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Open letter to BTM layout MLA from BAF-BTM cluster

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Governance
To 
 
Honorable Sri Ramalinga Reddy,
MLA, BTM layout, 
Bengaluru
 
Respected Sir
 
Sub: poor livability conditions in S T Bed layout, and even in the whole of Koramangala
 
Bangalore Apartments Federation (BAF - https://baf.org.in/), comprising of over 400 apartment complexes across the city, is already known to you, Sir, with your having facilitated the meeting of our Governing Council members with the erstwhile City Development Minister, Mr K J George, to sort out the "retrospective STP" issue. We remain grateful to you on that account, forever.
 
This approach to you now is from BAF's BTM layout cluster members to sort out the many issues we are facing in our area (as brought out below), in your capacity as the MLA of the constituency.   
 
Sir, the following are the excerpts from a post made by a resident of "Mantri Classic" on a WhatsApp group, which quite brings out the plight of the residents of S T bed layout:
 
"I walk to my office every day -  it's a 25 minute walk".
 
This has become the routine at least for many of the younger residents, because of the state of our being physically cut off from the rest of the world, with the "Maharaja" bridge broken, and the remaining three accesses being too narrow and crowded (and, of these, the "Sinivagilu" village road too has now been closed for major repairs from over 10 days). Even if we somehow manage to extricate ourselves from S T Bed layout, there is the fly-over construction going on, from the tardy 'progress' of which, it looks like it's going to take a long time to complete. 
 
All in all, in a car, it takes some 45 to 75 minutes to just get out of Koramangala, during peak hours, and likewise to get back home.
 
Yes, we do appreciate that, with the increased traffic congestion all across the city, the future may require us all to leave our cars/ mo-bikes behind at home and walk - if not the whole distance, but may be to the nearest bus stop, at least on the work-day commute. That would be the ideal situation. But, there too, the problems are too many, as noted below (excerpted from the same post, cited earlier):  
 
When you start walking, then you experience the next nightmare of bad civic sense: garbage. There are stretches where garbage is just dumped. In our cars, we don't realize the scale and size of this mess. Plus there are loose electrical wires jutting from poles which seem seriously spooky in the rain....Walking is a separate nightmare in itself”.
 
This of course is apart from the extremely poor public transport connectivity.
 
All the same, Sir, you'll appreciate that even the younger citizens (and certainly the older ones, and the women and children too) can't be asked to give up on the car/ mo-bike totally, and the state needs to facilitate their movements too to the best possible extent. This is where we are at a loss to understand the how and why of so many works going on simultaneously in S T Bed layout, and Koramangala, in general, making just the thought of leaving home a nightmare (not that it is any better at home, with the frequent power outages).
 
Firstly, the Maharaja bridge: There are all kinds of vague explanations for demolishing it. The most plausible explanation can be that it got badly damaged while manuevering the heavy earth-moving equipment over it, in the process of clearing the muck thrown being into the SWD, repeatedly. Now, obviously, the BBMP couldn't have authorised these muck clearing jobs - so, who did it, and where is the accountability? And, why weren't the local citizens informed of the decision to demolish the bridge, so that they could make their plans accordingly, rather than being caught totally unawares? And, when the bridge was to be re-constructed, how come the BWSSB decided on placing the 6 ft dia pipes for their sewage line, below the SWD, without the express permission of the BBMP, resulting eventually to a tussle between them, and delaying the completion of the bridge? Anyway, now with the pipe-laying postponed/ re-routed, why are the six pipes still lying around at the site, causing additional hindrance to the flow of traffic? Also, when is the job expected to be completed?
 
4th block flood mitigation plan: In September last year, there was an announcement of the commencement of work on this plan, with a pooja, presided over by you, Sir. The announcement talked vaguely about laying of pipelines along the 80 ft road (Google terms it "Srinivagilu main road"), from somewhere between Sony-World junction and Maharaja junction. 
 
With the area already badly congested, there was anxiety among residents to understand what the whole proposal was, as also how it was going to affect their overall mobility in the area. So, a request was made to the EE, BBMP, if he could make a presentation to 4th block (which includes S T Bed layout) residents on the proposal, or at least to provide the relevant drawings. But, he appeared busy forever, and it never happened. Subsequently, based on a talk the undersigned had with Mr Govardhan Reddy, the Block Congress convener, the blog, accessible here , was published. The same was circulated widely amongst the residents hoping for a feedback on whether the assumptions made were correct.
 
