Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Present imperfect, future tense

Present imperfect, future tense
The Times of India

Site Imbroglio
Just when the 20,000 sites promised by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) was coming to fruition as a Sankranti gift, everything came to a grinding halt. The court stalled the acquisition process terming the entire project illegal. And so were dashed the hopes of 20,000 site applicants.

Cut to the year end: the court’s order has been quashed by another bench which gave a go-ahead to the project and within the next six months, BDA will complete the allotments.

What started as one of the biggest residential projects in the city, went offtrack midway when it was given a political colour and got embroiled in litigation. While the court had rapped the former Congress government for approving the project illegally without taking the cabinet’s consent, another bench cleared the project by giving a clean chit to the government.

Now, the BDA has taken up layout formation work on a war-footing and within two months, the civil works will be completed. The layout, which is spread over 2,750 acres, will be BDA’s biggest layout.

All Systems Go!

A project that had been hovering in the air for over 10 years just took off ! The IT city’s long-delayed dream international airport at Devanahalli began ground work on July 2 and is clipping along merrily towards the finish date, 33 months from now.

Delays and documents have been put on the backburner as the first building — the technical and administrative one — has begun taking shape. The ‘concrete pour’ for the terminal building has also happened, as the Bangalore international airport indulges in a neckand-neck race with the Shamshabad airport outside Hyderabad to be the first to touch the finish line.

Ground work for the airport’s take-off began in April itself, though July 2 was the official start date. There was also a comic interlude in the middle of the take-off: A public road that cut across the runway area, where buses, cars, lorries, two-wheelers and even sheep ambled across even as runway work was on! This was sorted out — an alternative road built and that had another spin-off: Scamsters called this road the airport’s ‘cargo entrance’ and sold land all around it at sky-high prices.

Meanwhile, even as ground work is going on, the project has gone into a reinvent mode: Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel urged the airport company to immediately upgrade the terminal’s passenger handling capacity from 4.6 million to 11.4 million passengers a year. Redesign work is on for this purpose.

The resignation of BIAL chairman N R Narayana Murthy over a tiff with JD(S) national president H D Deve Gowda was another jolt. But company CEO Albert Brunner promises: “Nothing will hamper the construction. We will complete the airport on time.’’

Demolition Drive

The cure here proved more fatal than prevention. In September, the High Court issued a peremptory order ordering that the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike take “corrective action’’, read raze down, on buildings in Koramangala which had violations.

The order was in response to a PIL filed by few residents of Koramangala, ostensibly to check the rampant commercialisation of an area that was conceived as a peaceful residential locality. The BMP engineers, urban planners, residents, all knew that the landmark order had opened up a Pandora’s box. The PIL might have been for 95 buildings in the area but a comprehensive survey proved that over 600 buildings had violations. Typically, these include deviations from the sanctioned plan, encroachments on setback area and floor area ratio, change in land use.

After procedures were followed — issuing provisional orders and confirmatory orders thereon — on a Saturday morning, the BMP went pneumatic hammer and crane tongs at buildings in Koramangala. A hard day’s night showed only four could be demolished. The BMP has been unable to even touch another building in the area.

Angry residents gathered in large numbers, launched a helpline called ‘Save Koramangala’, kept close watch at the site of demolition early on in the day, and asked many uncomfortable questions. Go to any area in Bangalore and you’ll find violations, why attack only this area? The petitioners themselves have deviations, why haven’t their buildings been touched? Why, petitioners claimed their lives and family security were in danger.

Another fine day, the petition was withdrawn. With a warning — the BMP had to go ahead with ‘corrective action.’ In true democratic spirit, many citizens have offered to correct violations in their houses, buildings and some have actually done it. Few others are bargaining for more time.
Meanwhile, the dust is yet to settle down.

Murder Most Foul

In retrospect, the gruesome murder that shook the BPO industry was an incident waiting to happen as the police and industry representatives scrambled to plug the loopholes in safety and security of its employees, specially in transportation.

The unfortunate victim was 24-yearold BPO employee Prathibha Srikanth Murthy. The newlywed was raped and murdered by the driver of the vehicle she had boarded to her workplace in the early morning hours of December 13.

The incident sent shockwaves across the city and triggered a nationwide debate on many an issue — women working night shifts, laws on safety and security for women on night shifts, verification of contract employees including drivers. The sensitive issue of a dress code for women that cropped up was rightly rubbished as “absurd’’.

The police, on their part, swung into action and arrested the 22-year-old driver who perpetrated the gruesome crime. A drive against cabbies, termed by many as a knee-jerk reaction, revealed a dangerous trend — of drunken driving. Prompted by security concerns, the police will now strictly enforce the law on tinted glass.

In a strong reaction, BPO employees and social workers held protests. While some demanded capital punishment for the assailant, others brought up the issue of behavioural attitudes of employees towards drivers. When a shaken BPO industry found a platform to air their security concerns with the police at a meeting held shortly after the incident, a flurry of suggestions and ideas came forth. While a debate revolved around whether employees should interact with drivers, there was a common dissent over divulging telephone numbers of employees, specially of women, to drivers.

The industry also sought for a set of standardised guidelines/practices for safety and security. However, even a fortnight after the incident, while the investigators have brushed aside allegations of foul play, police and forensic experts, who subjected the assailant to scientific tests, have locked horns establishing the motive and number of persons involved in the crimes.

