"Let them give us a packet of Tik-20 to commit suicide along with the notice for acquiring our shops," says one of the traders on a road that, like many others, is slated for widening to de-congest Bangalore. The road-widening scheme of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) proposed for more than 90 arterial roads, has brought first-hand experience of the pangs of development-induced displacement right into the heart of the city.
With the livelihoods of lakhs of the city's traders, shopkeepers, their employees and suppliers, vendors, pedestrians, etc. at stake, there has been much opposition to the municipality's plans to widen the roads. And what started off as a protest against the felling of trees for road-widening, has now taken on a deeper dimension.
Livelihoods and heritage
Sridhar, President of the Avenue Road Commercial Association, says that 5000 traders and 1-2 lakh families will be directly affected. The road is a hub for wholesale trade for the entire state in 80-90 commodities, ranging from second hand books to stationery to jewellery. The popular claim among locals is that one can get everything other than an aeroplane here. Throughout the road, BBMP officials have marked in red paint that 30 to 40 feet of each shop would go. "They have put red marks with our blood," says Sridhar.
The widening of Avenue Road will also mean the invaluable loss of Bangalore's cultural heritage. Legend has it that it was from Avenue Road that Kempegowda let loose bullocks yoked to a plough in four directions to set the limits to the city. The road also contains Tipu Sultan's dargah and many historic temples built by Krishnadevaraya. These memories will be greatly dulled by the loss of such cultural treasure.
The woes of the 1500-odd traders of C M H Road in the eastern neighbourhood of Indiranagar, who will lose their shops as a result of road redevelopment work to accommodate the city's Metro (which is under construction) are no less painful. An alternative route for the Metro suggested by the Association is not being considered on the ground that rider-ship would reduce by 15 per cent, and also affect a graveyard located on the alternate route. But traders argue that ridership could drop that much even if the shops in this busy area are removed. Moreover, says Syed Imtiaz Ahmed, President of CMH Road Shops and Establishments Association, "... they are more bothered about the dead than the living."
Another 100-year-old stretch slated to face the demolition hammer is the 1.5 km Bazaar Street, in the Chamarajpet area. Dr. Satish Bhonsle, President of the Chamarajpet Traders' Association says that most shops are 30 feet by 15 feet here, and nearly all the businesses would have to leave after the acquisition since the space left in their buildings would not be enough to conduct business in. If 20 feet are taken away, the 8-10 feet remaining cannot be supported on the back pillars alone. Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) could only be used to re-build if some land remains, but even then, reconstruction of their shops would be expensive.
And relocating their business is not an option, say the traders. "A particular business thrives in a particular place because of the patronage of surrounding neighbourhood. It cannot be simply displaced to another place."
Road widening and development projects in general affect slum-dwellers most, says Isaac Arul Selva of Slum Jagatthu. Over 300 families of the Havadiga community that lived near the Cantonment Railway Station were forced to shift when an underpass was built there. They had earned a living so far by working on construction sites in Cantonment, but they lost this livelihood after being displaced to Tumkur Road as it was too far away for them to commute to work.
This story is being repeated all over Bangalore. Some monetary compensation is given to the landowners when their land is acquired, but this still leaves out many others. "What about those who don't own land and lose their livelihood, such as cobblers on the pavements and workers in the shops?" questions Selva. Ironically, he says, "... the BBMP has received money from the World Bank under the Karnataka Municipal Reforms Project. They have to spend the money. But instead of municipal reforms, we are having road widening," he says.
A particular target of ire is Bellary Road, along whose length one must travel 30 kilometres to reach the new Bangalore International Airport. With only half a dozen traffic junctions along the stretch that permit pedestrian crossings, the road has become a nightmare for those living around it. And with vehicles traveling at high speeds on its three lanes on each side, the death toll is steadily mounting; someone is killed every second or third day. The obvious class difference between those traveling on the road, and those who are its victims is all too evident. Even the BBMP's Chief Engineer is asking the locals to "swolpa adjust maadikondu road cross maadi" (please 'adjust' a little and cross the road), an extreme case of the city's famed 'adjustment' propensity.
Around the city, residents as well as activists say that authorities do not involve them in decision-making. Many officials, they say, think of them as a 'headache', and that any discussions they ask for are met with the response that the decisions have "already been taken". Although public hearings on proposed road works are mandated by the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 (KTCPA) before a scheme is implemented, this is never followed meaningfully, they say.
With little recourse left, they have turned to the law, a theme that has become all-too-common throughout India, as displaced communities use the one avenue where they think their voices will be heard a little better. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Environment Support Group (ESG) and CIVIC, a city-based urban governance group (Full disclosure: The author is a trustee at CIVIC) against widening of 91 roads alleges that the scheme is illegal, as it violates the KTCPA.
A slew of accusations is made in the PIL. Here's a sample:
The intention to widen roads was not publicised at the time of display of the Draft Comprehensive Development Plan by the authorities in 2005. It was only in the final Revised Master Plan that the new widths of the roads were marked on the maps denying the public the right to debate and file objections, if any, to the proposal (as required per Sec 10, 14A and Chapter V of the Act).
Before any proposal made in the Master Plan is implemented, a Scheme has to be devised as per Section 26 of Chapter 5 of the KTCPA. Further, only the Bangalore Development Authority is authorized under Section 29 to implement any Schemes in the Master Plan, and not BBMP.
Acquiring land for road-widening has to be through the Land Acquisition Act. Even if State government lands are involved, such as the land that is part of the Chief Justice's house on Palace Road, these need to be first transferred to BBMP through an instrument of law. While widening Kasturba Road, 15 feet of Cubbon Park will have to be acquired. But the Parks Act prevents any land of Cubbon park or Lalbagh to be changed to road.
There are other problems too. The displacement within the City is also being done outside the terms of the new Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy that has been passed by the Union Cabinet. Under this new Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy, no project involving displacement of families beyond defined thresholds can be undertaken without a detailed Social Impact Assessment and Clearance, and the concerned Government shall have to specify the ameliorative measures for addressing the said impact. The SIA report is supposed to be examined by an independent multi-disciplinary expert group, which will also include social science and rehabilitation experts.
Also, only TDRs are being offered to land-losers. Officials are giving the impression that if 70 per cent of affected land-owners accept TDRs, the rest will have to forcibly fall in line. But this is not at all true as TDR is a voluntary scheme and persons not opting for it have to be compensated as per the Land Acquisition Act.
With so many issues outstanding, there is considerable ground to be covered. Prem Chandavarkar, an architect based in the city, says, "Middle class interests are pushing the vision of a 'modern', 'efficient' city, within an exclusionary paradigm." He calls for a more inclusive approach.
Ironically, sections of the same middle class, this time from public interest and development groups, may be taking up the debate. As a result, this is no longer just a livelihoods protection effort by traders and displaced slum-dwellers. Instead, it is a battle for the soul of governance, and in Bangalore, the heart of the new urban India. However this turns out, there will be important lessons for many other cities in the country.