Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dharam must get a free hand to prop up Brand Bangalore

Dharam must get a free hand to prop up Brand Bangalore
H.S. Balram
The Times of India

Bangalore has become a brand name in the global arena. Notwithstanding the infrastructural problems, the city continues to attract people from all over the world, including a large number of investors and MNCs. It has a good climate, cosmopolitan lifestyle, excellent professional institutions, expertise in IT and other fields and friendly residents. But as with every growing city, crime is on the rise, roads are chock-ablock with traffic, civic amenities inadequate and cost of living high.

What adds to the problem is apathy, insensitivity and witch-hunting on the part of a section of politicians, bureaucrats and officials. Be it the international airport, Bangalore-Mysore Expressway, Metro Rail, flyovers and underpasses, residential layouts for citizens, etc., all development projects are faced with one hurdle or the other, causing enormous delays. While chief minister Dharam Singh is keen on picking up the thread from where S.M. Krishna had left off, at leastin the case of Bangalore's infrastructural development, he is held back by vested interests.


The IT city badly needs an airport of international standards for faster and direct communication with Europe, US and other parts of the world. After 12 years of deliberation, confusion, hiccups, change of players, change of governments, political one-upmanship, petitions and threats by IT moguls, and rise in costs, the project is at last ready for take-off. The last hurdle, SBI guarantee for the state government's contribution of Rs 350 crore, has been cleared. ICICI Bank will formally declare the financial closure in a few days. Before any more hurdles are put in its path, Dharam Singh must put the project on the fast track. Not only will it help boost his morale, particularly after the two recent poll debacles, but also increase the country's IT exports several times over and smoothen international air traffic. The project will be completed in 33 months if the time table is adhered to.


Traffic congestion is the bane of Bangalore. With vehicular population growing at an alarming pace, the city's narrow roads are unable to handle 24x7 traffic jams. Bangaloreans need an efficient and fast mass transport system. Metro Rail, on the lines of those in Kolkata, Delhi and many top cities of the world, is one of the answers. It is part underground and part overground. Under pressure from citizens, Dharam Singh has done a lot of spadework and moved the Centre into recognising Bangalore's need and clearing the project. When everything is falling in line, coalition architect Deve Gowda has thrown a spanner in the works by questioning the viability of the project. He is in favour of Mono Rail on stilts, which he feels is cheaper. Why did Gowda keep quiet when the project was being discussed threadbare? Shouldn't he have objected to it then and suggested an alternative? The good news is that Dharam Singh is firm on going ahead with the project. He says the Mono Rail can at best be a feeder service. In case he dithers, Metro Rail will go the airport way? Another 10 or 12 years to take off ?


Two unfinished flyovers in the heart of Bangalore (on Airport Road and near Jayadeva Hospital) speak volumes about the pace at which infrastructure projects in Bangalore are moving. The high court, while castigating the BDA for terminating the Uttar Pradesh State Bridge Construction Corporation Ltd (UPSBCCL) contract for the projects without any valid reason, has said, "Changing a contractor is not like changing clothes... The cancellation shows it was not motivated by public interest but for reasons best known to it (BDA). This change of stand has contributed to the delay in completion of the projects. When the appellant had undertaken to complete the balance work on the projects at a lower cost than the one quoted by the BDA, we fail to understand the logic behind the BDA's refusal to accept the said offer... The work entrusted to the appellant was not one which any Tom, Dick or Harry could do''. The court's observation is a slap in the faces of BDA, the government and vested interests. People residing in and around these unfinished flyovers, and those passing by them, have a harrowing time. Hopefully things will move fast at least now.

The Bangalore-Mysore Expressway and Arkavathy Layout projects too have been caught in such chakravyuhs. Those at the helm of affairs should realise that an economically sound Bangalore is vital for the good health of the state. Let the city not be caught in the urban vs rural battle, fanned by narrow-minded and ill-meaning politicians. Dharam Singh should get a free hand to take Bangalore out of the existing mess.


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