Subsequently, these were personally brought up by the undersigned in three Ward (no 148) Committee meetings too, including in writing. With no response from the Corporator, or any of the Ward Committee members, the contents were mailed out to them, as also to all of the connected BBMP South officials (to id's available on the BBMP web-site), with copies to the Mayor and the Commissioner (check here ). While cursory acknowledgements were received from both the Mayor and the Commissioner, there was no response whatsoever from any of the officials.
 
With no information available, but with all kinds of works starting all over, along-with two other residents of S T Bed layout, the undersigned then went over to meet the senior most BBMP officials, concerned. It was then that it became known that the 6ft dia pipes were not for the flood-mitigation project, but for a BWSSB project, for linking a sewage wet-well in NGV to the STP complex at Belur Nagasandra (adjacent to Bellandur lake flood-plains, east of the HAL air-strip). What was even more shocking was that the pipes were to be laid below the SWD bed, starting at "Seva-in-Action" junction, going all the way under the Maharaja bridge (now being re-constructed), the "Naveen Terracres" bridge on the IRR, and some more bridges thereon, ending finally at the NGV wet-well.
 
Simultaneously, there was the "flood-mitigation" project on too, with a box drain, connecting a "storm-water wet-well" (where the water from the Maharaja junction side, as well as perhaps Raheja Residency side, is expected to get collected) to the Bellandur lake, via a 'syphon' arrangement, passing below the "Seva-in-Action" bridge. The work on this (all along the periphery of the "Prestige Pinewood" project, and beyond - see picture below) too being on-going, any day, the digging could commence near "Seva-in-Action".  
 
For engineers (though not from the Civil stream), that our team consisted of, it didn't seem to make any logic to any of the members. Even the BBMP officials seemed unconvinced about the efficacy of the whole project, and it appeared they had been pushed into taking it up. Now the fear is that, rather than discharging flood waters into Bellandur lake, it could even lead to Bellandur waters flooding back into S T Bed layout, and Koramangala 4th block. 
 
Apparently, there was some "Consultant" involved (who, it is said, later backed out), and some public hearing involving sections of 4th block RWA happened too. The larger question arising here is, is all of that good enough, particularly when it pertains to projects affecting far larger sections of the residents. Is it enough for the rest of the affected residents to be invited just for the 'pooja' (with some sketchy information on the project) at the commencement of the work? This has unfortunately become the practice all through - whether in the case of the 'Egipura-Kendriya Sadan' fly-over project, re-laying of sewage lines, TenderSure, white-topping, Bescom's under-ground cable-laying, telecom cabling strung over trees, Maestrikere rejuvenation, et al. 
 
Apparently, the lessons, from having to stop the work (already commenced) on an earlier mega project on Sarjapur road (involving some three under-passes and a fly-over), and restoration of the road to its earlier status, costing the tax payer a huge sum of money, have not been learned. Sir, as members of the Bangalore Apartments Federation, BTM layout cluster, we wish to request you to involve all of our members in all of future plans for the entire BTM layout constituency, right from the conception stage itself. 
 
Thanking you,
 
Yours truly, 
For BAF-BTM cluster,
sd/- Muralidhar Rao
(Vice President, BAF)
 

 

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Points added on on behalf of St John's Wood RWA

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Points subsequently added on to the petition on behalf of St John's Wood RWA (our member), pertaining to their area: 
 
1) On the Tavarekere and BTM areas, garbage is being dumped in all the by-lanes. The residents of Prestige St. John’s Wood, senior citizens of Augustine Nivas Old-Age Home, St John’s Staff Quarters, and surrounding areas are badly affected.
 
2) Garbage trucks and garbage loading/unloading have resulted in the lanes being messed up. Despite keeping the Complex clean and tidy, mosquitoes and flies are invading us due to the garbage outside. When it rains, the stench is unbearable. Garbage is also being burned on these lanes.
 
3) The traffic jams on Tavarekere Road and St John’s Cross Road have become a daily feature. This is due to the white-topping work (which has been stopped indefinitely) and road-blocks in front of Forum Mall, and diverting of heavy traffic to our lanes. There have been times when the residents of PSJW have not been able to get out of the Complex gates. Patients have not been able to reach the hospital in time. Ambulances get stuck on our lanes.
 
4) There is no night patrolling by Hoysala. Nuisance by youngsters and couples have increased.
 
