The State Government’s ambitious and controversy-ridden Steel Bridge project in Bengaluru has been scrapped. The Congress Government was all set to begin the 6.7 km steel bridge in the IT Capital between Basaveshwara Circle (near Raj Bhavan) and Hebbal flyover at an estimated cost of a whopping Rs. 1,761 crore. The project had met severe opposition from green groups due to the environmental damage it would cause on a stretch that has thousands of trees.
The bridge was to connect the Airport Road in Bengaluru’s northern suburb and the busy National Highway 7 towards Hyderabad to ease the heavy traffic congestion.
Announcing the government decision in Bengaluru this morning, Chief Minister Siddharamaiah and Bengaluru Development Minister K. J. George said that the government has decided to shelve the project in the wake of severe opposition from the residents. “Steel flyover won’t be constructed. The project has been cancelled,” said George. Before announcing the decision, the Chief Minister was closeted in a meeting this morning with some of his trusted Cabinet colleagues and officials where the decision was taken.
Though the government has claimed that the Steel Bridge project was scrapped taking into account environmental damages, sources said that the recent revelations in the diary that reportedly belonged to Congress MLC K. Govindaraju had mentioned that Rs. 65 crore kickback was paid to sanction the project. In the diary, the abbreviation of Bengaluru Development Minister K.J. George (KJG) was mentioned and he allegedly got Rs. 65 crore for his approval to the Steel Bridge project.
The State Government had said that it promised the bridge ahead of winning the elections in 2013 and would not drop its plans. The government’s opponents, however, said the Congress is pushing through the project to siphon off money ahead of the 2018 State elections – a charge the Congress denied.
The project was proposed in 2010 and was announced in 2014-15 Budget and Rs. 1,340 crore was allocated. The State Government later increased the allocation to Rs. 1,761 crore and the BJP claimed that the cost was escalated taking the bribe money into consideration. The State Cabinet, on September 28, 2016, awarded the project to L&T Ltd as it was the lowest bidder for the tender.
While the government was firm on the project, anti-corruption activists, urban planners, environmentalists, civic activists, architects, artists, political activists, public policy experts, and resident welfare associations united to protest under the banner ‘Citizens Against Steel Flyover’. Residents have been holding large demonstrations against the bridge and the debate also raged online with #steel bridge beku (we want the steel bridge) taking on #steel bridge beda (we don’t want the project).
Recently the National Green Tribunal, the country’s highest environmental court, ordered the suspension of all plans for the steel bridge.
Return Rs. 65 crore bribe: MP
Reacting to the government’s decision of scrapping the Steel Bridge project, Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha told Star of Mysore this morning that just scrapping of the project was not enough. “The government has to return the Rs. 65 crore bribe that was paid to sanction the project and a CBI probe must be recommended into the diaries of MLCs K. Govindaraju (Congress) and Leher Singh (BJP) so that people will know the truth,” he said.