The Karnataka government on Thursday scrapped the controversial steel bridge project, even as the National Green Tribunal hearing in the case is pending.
Bengaluru Development Minister K.J. George who made the formal announcement, blamed the BJP and its “baseless” allegation of kickbacks made against the state government, for dropping the project.
“I have spoken to CM and he too has given approval to cancel the project. We are tired of it. We are ready to face trail by fire like Sita. The BJP and its state president are making baseless allegations against me and the chief minister without any proof ,” said George.
The 6.7-km-long steel bridge connecting the Basaveshwara Circle and Hebbal flyover, estimated to cost Rs 1,876 crore, was to be built by the Bengaluru Development Authority. But the hurried proposal was strongly opposed by various citizen groups including Namma Bengaluru Foundation and Citizens' Action Forum (CAF), which were joined in by the opposition parties. Last October, a massive human chain was formed to voice the concerns of the common man as people felt that the project was totally “unnecessary” and would also require axing of 812 trees. Though the initial cost was Rs 1,130 crore, it eventually rose to Rs 1,876 crore.
Despite the citizens' protests, the state government had blatantly refused to drop the project and floated tenders and even given the work order. This forced the citizen groups to file a petition before the NGT, which has stayed the project.
While the Congress MLAs were divided, the BJP MLAs continued to oppose the project. The government seized the opportunity to label the BJP as “anti-development”. The Congress legislators Byrati Suresh and Narayanaswamy contended that the project would ease the traffic on the stretch and dropping the plan would cause injustice to the people of North Bengaluru, who are struggling with notorious traffic jam on the route. “BJP is going to be responsible for stalling the development project,” they cried.
High drama prevailed in the Vidhana Soudha on Thursday when a meeting to discuss water woes of Bengaluru turned into a heated debate on the controversial bridge. While George made the decision appear spontaneous, sources claimed the decision to drop the project was made during the cabinet meeting held the previous day.
Strangely, George blamed Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who had spearheaded the campaign against the proposed project, for the decision.
“He (Rajeev) is a representative of the state, but he has been working against the interest of the state by opposing all the progressive projects. He is responsible for stalling the Akrama-Sakrama bill (regularistion of illegal constructions) and for the negative propaganda over Bengaluru's lakes as he wants all investments to the state stalled and want them to go to the neighbouring states,” alleged George, who also accused the BJP of hounding the government over alleged kickbacks and also scuttling development projects.
Said Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who spearheaded the “Steelbridge Beda” campaign, “The cancellation of the project gives us hope for future. The governments should realise that citizens' consultation is crucial for any development.”
The sudden change of heart of the Siddaramaiah government is now being mocked at by the opposition parties, which claim that the Congress government fears a CBI probe into the alleged kickback case (of Rs 65 crore).
“The diary recovered from Congress MLC K. Govindaraj mentions kickback of Rs 65 crore. An embarrassed Congress fears a backlash in the coming polls,” said BJP state president B.S. Yeddyurappa, stating that his party would still pursue the case and seek CBI probe into the kickback case.
Defending the government, KPCC working president Dinesh Gundu Rao, “The project is being portrayed as a monument of corruption by the Congress, though our intention was to improve the city infrastructure.”
JD(S) MLA and spokesperson Y.S.V. Datta wondered why the government which did not yield to the large-scale protests of the citizens was now dropping the project. “The Congress fears further probe into the kickback case. Though we welcome the decision to cancel the project, I am sure it will not help the Congress win back the confidence of the people,” mocked Datta.