PS: These problems are not specific to the area alone. They have been broadly covered in the beginning of the original petition itself.
Muralidhar Rao
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so, the fly-over stuck?

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We’re in the process of issuing transfer of development rights (TDR) certificate to St John’s Research Institute, part of whose property has been acquired for the project. Besides, three properties belonging to government agencies and 46 other private properties measuring to over 8,599sqm have to be acquired. Not all owners are ready to accept TDR certificates and a few of them are firm on cash compensation. - - - To facilitate project execution, 25 full-grown trees will be translocated to suitable alternative locations in the near future. There are 39 trees on the stretch and not all can be saved for the project. Nearly 14 trees will be pruned while others will be shifted.
 
The above are the excerpts from a ToI report, on the Egipura-KendriyaSadan fly-over (under construction) accessible here.
 
And, the following is what the well-known architect & town-planner, Naresh Narasimhan, had to comment on the same, in a WhatsApp group:
 
1.5, maybe 2 year delay in executing a project? Why even start it without completing land acquisition, services re-routing, tree “relocation” in advance? The whole process methodology is wrong and flawed, and if this happened in the private sector heads would have rolled! And it is on-going nightmare on a daily basis to travel through the route! Definitely the Elevated Corridor project should not even start without a proper planning and execution strategy in place! The whole of Bengaluru has become a construction site and a badly managed one at that.
 
Quite as Naresh has stated, the whole of Bengaluru has become a construction site, with Koramangala as the epi-centre, with the livability index at its lowest ever. If a Metro line was coming up instead of the fly-over, it could have been acceptable, in the expectation that the usage of personal forms of transport (at least for work-day commute - both locally generated, as well as transit) would be contained in the future. But, unfortunately, certain sections of the residents had other ideas (I'll not go into all of that), and pushed through the fly-over plan, just before the elections, and the politico's were happy to oblige, the reasons being quite obvious. Well, proper planning was given the go-by, and we have landed ourselves in a state where we don't know if the project will get completed even.
 
All of this has resulted out of deliberate denial of transparency in every stage of the project, whether in planning, implementation, or whatever (as seen in the opening post), and 'staged' citizen consultation, if there were any at all.
 
And, it is not just the fly-over - there are so many of them - the Maharaja bridge, BWSSB's 6ft dia sewage pipe-line project, BBMP's flood-mitigation project, white-topping all over (of course, to be dug up just days later to run utility lines) - you name it, it's all there - "development" - that's the name of the game!
 
Not sure if Koramangala can now be salvaged at all; if yes, to what extent - but the effort of BAF will in future be to ensure it doesn't get any worse.  
 
Muralidhar Rao
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letter submitted

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With Koramangala dug up all over, with many 'works' going on simultaneously (mostly unnecessary, and most poorly planned and executed), the sight of any kind of earth-moving equipment (and there are so many types of them), anywhere in the vicinity, has been sending the shivers down the spine of the residents.
 
So much so, last Friday evening, I got a call from a resident of "Raheja Residency" (a member of the BAF-BTM cluster) to say that, as feared, "white-topping" work had started on the 7th cross (on which they are located), beginning with the digging up of foot-paths, and in the process, the compound wall of a house has got damaged. The Raheja Residency Association members, as also the residents of independent houses along the road, were quite clear that they didn't want the "white-topping", at least as of now, even as their lives have got messed up with so much other work already going on. The Raheja Assn members told me that they had sought a meeting with the MLA, Mr Ramalinga Reddy, who had readily obliged them for a meeting at 8.30, the next morning (Saturday), and suggested that I may go along with them to submit the petition I had prepared (on behalf of the BAF-BTM cluster - check opening post), weeks ago, on all issues pertaining to the constituency, in general (but which couldn't be submitted for want of the MLA's availability, consequent on the political developments).  
 
I quickly made out a condensed version of my petition (as below, of the one in the opening post), and joined the 'Raheja' group, on Saturday morning, to meet Mr Reddy.
 
Respected Sir
 
Sub: poor livability conditions in S T Bed layout, and even in the whole of Koramangala
 
Bangalore Apartments Federation (BAF - https://baf.org.in/), comprising of over 400 apartment complexes across the city, is already known to you, Sir, with your having facilitated the meeting of our Governing Council members with the erstwhile City Development Minister, Mr K J George, to sort out the "retrospective STP" issue. We remain grateful to you on that account, forever.
 
