with callousness. The financial and engineering details of the project have been vague in the public domain making the public wonder whether this project is really the solution for the city’s problems.

If the government was really interested in taking public opinion, it wouldn’t have acted so stubborn in the case of the steel flyover. The project was never supported by the general public. People like me weep when a tree is cut in the city. We’ll never support such a project. Especially when the project is serving only airport travelers and not the general public.

On the other hand, the government, as part of its image-building programme post Cauvery-debacle, showered its citizens with rights to voice their opinion on and help the government select the best metro route to the airport. 9 routes were proposed and the public had to respond by either email or snail-mail. I was surprised when I read reports about it. The government had been announcing for almost 2 years that the Gottigere-Nagawara metro link will be extended to the airport via Hebbal. They were quite firm about it. Yet, they invited public opinion on it last month. I too sent my opinion suggesting metro routes from Mekhri-circle to airport and Nagawara to airport are the best routes. I don’t know how many people voiced their opinion. What I am sure about is that the government will eventually take our opinion and throw it in the trash.

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