On Track Again

In the land where PPP also means Promoting Politics Publicly, the expressway to Mysore was saved by a whisker. Having seen many deviations, claims and counter-claims, the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor got its deliverance from the country’s highest court. Though interim in nature, a Supreme Court bench, in an order in December allowed the project company to utilise the land to raise funds and speed up the pace of work.

As a result, BMIC is breathing life again. It has only helped that Anil Ambani’s Anil
Dhirubhai Ambani Enterprises (ADAE) is pumping in money into the first township coming up near Bidadi as part of the project. The chairman of Toyota Corporation who was recently in Bangalore as part of a delegation from Japan is said to have made up his mind on expanding in Bangalore after a look at the project. A new set of proposal from Toyota includes building a railway line from Bidadi Station to the plant underneath the expressway. The project company has agreed to help Toyota in this endeavour.

On the other hand, there are a number of other projects in the pipeline all set to spring into life. The first one to fully spread its wings a ready to fly is the international class convention centre by the All Indian Manufacturers’ Association on the Tumkur road part of the expressway.

The first part of the expressway is scheduled to be inaugurated in the few days. A look at the work on the road offers a glimpse into the future of Karnataka and Bangalore-Mysore as the new industrial magnet.

But the BDA still has a jigsaw puzzle to solve: it has to settle the compensation of the farmers who had approached the court and still get hold of 748 acres of disputed land.

Varsity Stands Firm

The judiciary and the government crossed swords when the Karnataka High Court rapped the government on the state nominations to the Bangalore University’s syndicate and academic council.

BU vice-chancellor M S Thimmappa fired the first salvo by rejecting the nominations made by the government as they violated Sections 28, 30 and 39 of the Karnataka State Universities Act 2000 that state only eminent educationists can be nominated to the council.

As the BU rolls into the next year, 2005 will be recorded as a year when the varsity was embroiled in probably the biggest campus controversy — of nominations to the syndicate and academic council.
Of the six nominations made by the state government, G Krishna Singh was the chief minister’s son-in-law’s brother, A P Ranganath was a close follower of Deve Gowda, C R Somasunder was a Congress party worker and K A Anand was the secretary of JD(S) youth wing.

After a PIL was filed in the Karnataka High Court, about the violation of the Act, the legislature observed: “The nominated people can go to Vidhana Soudha, not to varsity.’’

Meanwhile, there was high drama and higher education minister D Manjunath threatened to amend the Act and drop the word ‘eminent’. Finally, the HC served a notice to the state government following which the nominations were withdrawn.

All’s settled. Probably till lobbying starts before the next nominations.

Only Road Blocks

The most anticipated infrastructure project — the metro rail — took a beating during 2005, delaying the commencement of the project by over one year. Hopes were raised when the project went before the Public Investment Board (PIB) in the middle of this year, but despite the clearance, there has been so much confusion and the project is yet to go before the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) for final clearance. The one main reason the project received a jolt was the stand taken by former Prime Minister and JD(S) president H D Deve Gowda, who raised several issues against the Metro Rail system. He shot off letters to the PIB and the Prime Minister, objecting to the huge costs involved in the project, and with a note on the advantages of the Mono Rail system over the Metro Rail system.

It sparked several public debates, with experts plumping for the Metro Rail and the government insisting that Metro Rail was the way forward. Ever since Gowda threw a spanner in the works, officials of various departments handling the files pertaining to the project in Delhi have made several alterations to the project and its cost. Even while the officials and the politicians are trying to sort out the issues on the project, one hopes 2006 will actually see the construction of the project begin. Metro Rail seems to be a good solution to rid Bangalore of its traffic mess.


The kind of lobbying that went into the making of the Mayor of Bangalore could compete with any of panchayat/zilla polls. One woman emerged victorious — Mumtaz Begum, a Congress candidate, a C K Jaffer Sharief protege. What was the novelty here? A month prior to the ‘elections’, she was already referred to as ‘mayor’, plans were being made about Begum’s role as ‘a woman Muslim mayor’ a week before she was declared mayor.

Moments after the results, Begum put her foot bang in her mouth — “I am on call 24 hours, I will work 24x7’’ she declared. A month later, it has gone down as an infamous quote; forget 24 hours, Ms Mayor has not found even 2 or 4 hours to attend to civic problems.


Who said Bangalore doesn’t have an active night life? It’s that time of the day when gang-men, BMP workers, assistant engineers, go all around town with their nocturnal activities. Even as you gently snore, these people fill up those perennial craters (never mind if they resurface 48 hours later), remove eye-sores, read paraphernalia shouting from roof-tops saying ‘Happy Diwali’, ‘Happy Birthday Minister’, ‘Glories to beloved MLA who has done so much for the constituency’. One particular dusk-todawn operation saw the BMP remove over 5,000 hoardings, buntings, cutouts. Like potholes, even these were back a week later thanks to obstinate political stooges. When will we not be like this only...?


Here’s another excuse for the truant school boy or office employee. Late for work? Blame it on the roads and traffic jams. And the boss/ principal/ anybody just nods sympathetically, “Tch tch, I know, such a waste of taxpayers’ money.’’


Post a Comment

<< Home