This approach to you now is from BAF's BTM layout cluster members to sort out the many issues we are facing in our area (as brought out below), in your capacity as the MLA of the constituency.  
 
Firstly, Sir, the Maharaja bridge - Why was it broken? And, even as it was broken, why was the restoration work allowed to get delayed (because of the tussle between BWSSB and BBMP over the laying of the 6 ft dia sewage pipelines below the SWD bed)? And, now that it has been decided to take the pipeline through some other route, why are the 6 pipes still lying on the 1st main, badly hindering traffic flow? With the main access to S T Bed layout (via the bridge) cut off, why were prolonged repairs of the Srinivagilu village road and Nilgiri's road taken up simultaneously, making moving in and out of S T Bed layout a total nightmare, the ever-ongoing "Egipura-KendriyaSadan Fly-over" construction adding to the problems even more. 
 
With it becoming impossible for vehicles to move in and out of S T Bed layout, many residents had taken to walking, if not the whole distance, but to the nearest bus stop, at least on the work-day commute. But then, the foot-paths are in pitiable condition, there is garbage piled up all over, and the public transport connectivity in Koramangala too is extremely poor (with it being denied a Metro connection, because of the ill-conceived fly-over).
 
Apart from these are so many other works taken up/ going on simultaneously, viz - 
  • the massive 4th block flood mitigation project, 
  • white-topping of even interior roads,
  • Tender-Sure projects,
  • re-laying of sewage lines,
  • Bescom's under-ground cable-laying,
  • telecom cabling strung over trees,
  • Maestrikere rejuvenation,
et al, the efficacy of many of which some of the officials/ consultants involved are themselves unsure about. Besides, there is very little public consultation, if there is any at all.
 
This is leading to the choking of entire Koramangala, the spill over of which is affecting traffic movements across the city, given Koramangala's proximity to the IT hubs.
 
With no clear information available from any of the regular sources, the undersigned had personally taken up these matters at three Ward (no 148) Committee meetings, including in writing. With no response from the Corporator, or any of the Ward Committee members, the contents were mailed out to them, as also to all of the connected BBMP South officials (to id's available on the BBMP web-site), with copies to the Mayor and the Commissioner. While cursory acknowledgements were received from both the Mayor and the Commissioner, there was no response whatsoever from any of the officials.
 
Sir, the current practice of just inviting us for the "pooja" at the commencement of a work (along-with providing some sketchy information on the project), particularly when they pertain to projects affecting large sections of residents, is no longer acceptable. As members of the Bangalore Apartments Federation, BTM layout cluster, we wish to request you to involve all of our members in all of future plans for the entire BTM layout constituency, right from the conception stage itself. 
 
Thanking you,
 
Yours truly, 
For BAF-BTM cluster,
sd/- Muralidhar Rao
 
After hearing out the Raheja Assn members, Mr Reddy called up the BBMP Chief Engineerr cocerned, and told him to take up only as much of the work as the Raheja Assn members wanted - mostly the upgradation of the foot-paths. The Assn members pointed out that the foot-paths along the road were in an OK condition, and if any upgradation work was needed, they would rather that it be taken up in a phased manner, after many of the the other works, that are going on, are completed first. I added that we would in general prefer road works being taken up along the lines of 'TenderSure', providing for planned laying out of all ultility lines, rather than the 'white-topping' approach, where the roads tend to get dug up in weeks/ days, after laying, for attending to uitlity line repairs.
 
To this Mr Reddy's response was that many of the projects being taken up were 'centrally' funded, where the readily available funds needed to be utilised fast, failing which they would tend to lapse. My response to this was that, whether Central or State, all funds come out of tax payers' money, and prudence needs to be exercised in utilising them. Mr Reddy countered with "if you indulge in 'kirkiri' over everything I do for the constituency, I'll sit back and relax, and no work will ever get done here". I responded saying that while we do appreciate the effort he had been putting in for the 'development' of the constituency, the whole idea of development had evolved to have a different meaning altogether now. I added that, as such, we would like all future works (particularly the large ones, impacting the entire community) to be taken up, after wide consultations (at the conceptual stage itself) with all stake-holders concerned, including us in the BAF-BTM cluster, and in a most transparent manner.
 
Not quite sure how he has taken it all. Whatever, we from BAF-BTM cluster are going to be sending copies of the letter submitted to him to all the officials concerened to ensure that they get the import of it all, and act accordingly in future. 
 
