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Bengaluru Is About To Spend ₹1800 Cr On A Bad Solution To Its Traffic Problem

By Varun Hemachandran:

Bengaluru went from being the Garden City of India to India’s answer to Silicon Valley virtually overnight. The city’s pensioners made way for code-spanking techies who thronged the city armed with two words that invite more scorn than understanding  –  ”Kannada gothilla!” (I don’t speak Kannada!).

In the midst of its choked roads and glaring glass facades, Bengaluru is a city dying under its own weight. The weather during the day is described with loaded lines like, “Wow! It’s becoming worse than Chennai!” Bengaluru was once the place where Chennai would come to discover what winter was. But, not anymore.

The traffic in Bengaluru is an exercise in extreme patience and a test of one’s organisation skills. Bangalore measures distance in time, Domlur to Koramangala is 20 minutes or 45 minutes, depending on what time of the day you decide to test your patience. Whitefield to M G Road is considered a trek, best measured in days and nights.

Some things about Bengaluru stand out immediately. People here love building walls and living inside them, much like the Trump character from the show they call the American election. Gated communities are a dime a dozen, advertising their exclusivity rather than inclusiveness. Space is also a key selling point in these communities. In a city where public spaces are quickly shrinking, private spaces come at a premium. The old aunty with a dachshund, down the lane recently invested in an extension of the height of her wall. The herd of people walking past her property are on average 6 inches taller than what they used to be a decade ago. She’s noticeably distressed. Bangalore ranks high in terms of its crime rate. All signs of how bad things are getting.

A lack of social infrastructure, irregular power supply, lack of adequate water supply, increasing pollution, a dying ecological environment and a booming population are all hallmarks of a failure in governance, and therein lies the real reason Bengaluru is dying.

Now, a steel flyover is at the centre of this struggle to wrestle the city from the crutches of poor governance. A 6.7 km symbol of failure and corruption is the Chief Minister’s latest fad. Expected to cost over INR 1800 crore (INR 268 cr per Km), the bridge is expected to save commuters merely 7-10 minutes of travel time to the airport. The project is being mooted as an answer to the city’s burgeoning traffic problem though evidence produced by experts seem to point to the contrary. In contrast, an extension of light rail transit is expected to cost around INR 200 cr per km.

The city is up in arms over the proposal that’s expected to lead to the loss of further public space, and over 800 trees to motorised traffic. Experts, including ones paid for by the government, have all argued that the bridge will merely shift congestion from one part of Bengaluru to another and lead to, among other things, an increase in temperature, loss of fragile ecological systems, loss of several heritage monuments and offer no real solution to the problem of mobility.

Yet, the government has used dubious methods to push the proposal through with undue haste, manufacturing consent along the way and ignoring the very loud dissent over the project. One show of protest saw nearly 10,000 citizens form a human chain to denounce the flyover. A #SteelFlyoverBeda (No to Steel Flyover) campaign soon took over Twitter and Facebook, and mobilised citizens across the the city. Over the weekend, a group of citizens calling themselves Citizens for Bangalore Forum, rallied to organise the dissenters of the project, collecting nearly 42,000 “beda” (no) votes for the bridge in response to the government’s 217 responses in favour.

Prakash Belawadi and Naresh Narasimhan,  who lead the proceedings at the forum, best described the bridge as a “steel dagger to the heart of Bangalore.” Ramachandra Guha showed uncharacteristic candor at the forum, blasting the government for what he called fraud and folly. He ended his speech with the commandment, “Thou shalt not steel!”  —  his message was received with thunderous applause.

The government and opposition’s absence from the forum was telling of the state of democratic representation in the state. The government’s own consultation on the project was itself an act of incompetence, having sought opinion on the project with a non-existent email address. A last minute correction allowed for 299 responses of which the government claims over 70% are in favour. Though it provides no further details that can be verified.

RTI applications on the project have been denied and most residents are clueless about the scale of the project and its ramifications on their everyday lives. Where the government should be concentrating on moving people, it has instead focused on a policy to move motorised traffic. In effect, the government is incentivising more private ownership of cars and environmental plunder. Public transport will not be allowed on the bridge and pliers can expect to pay two tolls to get to the airport should they choose to use the bridge  —  a feature unique to this city.

The Siddaramaiah government’s contempt for democracy comes as no surprise. Bengaluru, a 480-year-old city, was once a land of abundance and acceptance. Today it’s the land of scarcity and intolerance. A comedy of tragedies is unfolding in the corridors of power. Politicians cast a dark shadow over the city, like vultures, praying on its finite resources to line their own pockets.

Be awed. The city houses some of the world’s top talent. Companies like Cisco, Honeywell, Amazon, etc. run massive R&D centres in Bangalore. A major share of India’s startups are here. The architect of the Aadhar Card  —  Nandan Nilekani; Ramachandra Guha  —  India’s premier historian; India’s only woman billionaire  —  Kiran Mazumdar; The two largest e-commerce companies in India (Amazon and Flipkart) are both headquartered here; The Indian Institute of Science  —  one of the foremost authorities on scientific research in India; DRDO, ISRO  —  I could go on. Yet the government of the day displays an alarming lack of intelligence or spine. It’s sitting on perhaps the largest pool of human intelligence in India, but none find voice in this government.

Congress infighting over cabinet berths and quarrels about the Chief Minister’s expensive watch are regular headlines in the local news, a sign of the government and opposition’s priorities. Meanwhile, Bengaluru lives on borrowed time. Should the steel flyover go through, it will be the final nail in the coffin for both Bengaluru and the Congress party in Karnataka. The flyover may allow the Congress party to leave Karnataka seven minutes sooner. Alas, maybe that’s perhaps the flyover’s best selling point.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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