Indianama

The steel road that will rip out Bengaluru's heart – and set a dangerous urban precedent

Deploying the murky decision-making that swept it from power, the Congress' last major government pushes through a project that will destroy the city's soul.

Imagine an elevated road scything through, and scything down, the shaded promenades of Lutyens’ Delhi, fording Rajpath, as its pylons demolish parts of the Delhi Golf Club, The National Gallery of Modern Art (formerly Jaipur House), the National Stadium, other iconic buildings, and hundreds of dense rai-jamun, or myrtle trees, legacies of the Raj that now define modern Delhi.

How about a similar elevated road smashing its way through south Mumbai, knocking off portions of the Brabourne Stadium, the Oval maidan, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and taking with it, among others, hundreds of fine mahogany and almond trees planted a few decades before I was born.

It is hard to imagine how anyone, government or people, would permit such defilement – don't forget Lata Mangeshkar's opposition was enough to stop the Peddar Road flyover in Mumbai – of buildings and trees nurtured over a human lifespan and etched in our collective cultural memories and conscience.

The green heart of Bengaluru with the golf course on the right. (Photo credit: Lawrence Sinclair/Flickr Creative Commons).
The green heart of Bengaluru with the golf course on the right. (Photo credit: Lawrence Sinclair/Flickr Creative Commons).

Needless defilement

Yet, this is what the Congress' last government in a major Indian state has just cleared, in dubious haste, say local media, in Bengaluru: A 6.7-km long elevated road that will rip out the city's heart, all to speed a few thousand cars towards the airport for a limited time. The operative word is "towards" because this Rs 1,791-crore road to be built within two years atop what the government calls India's longest "steel bridge" will only ease a few jams and link up with a clogged intersection that marks the start of the highway to the airport.

This is not an unusual situation for urban India, defined by patchwork solutions and temporary reprieves. It is definitely not an unusual situation for Bengaluru, which is littered with badly-designed flyovers and underpasses that swept away trees and are now obstacles to traffic. What is unusual is the haste around this project (more on that later), and the permanent damage it will cause to an area that defines the city.

In no particular order, here is some of what the proposed bridge will damage or displace: Balabrooie (christened thus by Sir Mark Cubbon, a British-era city commissioner, after similar homes in his native Isle of Man in the Irish Sea) – a 150-year-old state guesthouse, which once hosted Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, home to many chief ministers and trees a century old; the Indira Gandhi musical fountain, among India's largest and most advanced; five holes of a 139-year-old golf course, a sprawling green lung in the heart of the city; the main planetarium; and more than 800 of Bengaluru's oldest trees.

The historic Balabrooie guest house in Bengaluru. (Photo credit: Facebook/Siddaramaiah: Save the Historic Balabrooie Guest House).
The historic Balabrooie guest house in Bengaluru. (Photo credit: Facebook/Siddaramaiah: Save the Historic Balabrooie Guest House).

Green cover lost

The loss of trees will be particularly damaging. Bengaluru has lost more than 50,000 trees since 2010, and there is now 0.1 tree for each resident, about a tenth of what it should be to absorb the carbon dioxide from the city's growing tide of vehicles – 1,600 are registered every day – I wrote recently in this column.

One of Bengaluru's wide-canopied gulmohar trees. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).
One of Bengaluru's wide-canopied gulmohar trees. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Anecdotally, anyone who has experienced Bengaluru over the past two or four decades – two to relative newcomers, four to older residents, such as I – knows that no fans were needed in May, that Decembers were close to freezing.

Trees have a widespread cooling effect, as anyone who drives by a park in warm weather can testify. In the tropics, a loss of trees affects rainfall, which could be up to 18% lower over India, according to this 2014 study by scientists at Bengaluru’s Divecha Centre For Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science.

Deforestation is evident nationwide, with 25,000 hectares, an area twice the size of Chandigarh, diverted every year for non-forestry activity, which includes dams, factories and roads. As IndiaSpend reported earlier this year, 23,716 such projects replaced forests over the last 30 years.

So, chopping trees is always a bad idea, especially in a burgeoning city like Bengaluru. The government insists it will plant 20 trees for each tree felled, but it emerges that these trees will be seedlings planted on the city's outskirts, leaving the city centre – which has already lost hundreds of trees to road widening and the Bengaluru metro – a hot house. Chopping trees and destroying the places that give the city its identity all for a smoother commute over 6.7 km for a few months before traffic again floods the elevated road is a really bad idea.

‘Uncharacteristic urgency’

If this willful devastation wasn't bad enough, worse was the manner in which the elevated road was pushed through. Stopped in July this year after public protests and disapproval from experts, the proposal resurfaced this month and was pushed through the Congress' state cabinet almost overnight.

“The uncharacteristic urgency...has left everyone baffled,” commented the Times of India. Its sister paper, the Bangalore Mirror, was less circumspect, alleging: “The Rs 1,800-crore steel flyover project has a lot of players involved with their share of the pie already decided.”

Quite apart from the fact that this kind of political manoeuvring to the detriment of public interest explains, in part, why the Congress lost India, the steel flyover, if built, will establish a model for other states to rip into relatively pristine city centres.

Over the decades, Bengaluru has set many precedents for India. Some, mostly in the past, displayed the city's creative side, including meticulously-planned neighbourhoods, flower-bedecked boulevards, shimmering lakes, public-sector factories and their quiet, housing colonies, scientific research centres, the software revolution, pubs and app-based taxi services. Other precedents have not been as happy: the destruction of by-laws, trees and lakes, the loss of control over garbage and the abandonment of planning. Would a destructive new flyover really make that much of a difference?

Play
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.