Muralidhar Rao
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Citizen Matter report

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Citizen Matter offered to carry a report on the development, and eventually the same was published under the caption "Why Koramangala looks like a War Zone" - it may be accessed here

Muralidhar Rao
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my responses to CM readers' responses

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While checking out something else, I got linked to my Citizen Matters report, and on browsing through the same, I noticed that there had been quite a few responses to it. But, the publisher had closed further responses, and so, I am putting them all down here:
 
Firstly, thanks to Mr Bhushan and Mr Brahmanyan for more or less endorsing what I had stated. Besides, my draft had received overall support from representatives of BAF member complexes, many of whom, while remaining rather reticent in the local Social Media circles, so far, are now beginning to speak up. And, they represent a sizable number.
 
Now, let me respond to the comments of those who didn't agree with my views.
 
On the Flyover: 
My opposition to the "Sarjapur road underpass-flyover combo project" was largely on account of lack of integration of "public transport" into the overall scheme - check here, whatever anyone else's issue was. So, I was happy to see it scrapped, and was also happy that the alternate proposal of the Egipura-KendriyaSadan flyover (which, in my scheme of things, was limited to pointing out that the traffic along this corridor was more dense, and nothing beyond that) too appeared shelved. My expectation was that with METRO establishing itself as the preferred mode of long distance commute within the city, and Koramangala being an important hub, it too will get covered sooner than later, more so with Indiranagar on one side already connected, and SilkBoard, on the other side too, in the works (please don't expect me to buy the talk of a Metro line through Koramangala being infeasible). This expectation got reinforced with the overall sentiment amongst the citizens turning against car-centric development, and the government too responding by dropping the steel flyover (to the airport) plan. It was then that a group, who were and continue to be proponents for the fly-over kind of development, went into a huddle, banded together with a handful of like-minded Koramangala citizens (deliberately keeping the likes of me out), and started pushing doubly hard to save their Koramangala flyover. The May '18 elections provided the opportunity as far as the neta's are concerned, and they showered "their blessings on their subjects" in the form of the fly-over. As far as the citizens are concerened, it has become a nightmare.   
 
On the 4th block Flood Mitigation plan:
I was told by reliable sources that the consultant had withdrawn from the project. Another resident in the know told me that, when BBMP engineers themselves came up with an alternate plan estimated to cost just about a crore, they were told that anything less than Rs 20 cr will not pass muster with the powers that be. And, so somebody put through the grand under-ground box drain scheme (an RTI exercise could perhaps reveal more details). Most of the easy work appears complete now - the difficult part (of going below the Seva-in-Action bridge) remains to be done. But, with contractors and neta's purpose served, and since anyway everyone knows that it can cause only more damage than doing any good, I expect it will receive a quiet burial. Net result - a huge amount of tax payers' money literally washed down the drain.  
 
 
On the Maharaja bridge:
Even if the reasons stated were true (which I have serious doubts about - perhaps an RTI exercise will reveal more), why were the residents not informed sufficiently in advance about the plan to demolish it, so that they could plan their lives accordingly, instead of being caught totally unawares, one fine morning? Many of the ST Bed RWA members themselves didn't appear to know about the demolition plan.
 
 
Waste management:
Let us understand clearly that nobody is doing anyone any favour. All of the money allocated comes from you and me - the tax payers. If it's used properly, nobody is complaining. But, many of the jobs taken up are questionable.
 
Also, from what I learn, HSR layout too has done very well in some aspects of waste management. Let there be good competition between the wards in these matters. 
 
 
Lack of transparency in RWA's / Citizen groups functioning:
I have been residing in Koramangala from mid-2005. Straightaway, I was inducted into the "SaveKoramangala" group, and "SaveKoramangala Core" group too. However, later, a few coteries seem to have taken charge, and deliberately kept me out, since I can't quite support their unsustainable 'development' plans. Isn't it puzzling that none of any of the above matters get any mention in the "Koramangala issues" WhatsApp group, comprising almost 40 members from across Koramangala? The discussions seem to happen in smaller groups (coteries, as I'd call them), which then push their agenda, and claim it's all being pursued on behalf of entire Koramangala. Whatever, things have gone too far, and I have to say enough is enough. There is the constitutional route of the Ward Committee, and decisions have essentially to follow that route, and in a transparent manner.
 
 
Muralidhar Rao

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