By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Since I wrote three weeks ago, about the pitfalls of upgrading the existing NH 275 that links Mysuru and Bengaluru without changing its present alignment, many readers have sent in their suggestions about how best we should go about connecting the two cities so that this now nightmarish journey becomes hassle-free. Yes, nightmarish is the only word to describe this journey if you happen to get trapped in one of the all too frequent traffic jams that we see so often on this road.
On many occasions, these nasty traffic jams are not at all due to heavy traffic but only just because some people decide that stopping traffic on this busy road is the best way of drawing the attention of our government to their grievances. And, on some occasions it is the other way round. It is the government which blocks this road to draw the attention of people to what it is doing! This is exactly what we witnessed two weeks ago when the district administration announced that this road would be closed to all traffic just because the CM wanted to visit Mandya to address and thank his fans for their support in the recent election.
Almost all people who wrote or spoke to me are of the opinion that we should leave the present road as it is and refrain from upgrading it and converting it into a toll-supported Highway. They think that we should either build bypass roads to circumvent the towns that lie on it or better still, upgrade the already existing road that connects Mysuru and Bengaluru passing via Bannur, Malavalli and Kanakapura as an alternate free road as it is of almost the same length as the NH 275.
Yes, people, especially those who have to travel only short distances between the many towns that lie between Mysuru and Bengaluru and not the whole way will then not be forced to pay any additional charges. And, even those who do have to travel the full length on either of these two roads but who do not mind the inconvenience of negotiating through the intervening towns, preferring not to pay any additional toll, will have the option of taking an expense-free, albeit slower route. After all, citizens, being tax-payers, are well within their rights to expect the government to provide reasonably good roads between all towns and cities which they can use free of cost. The government cannot impose upon all people the use of only a toll-supported Highway, however good it might be, without providing alternate free routes which do not increase the distance significantly.
But going by the feedback that I am getting, most regular travellers between Mysuru and Bengaluru who do not mind the significantly higher cost of using a fast but obstacle-free road with very good wayside amenities, say that we should have a brand new access-controlled Expressway instead of an upgrade which is bound to be only a very compromised improvement. People feel that the best and easiest way of going about building this much sought after Highway is to make use of the land that has already been acquired for the NICE road project that somehow failed to even leave the outskirts of Bengaluru.
Discussing why it failed to take off despite being cleared by the government that was then in power is a waste of time and it is only like whispering an open secret that is known to one and all! It is enough if we understand that things like this do happen when expectations of the high and mighty change with changing governments.
But now that we have a coalition government governing us it should not be too difficult for all those in power to shed or at least shelve their narrow self interests and sit together and draw up a plan to get around all the obstacles, both real and imagined and do something positive in the larger interests of the State and its people. This road project, if executed properly, will not only cut the actual road distance between the two cities by twenty percent because of its much straighter alignment but will also reduce the travel time by almost fifty percent due to the faster flow of traffic. The agencies that manage this road should be very strict in ensuring that nothing unauthorised springs up alongside it which can impede the flow of traffic or exploit those who use it with inflated prices for sub-standard services.
As things stand today, most of our so-called National Highways although they provide a good road to drive on, do not have good wayside facilities. Most of the restaurants that have been permitted to operate on them only serve very poor quality food which is very often stale and just conveniently micro-waved before serving. Disgustingly unclean and stinking public toilets with non-functioning flushing devices are the bane of our country at present and are our biggest shame. And, unfortunately, at present all our Highways only have such toilets.
If we are building a new Highway between our two cities, we should ensure that all necessary amenities like way-side stopping points, rest rooms, restaurants, minor repair garages and fuel stations that also include quick charging facilities for electric vehicles are provided at convenient intervals. Attention in particular should be paid to see that the rest rooms are always manned by attendants and maintained in a way that does not offend the sensibilities of those who have to use them even if it means charging a substantial fee for this particular service.
Once this dream Highway is operational, even our bad old road, along which we now fret and fume and sweat and swear, is naturally likely to get sufficiently de-congested to make travel on it bearable if not completely enjoyable. It can then be left as it is with its new and glorified name: ‘NH 275’ and this is the road we can then turn to every time we think of staging a road blockade to vent out our ire against anything or anyone as we now do from time to time!