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Above: The PRR project will decongest traffic and reduce air pollution in Bengaluru/Photo: Youtube

Whether the traffic nightmare in Bengaluru will ease or not depends to a large extent on the Supreme Court’s decision on Peripheral Ring Road project in April

By Stephen David in Bengaluru

The Karnataka capital’s Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) project has been literally going around in circles for a long time, with one roadblock after the other. Now the Supreme Court will hear on April 1, 2019, the appeal of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order. The green court had on March 14, 2019, restrained the Karnataka government from going ahead with the Rs 17,000 crore eight-lane project on environmental grounds.

Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, is already bursting at its seams—almost eight million vehicles are choking its roads despite nearly four lakh people, on an average, using the Bengaluru Metro every day. So when work on the 72-km, Rs 6,300 crore phase two of the project started, there were high hopes that it would to a large extent mitigate traffic woes. There were also plans to make a provision for a Metro line in the middle of the eight-lane PRR.

Bengaluru, considered India’s tech hub, continues to attract people from all parts of the country because of its salubrious climate. With the population already touching nearly 11 million in the 1,000-sq-km Bangalore metropolitan region, the BDA has been planning to add another outer ring road for the city, called PRR, for a long time. But it has been beset with one hurdle after another even as governments kept changing in the state.

As chief minister, SM Krishna had roped in technocrat Nandan Nilekani to head the Bengaluru Agenda Task Force (BATF). Formed in 1999 during Krishna’s tenure as chief minister, BATF was a public-private partnership that was to involve people from outside the government to bring in value additions to the governance of Bengaluru. The chief minister had even talked of developing the city on the lines of Singapore.

Over the years, BDA and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike—two key government agencies that oversee the development of the city—have been trying their best to keep pace with the city’s exponential growth.

Karnataka’s deputy chief minister, Dr G Parameshwara, who is in charge of Bengaluru’s development, has already asked the city’s agencies to fast-track development projects while keeping environmental concerns in mind.

 

T he NGT bench presided over by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel had stayed the PRR project, stating that it will not proceed on the basis of environmental clearance granted on November 20, 2014. However, the BDA, represented by senior counsel Shyam Diwan and Sanjay Nuli, is hoping to get the much needed relief to go ahead with the PRR, which it says will help decongest the city. The matter is scheduled to come up before a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta.

Some days ago, a group of farmers—who stand to get attractive compensation for parting with their lands for the PRR project—also launched a protest outside the BDA office to press for speedy execution of the project.

Any further delay may impact the cost of the project. BDA officials aver that it will push up the costs further—anywhere from Rs 1,000 crore to even five or six times of that figure. The current version of the PRR, based on a 2007 model, is already incorporated in the BDA’s 2031 masterplan which has received citizens’ inputs. Changes were made in PRR in 2010 but those have now been shelved.

The private sector-built Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE) Road between Bengaluru and Mysore—promoted by Ashok Kheny—has absor­bed some of the heavy vehicular traffic. The NICE road project, built on a build-own-operate-transfer basis, sees nearly eight lakh vehicles plying on its 100-km tolled expressway. The BDA’s PRR project will be integrated with the NICE roads.

The PRR project forms another circle of the city, in addition to the Outer Ring Road, and is aimed at reducing the traffic snarls at major tech hubs, including Electronics City (India’s first standalone hub for infotech companies and home to Infosys, among others), Sarjapura (the headquarters of Wipro), Varthur, Whitefield, Hosakote and Kempegowda International Airport, close to Devanahalli. If the apex court gives the complete green signal in April, the 1,800-acre PRR project is expected to be completed within the next three to four years.

Farmers and private land owners are happy to part with land due to attractive compensation provided through better TDRs (Transfer of Development Rights) certificate. In layman’s language, they can now build higher floors than what is normally permitted.

If someone hands over 1,000 sq ft of land to the BDA for the PRR project, he will be given a TDR that permits him to build up to 3,000 sq ft in any other property he owns in the city. What makes it even more beneficial for the TDR holder is that it can be sold to other builders for cash.

Even as BDA scouts for extra land and necessary clearances, work is underway to complete a comprehensive land audit of all its properties. Parameshwara, the Bengaluru development minister, had set a deadline of March 2019 for the task.

Several months ago, when he set the deadline, Parameshwara admitted that there was no clear picture on the extent of land under the control of the BDA. “So, the survey, a first of its kind, will be completed by March 2019,” he said. As early as 2015, BDA had identified encroachment on over 3,300 acres of its land. Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s predecessor, Siddaramaiah, had plans to regularise that with a hefty fee but it fell through.

With the election code of conduct in place, it is now left to the officials to push for the PRR project. Hopefully, the last word on the PRR project will be pronounced on April 1, 2019, so that it doesn’t end up going around in circles.

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