The Principal Bench of the High Court of Karnataka constituted by Acting Chief Justice Mr. Subhro Kamal Mukherjee and Justice Ram Mohan Reddy dismissed today W.P. No, 7107/2008, a Public Interest Litigation filed by Environment Support Group and ors. challenging the widening of most roads in Bangalore as being in violation of urban planning norms and statutes. The Hon'ble Court dismissed the PIL holding the undersigned second petitioner has a private interest in the matter.
The PIL reached the stage of advancing final arguments before the Principal Bench of the Court today, several years after it was filed. Responding to a question from the Chief Justice about the nature of the case, the undersigned 2nd Petitioner submitted that the PIL challenged various orders of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which is proposing to widen close to 400 roads in Bangalore. The Petitioner submitted that when the case was filed in 2008, BBMP had proposed to widen 91 roads, and the number of roads subsequently increased to 200, and as per recent media reports upto 400 roads are considered for widening now.
The Petitioner submitted that the widening was being undertaken in comprehensive violation of the mandatory provisions of Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 (KTCP Act), in particular Sec. 14 A which required careful planning and public participation in formulation of such complex decisions with irreversible impacts. It was also submitted that the widening of the roads directly affected various rights including those of pedestrians, cyclists, street vendors and that it would render homeless lakhs of homeowners and destroy age old streetscapes that constitute a living heritage of Bangalore, especially in neighbourhoods that are several hundred years old.
The Court asked how accommodating free flow of traffic by widening roads can be presumed to be against the public interest. In response the Petitioner submitted that the public interest of free traffic flow would have to evolve out of compliance with the provisions of KTCP Act which demanded careful and democratic planning, and in conformance with various progressive norms and guidelines; all of which, the Petitioner submitted, had been flouted in the current proposal to widen roads which only looked to the interest of the motorists. It was also submitted that private property was being secured by aggressively promoting Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) scheme to secure land for widening, even though TDR is voluntary. In any case, the TDR scheme has been promoted even when the road widening proposals in no way conform with KTPC Act.
Expressing his view, Justice Ram Mohan Reddy said one cannot hold back development in Bangalore, though it was once known as a paradise for Pensioners. The Petitioner responded that his case was not against road widening per se, but that such widening must be determined through statutory processes, on consideration of all rights and in conformance with urban planning norms and standards.
The Bench asked what was the Petitioner's interest in the matter. In response, the 2nd Petitioner submitted that he has come in the public interest. In the interest of full disclosure before the Court, he also said that his office happened to be on one of the roads that was proposed to be widened. At this point, Justice Mr. Ram Mohan Reddy said the Petitioner appears to have come with a private interest in a public interest matter. The Hon'ble Chief Justice echoed this view and stated there should not be any doubt of private interest in a public interest matter. The Petitioner pleaded with the Principal Bench that he has only come to advance public interest and in no manner whatsoever does he have any private interest in the case. He also submitted that it is coincidental that the organisation he works with, Environment Support Group, a non-profit Public Charitable Trust who is the first petitioner in the PIL, has its office now in a road proposed to be widened. That at the time of filing of the case the office of the 1st Petitioner ESG was in a neighbourhood unaffected by any road widening project. In any case, the 1st Petitioner would move in case road widening affected its current office space which is rented. Thus, he fervently appealed to the Bench to consider his submission that in no way did he have any personal interest in the matter. The Counsel for the 1st and 3rdPetitioners also pleaded with the Court to reconsider its position to dismiss the PIL on such basis.
Disregarding these submissions, the Hon'ble Principal Bench of the Karnataka High Court dismissed the PIL holding that the 2nd Petitioner has a private interest, and directed the 2nd Petitioner to represent before relevant authorities his private issue with road widening, if any.
From the time the PIL was filed in 2008 before the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka, various interim directions have been passed promoting values of progressive urbanisms and for authorities to demonstrate if such widening truly resolves the problem of traffic congestion. The locus standi of the 2nd Petitioner has never been disputed in the eight years when this case has been heard by the High Court, and over 45 preceding hearings. In this context, it is indeed very disappointing that the High Court has dismissed this PIL in the manner it has now. The Petitioners will pursue their public interest cause for securing justice and equity in this matter.