Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Traders wait with trepidation

Traders wait with trepidation

With business going downhill, plan to widen KG Rd adds to their woes

Shilpa cb. bangalore

Since newbie entities began stealing the thunder, Majestic has been slowly sliding from its lofty pedestal. Unplanned growth and other factors conspired to dull the shopping hub's luster. Having weathered many changes in the last decade, it no longer baulks at news of projects like BBMP's road widening plan aimed at easing traffic. Being sceptical of whether the new plan would bring back its good fortune or take away whatever is left, the business community of Majestic is not taking a clear stand on the issue.
Opinions are varied. Huge buildings around here have ample setback area. What is the harm in giving away a part of it in public interest, some ask. Will wide roads ease the daily commute and make day-to-day working here more comfortable, others counter.
"Traffic on this road is chaotic. People don't follow lane discipline and widening the roads won't bring this," says Radhika, working with a travel agency in the area. She says that during her 25 years with the firm, she had seen several measures taken to improve the city. Sadly, they yielded very little. And the new scheme of road widening, she fears, may take away the beautiful tree cover left. She finds fault with the civic body for the successive failures.
"KG Road leads to Okhalipuram junction where many stretches meet. This road is a must-take for many people. There are no alternatives," says Ashwath Narayan, a shoe salesman. By making the Maharani's College Road running parallel to it a two-way, many of the vehicles can be routed in that direction, he says.
Traders are unanimous on one thing: Business has been hit hard in the last few years. "People come here just to catch their buses. No one lingers around for shopping," Narayan says.
Right before his tiny shop, notices have been put up on walls announcing that a huge shopping complex is coming up in the area. "Do we need another mall here? I don't know. This is not a thriving market as it once was. Whether this mall will boost our business or make traffic congestion worse, only time will tell," he says. As an afterthought, he adds that the mall could turn out to be just another ill-conceived project.
BG Krishnamurthy, a science teacher at the Sri DVV Gujarati School, fears that the safety of the 700-odd schoolchildren studying there may be compromised if the road comes too close to the building. Ask him if it would be in the interest of traffic movement itself and he has an anecdote to narrate.
"The day it was announced this road would be widened, contractors rushed here and laid tiles on the footpath. When I pointed out that it would be of no use as the footpath would go if widening work was taken up, they said the contract was pending for a year and they wanted to finish the job before widening was taken up. That's the way things are here," he says not even going into the merits or demerits of broader roads.
Huge complexes that line this road have plenty of parking spaces. But the steep fee they charge is discouraging motorists from using such spaces. This, coupled with high bus fares, is dissuading people from taking to public transport, says Krishna BK, joint secretary of Prabhat Complex Owners' Association. Krishna, back from a trip to Chennai, is envious of that city's efficient public transport which offers commuters rides at low rates.
"For just Rs6 or Rs8, one can travel as much as 20km. Why are buses charging high fares here," he asks.
This will only force Bangaloreans to stick to their two-wheelers and four-wheelers. That would mean wider roads to accommodate them. "The road widening process itself may take about five years and the vehicle population might as well have doubled in that time rendering the whole exercise futile," says Srinath K, who runs a book shop.
Further down the road, shops of Santhosh Complex stand too close to the road. But the tenants say they will not give up their space without a fight. "Business has fallen because satellite bus stands have been set up in the outskirts. Customer flow is less here. Now, we need not widen roads. Instead, mass transport should be improved," says Monish Kapoor who owns a 21-year-old business.
Babu Rao could be forced into retirement as he stands to lose all of his tiny shop. Seventy-two-year-old Dalkat G, who has been doing business here since 1963, too faces the same risk. "In the earlier days, I used to earn about Rs50 every day. Thousands of pedestrians would move about here. Now Majestic theatre is demolished and Gupta market is also gone. It's all been downhill since then," he says.
Having been through difficult times, traders are not too sure if anything can prop up their sagging fortunes after all these years. Now they only hope that new developments do not make things worse.

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