In October 2016, news reports began to emerge of protests by citizens’ groups in Bengaluru against a construction project proposed by the government of Karnataka. In September, the Congress-led Karnataka government had approved a proposal to build a seven-kilometre, six-lane steel flyover between Basaveshwara circle and Hebbal, in central and north Bengaluru. This was not the first time the idea for such a project had been floated. In 2010, the BJP-led state government had suggested a similar flyover, but the plan was later dropped. Then, in 2014, the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) considered the project again, but several urban development experts opposed its construction. Through these years, the project had been mired in controversy.
An existing flyover from Hebbal leads to the National Highway 7, which further connects to the Kempegowda International Airport. The airport, inaugurated in 2008, is located 37 kilometres from the heart of the city, and efforts to improve its connectivity have long been a matter of discussion between citizens, town planners and political parties. While an expressway on NH7 ensures that traffic beyond Hebbal moves smoothly on to the airport, the seven-kilometre stretch before it regularly sees bottle-necks, as the commuter traffic within the city merges with the vehicles headed towards the airport. According to the government, the flyover would ease the traffic along this route.
The Karnataka government reportedly called for tenders on the project in September 2015. In March 2016, the Economic Times reported that the government was considering bids on a tender for the flyover’s construction—estimated to cost it nearly Rs 1,800 crores and the city 800 trees. In late September, the government reportedly awarded the contract to the multinational engineering firm Larsen & Toubro. On 28 September 2016, the state cabinet approved the project. The cabinet decision prompted widespread civic outrage: several citizens’ groups began conducting demonstrations and protests, opposing the project on environmental and monetary grounds, and alleging that the proposed solution was not in line with the principles of effective urban planning. Many urban-development experts also criticised the project on the grounds that it would use steel, instead of more conventional and cost-effective building materials such concrete. The government however, argued in support of its decision to use steel, citing a shorter completion time as the reason behind its choice.