The state government is doing a rethink on the Transfer of Development rights (TDR) scheme and announced a panel last week to be led by ABIDE-member Dr A Ravindra, according to the DNA. A public workshop is also going to held soon. This follows much citizen angst and resentment about roadwidening and BBMP’s offering of TDR as compensation. (ABIDE is the chief minister’s task force – Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure Development)
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This is a welcome move. Citizens will hopefully find their voices heard at this meeting.
But the real issue is not TDR, as much as the state government may now concede or may want to you to think they have conceded. Even if the TDR scheme was made more amenable, roadwidening is not going to be the solution to easing traffic.
The issue is growth. Proposing to widen roads without at the same time settling on a clear policy to regulate and manage growth for Bangalore is putting the cart before the horse. If you widen a road from 80 feet to 100 feet, chances are it will run packed again in a year or even less. Traffic in Bangalore grows year after year. It does not magically stabilise merely because officials widened our roads.
In fact, the heat and dust about the roadwidening controversy, a debate amidst politicians about managing Bangalore’s growth is conspicuous by its absence. The city council has been in place for about four months now. Not even one debate has happened in it over the wave of resentment over roadwidening and TDR. Mayor S K Nataraj promised a discussion once, but nothing has happened.
The same goes for the state assembly. It is no secret that in Karnataka, the state government still runs the city. Funding for the roadwidening and underpass projects as well as sanction for TDR are coming from the state. But a demand for a debate on Bangalore’s growth has not been raised by any major political party in the state, leave alone ruling party leaders. But managing Bangalore’s growth requires steering through special interests and vested interests of every kind — politics. It will likely require sacrifices.
Thus, our state’s politicians want control over Bangalore whenever they are in power, but they do not want to invest their political capital in building consensus on the key local issues that really concern citizens here, roadwidening and transportation being one of them. Their juniors at the mahanagara palike in N R Square seem just that, juniors, and have not asserted their own independent voices.
Just like Bangalore’s limited water supply, road space is finite too. "How wide is wide enough?" asked a JP Nagar citizen last year in this magazine. Any 8th grader will be able to tell that a widened road in Bangalore will get jammed again in less than a year. As housing, vehicle registrations, office space and commerce grows, so will traffic.
Why a debate? At councillor election debates earlier this year Citizen Matters had asked candidates whether growth limits must be set for Bangalore. Not surprisingly they responded with personalised yes/no types of views that only indicated one thing: the issue was not a hot topic for them and had never been discussed in a focal way within their parties.
A debate forces speakers to bring out their view points and data to back up those views. A debate can also have invited experts to answer questions everyone has in their minds. Furthermore, a debate covered by the media will help both the public and politicians identify whether a political consensus for Bangalore can be found.
At the end of the day, the authority to launch grand and expensive schemes to develop Bangalore is ultimately vested with our politicians and no one else. But all their political authority flows from the people, and for that authority to be legitimate, the city council and state assembly must have embraced the contentious issue raised by citizens with the sincerity that it will take to find a middle ground.
As noted already, none of this has happened. Without this, the political backlash against roadwidening and TDR has greater political legitimacy and it will remain so.
That begs this next question: Who decided in favour of roadwidening in the first place, without a debate on growth management and land use policy? How did they come to this decision?
But the situation is not as hopeless as it seems.
There is way to expose the mess of twisted interests that are controlling Bangalore’s governance, and expose this in such a way that some serious reform will become inevitable.
After the budget session, the mayor must call for a full sitting of Bangalore’s city council, with the city’s MLAs participating (who are also members as per Karnataka law). The session must debate and discuss the question of Bangalore’s growth, roadwidening, transportation, and water allocations to peripheral areas. The toughest questions of growth must be put here. Experts with different points of view must be invited and be asked to argue their plans with data. The Ravindra-led TDR panel’s recommendations and findings must be tabled here for our councillors and MLAs to assess and question.
What will really happen in such a council session is this: The disorganised and unconstitutional status of local decision making will be exposed. That state government officials continue to run Bangalore and determine its many projects and planning will come out into the open. Both the mayor and councillors will simply have to admit that current state law does not leave much of the decisions upto them at all!
In turn the media must bring the session’s attention to ABIDE’s reform bill for Bangalore’s governance, which takes away power from the state government and pushes it down to a new metropolitan planning committee and gives expanded powers to the mayor. This bill has been shot down by most MLAs. ABIDE being a chief minister-created committee has not helped push it through to the state assembly. (Ironically, the head of the TDR panel is also one of the architects of ABIDE’s Bangalore governance bill.)
This state of affairs must be exposed in full glare of the media. Only then will there be an even large outcry than the piecemeal one on roadwidening there is now. From that more change will come.
Citizens’ associations must demand for this city council session with the same force that the resentment has come with. If it is not met, the government’s roadwidening and TDR policy will only lose whatever little legitimacy it has left. If met, the sessions could force a politics that for the first time in Bangalore’s recent history, will place reason over fiat, and data over dictat. ⊕