ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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BMIC: Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere After staging a

BMIC

Road to Nowhere

A
fter staging a ‘dharna’ in both houses for two days over Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy’s remark that a minister and journalist tried to bribe him on behalf of the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE), Congress legislators allowed proceedings to commence only after the chief minister denied making the statement. It might have been more worthwhile if the lawmakers had displayed a similar zeal to get to the bottom of the substantive issues raised in the context of the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project. Congress legislators, on the other hand, seemed quite willing to accept the chief minister’s rejection of their demand for a house committee to probe the allegations in the BMIC case, where things seem to be getting murkier by the day. But perhaps that is because nobody has come out smelling of roses in the entire imbroglio: the framework agreement (FWA) of the project was signed by the Deve Gowda-led government in 1995, and opposition to the project mounted in the wake of allegations of corruption and excess land acquisition under S M Krishna of the Congress. Though Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) began to oppose the project in 2004, its motives have been called into question by an Indian Express report that the chief minister owns 47 acres of land right near the proposed highway. The land is reportedly the site for one of the five townships planned under the project and is likely to be acquired for this purpose.

The BMIC project proposes a 111 km highway between Bangalore and Mysore, 41 km of peripheral roads, 9.8 km of roads linking the highway to the centre of Bangalore and five townships along the highway. According to the FWA, 6,999 acres will be handed over to the company for roadway construction while almost twice that area, 13,194 acres, will go towards township development, bringing the total land required to 20,193 acres. The problem that lies at the root of the rot is that the requirement of land for the BMIC itself lacks a credible basis and has increased progressively and arbitrarily, though a technical report in 1995 fixed the requirement for the total road network, including link, peripheral roads, etc, at 5,119 acres. The FWA signed in 1997 raised this to 6,999 acres. A public interest litigation filed in the Karnataka High Court in 1997 called into question even the technical report and claimed that only 2,775 acres of land was required for the road network, though the court ultimately ruled in favour of NICE. Apart from this, there is the whole scandal of the notification and acquisition of land far in excess of what even the FWA allows, and the subsequent (alleged) denotification of land for a fee. The Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), charged with the responsibility of acquiring land, in particular, seems to have acted as nothing but a handmaiden for the company in question, notifying land at will while other official agencies colluded or acquiesced. By March 2004, 29,258 acres were notified for acquisition, while the total land requirement was 20,193 acres.

The high court in May 2005 found no merit in the arguments about excess land acquisition by asserting that the BMIC is an integrated project, and not simply an expressway, and the Supreme Court recently echoed that position. In fact, the din about creating “world class” infrastructure in the cities has drowned out a number of critical questions that need to be asked. What exactly are the economics of a project in which the real estate component is almost double that required for the expressway? How was the FWA signed when the land requirements were substantially different from the technical report and what was its scientific basis? The BMIC Area Development Authority was formed to oversee the project and given powers to supersede the Bangalore Development Authority, Mysore Urban Development Authority as well as 54 gram panchayats. What consequences does such a dilution of powers have for local self-government and for the orderly development of cities? The BMIC authority is also the very same body that the Kumaraswamy government was only recently preparing to dissolve by introducing a bill in the legislature to take over the project. Although the compensation norms in the FWA could be termed fairly liberal, the affected parties hardly have a say in the matter. There are reports that land in the area has already been bought over by speculators so the benefits to the original owners might yet be illusory.

The Bangalore case vividly illustrates how ambitious infrastructure projects can go rapidly awry with opaque contracts, corruption in high places and an active land mafia. The only way forward now is to make public the land dealings that have taken place in relation to the project and enumerate the total area notified as on date. The government might also have to undertake a survey for this purpose and it should not hesitate to do so. m

Economic and Political Weekly June 24, 2006

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