A few comments on ‘Our Metropolis’

Traffic woes in Bangalore are now taken to be “a given”. With the urban agglomeration crossing a population of 1 crore, and the vehicular population crossing 50 lakhs, 70% of which are two-wheelers, it has been long argued that what Bangalore needs is a mass-transit solution. The Namma Metro project has thus been heralded as a panacea for the traffic woes of Bangalore.

While the political and popular media rhetoric around the Metro has been that of its delays and/or its usefulness, what has not been as prevalent in the media are perspectives from people who have opposed the project for various reasons, be it the lack of transparency, the effect of political clout, not identifying other possible options, etc.

Gautam Sonti and Usha Rao’s movie Our Metropolis is one such attempt to show the story of the Metro (along with stories of the road widening efforts, and development of flyovers/signal free corridors in Bangalore) from these perspectives. We attended the screening of the movie at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) on 24 August, which was attended by the creators of the movie as well as a few of the people featured in the movie. The movie itself is not from an activist’s perspective. As Gautam and Usha said at the discussion after the screening, they are movie makers and observers, documenting what is close to their hearts – the dramatically changing landscape of Bangalore. And they question whether these changes are always for the better.

The movie follows the story of the Metro from 2008 to 2013, to show the side of things where people lost their homes, a large number of trees were felled, and political and executive clout suppressed voices which spoke against the project. From a transportation policy perspective, the movie documents some of the effects a top-down, non-transparent, ostensibly non-inclusive, and uncoordinated policy making has on people who live in the city, through the lenses of a few exemplars. The discussions following the movie primarily focussed on the shortcomings of the Metro and road widening projects in Bangalore, with two of the people featured in the movie arguing for other mass transit options.

As one of the people featured in the movie says, “Somehow the problem has become that of moving traffic, not people!”. Transportation infrastructure and policies have to reflect a broad-based, long-term goal of moving from a personal transport based travel to transit-based multi-modal ways of mobility. This, however, is easier said than done. To achieve this lofty goal, some of the things required are systemic changes in how policies are made, how contracting is carried out, how the infrastructure is governed, and what role each of the stakeholders at the city and State levels have.

So if one were to ask if long-term mass-transit options, which sometimes require a heavy upfront capital cost, are needed in Bangalore, the answer is probably a yes. The costs and benefits of such projects are always hard to calculate, but what is imperative to see instead is who are bearing these costs and who are reaping the benefits?

Finally, what is also required is a space for dialogue between the conflicting groups of people. With projects such as the Metro, there is inevitably going to be conflicts. But with a lack of dialogue, what results are echo chambers operating in silos, with one voice overpowering the others.

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