Sunday, March 30, 2008

Five resounding slaps and still no mending of ways

Five resounding slaps and still no mending of ways

Any sensible person, reprimanded time and again in the harshest of terms for a misdeed done, will try to reform himself. But some of our netas and babus are thick-skinned. Take the case of the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project, which comprises an expressway and several townships en route. On as many as five occasions in the past three years, the Supreme Court castigated them, slapped contempt notices and even fined them Rs 5 lakh for not allowing the project to progress smoothly. But they refused to budge, leave alone learning a lesson. Not just that. They kept moving the court again and again, with a view to delaying the project and thereby, it seems, protecting vested interests and settling scores with political rivals.
Some of the hard-hitting observations that the court made in April 2006, in its first stinging slap on the government and its bureaucrats, while disposing of all petitions against BMIC as frivolous and mala fide, are worth going through again:
It appears that there could hardly be a dispute that BMIC is a mega project, which is in the larger public interest. Merely because there was a change of government, there was no necessity for reviewing all decisions taken by the previous government, which is what appears to have happened. (The court’s reference was to Deve Gowda and his remote-controlled Dharam Singh and H D Kumaraswamy governments, which suddenly smelt a fraud in the allotment of land for the project, just because the previous government headed by arch rival S M Krishna had given the final clearance. Ironically, Gowda had initiated the project.)
The state government cannot be permitted to change its stand. Permitting the argument on excess land to be heard again (after the state high court had cleared the project) would encourage dishonest, politically motivated litigation. The judicial process cannot be abused for political reasons.
When the state’s acts of omission or commission are tainted with extreme arbitrariness and with mala fides, it is certainly subject to interference by the constitutional courts.
But this stern order didn’t deter the netas and their yesmen in the bureaucracy. They moved the court to review its order, only to get another slap. More slaps followed when they kept approaching the court. They had no effect on them. They went ahead and hatched a plan to take over the project and hand it over to another consortium, whose credibility was not known. The court immediately stayed that move with yet another slap. Finally, a few days ago, the court issued contempt notices to seven top bureaucrats for their attempt to disobey its orders.
The BMIC project was initiated to connect Bangalore with Mysore, a tier-II city and a growing IT hub, with a view to decongesting the silicon city. The project was conceived when Deve Gowda was CM. Subsequent governments endorsed and completed the formalities. The S M Krishna government gave the final go-ahead. The project was put on fast track, environment clearance given and a land lease agreement signed. After that, it got caught in a political web.
An expressway to Mysore is a necessity. Fast connectivity will help many companies move to this city, taking along thousands of workers. Not only will it give a big boost to Mysore’s economy, but help Bangalore shed some of its load. It is sad that an ambitious project that can improve the much-needed connectivity is being scuttled. The cost of the project has risen several fold because of the delay. The stateof-the art expressway is half-finished as land at various points on the route has not been given by the government.
Political heavyweights and many of their supporters in the bureaucracy are said to possess this land. They are the ones who are accusing the builders of having acquired excess land. They don’t mind reaping benefits of the project once it comes up close to their land. Now that the state is under President’s rule, free from political control, the government must ensure that the Supreme Court order is implemented in letter and spirit. Poor connectivity is the bane of not just Bangalore, but the entire state. We need good roads, elevated roads, expressways, underpasses, subways, speed rail, metro rail, etc. We must not allow vested interests to come in the way of development.


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