How the Defence Ministry Can Ease Bengaluru’s Traffic Woes
In the coming months, the Indian military will have a crucial role to play in reducing maddening traffic in some parts of Bengaluru.
No, army men won’t be needed on Bengaluru’s streets to manage traffic, but the Defence Ministry will have to decide whether or not to hand over defence land to civic authorities. The completion of various infrastructure projects relies on certain pockets of defence land inside the city.
The Defence Ministry and Bengaluru civil administration have recently reached an in-principle agreements to swap land. Even though a report from military top brass in the city has been sent to South Block, the decision on the matter is still pending.
If the approval comes through, half-built flyovers, road-widening projects and schools will get a new lease of life.
Army, BBMP, and a Half-Built Overbridge
The half-built overbridge in east Bengaluru’s Byappanahalli Main Road is a classic example of infrastructure development caught between BBMP and the military’s disagreement over land.
As you drive off Byappanahalli Main Road, towards Hennur, you can’t miss the infamous half-built bridge. The construction of the overbridge was announced in 2012 to remove the bottleneck near a railway crossing. The bridge, however, stops just above the railway track, remaining a mute spectator to the traffic.
On the other side of the railway track is defence land, belonging to the Madras Engineers’ Group (MEG). As the army refused to part with it, work on the bridge was abandoned halfway.
Army vs Bengalureans
Before Bengaluru’s population exploded, military establishments owned several large chunks of property in what was then ‘the outskirts of Bangalore’. However, as the city expanded, these areas became a part of it and residential layout came up around the military properties. The military owns close to 5,000 acres of land in the city and as incidents of encroachment on military land increased, the army was forced to take precautionary measures.
As the army stepped up guards, there were several disputes. In 2013, residents of Gowthanpura and men from the 515 Army Base Workshop clashed over the construction of a road; in 2016, protests erupted after the army closed a road going through its property in Modi Garden; and in 2017, the police had to resort to lathicharge after a mob got violent when the army directed locals to use an alternate road to reach a mosque in a disputed site in Kaval Byarasandra.
Defence Minister’s Intervention
While these disputes subsided following mediations, it was the protest by the students of a 100-year-old school that caught the attention of former defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
In June 2016, four government schools and a college in Matadahalli near JC Nagar turned into a battleground after parents, students and teachers came out against the army personnel who had come to demolish the school situated on army land.
After two notices sent by the army estate officer asking the schools operating on army land to be cleared were ignored, officers arrived with eviction notices. Seeing the army arrive at their door steps, over 1000 students, parents and teachers locked themselves inside the classrooms and the army personnel, refusing to back down, set up a tent inside the school campus.
Learning about the standoff during a visit to Bengaluru, Parrikar took up the matter and asked the army to clear the school’s premises.
In-Principle Approval to Hand Over Land
After Parrikar took up the issue of the schools, senior Karnataka politicians took up the matter of other infrastructure projects in the city which required army lands. On 7 July 2016, following a meeting between military top brass in the city, civic agencies and Parrikar, a decision was taken to provide the city administration with the required defence land.
Some of the major projects which were to restarted following the approval were road construction between Ejipura Inner Ring Road and Sarjapura Main Road, elevated corridor by integrating Ejipura Ring Road and Kendriya Sadan, widening of Laskar-Hosur Road, land for JC Nagar Government School, road widening from Gangamma Circle to MS Palya in Yelahanka zone, approach road from Koramangala Ring Road to Challaghatta village and the half built bridge in Byappanahalli.
Even After A Year, Work Yet to Begin
It has been a year since Parrikar gave the in-principle approval for the land swapping deal, however, nothing has happened so far. Senior BBMP officials have said that Ministry of Defence has not backed down from its promise, but the process has been slow.
In July, a joint inspection of the Anekal land was conducted by defence officials. Following in the inspection they gave another in-principle approval and said that report for swapping the land will be sent to the ministry for approval. As soon as these approvals arrive, we will be able to take these infrastructure projects forward.Senior BBMP Official
All eyes are on now the Ministry of Defence and its decision.