Is the Chief Minister’s word equal to ‘law’?

We live in times of massive traffic pileups on our roads and the stress that comes from simply watching long lines of vehicles stopped at intersections. With the ever increasing pressure on local authorities to relieve congestion, how did it come to pass that the BBMP-proposed link road connecting the Yeshwanthpur-Yelahanka artery to NH 7 (Bellary Road) resulted in a major litigation in the High Court?

Over 4 kms of the proposed link road is to be laid through forestland inside the University of Agricultural Sciences’ GKVK campus in northern Bengaluru. The forestland itself was granted to the university by an Act of the state legislature in the 60s, attached with preconditions of preservation.

At stake are over 3500 trees, some of which are wild varieties of specially bred fruit trees part of the university’s research, called the germplasm bank. Not surprisingly, the University’s Board of Regents did not initially permit BBMP to lay this road.

But this August, things changed. The state had a new Agriculture Secretary, S Subramanya, who in his previous tenure as BBMP commissioner had pushed hard for this road. The Agriculture Secretary sits on the university’s Board of Regents. What’s more, much of the funding the university receives comes from the state government’s Agriculture Department, of which the secretary is the top bureaucrat. Under pressure from Subramanya (highly places sources at the university say this), the Board made a U-turn and permitted BBMP to go ahead with a reduced width road and a slightly revised route. BBMP also cut down nearly 700 trees and some of which included trees from the germplasm bank.

Distraught, and citing violations of several conservation laws, several former vice-chancellors and environmentalists filed a PIL at High Court last month. A vacation bench asked the BBMP stop cutting trees, and did not stay the road project itself.

At the heart of this dispute though is not merely the legal-environmental question. It is one of BBMP’s arguments for laying the road that is most worrisome. The BBMP says that Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa approved the link road himself in March this year. True.

But why must political sanction automatically override due process of law? It is nobody’s case that new roads are a bad idea. But how are we sure that the Chief Minister’s advisors even took into account the legal clearances needed to thrust full-blooded city traffic with honking and jams through thriving forestland, at the cost of years of research?

Click here and here for news articles related to the link road issue by Bhanu Sridharan.  

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