Why Bengaluru-Mysore Expressway Was Flooded Less than a Week after Inauguration

Some activists from the state have accused the authorities of opening the road in a hurry and disturbing the natural waterscape of the area.

New Delhi: Less than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway, built at a cost of Rs 8,480 crore, large stretches of it were flooded after a night of heavy rainfall on March 18. Some activists from the state have accused the authorities of opening the road in a hurry and disturbing the natural waterscape of the area.

On March 12, amid much fanfare, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 118 km long six-lane highway in the poll-bound state. The inauguration was pushed though even though the project was only 70% complete.

“Usually, the quality of national highways is better than the city or local roads. But a disaster can happen in a national highway project too – particularly when the timeline for its opening is decided not by the engineers but by the political masters,” said V. Ravichander, a former member of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force.

The environmental activist pointed out that a toll tax will be levied on the user without even readying the service road. “The law demands that there should be a service road alongside a toll road. It is for those who don’t want to use the expressway by paying a toll. By inaugurating the expressway without giving commuters the option of a service road, the authorities are in a way forcing them to pay the toll and violating the law,” he pointed out. When the expressway flooded on March 18 after a spell of overnight rain, the commuters were forced to tread on the service lane which was not complete, adding to the chaos, he added.

Activist Leo Saldanha of the not-for-profit organisation Environment Support Group (ESG) pointed out several other loopholes in the project. “The idea for a Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway was first cleared in 1995 by H.D. Devegowda when he was the chief minister of the state. It was discarded later as he realised it was nothing more than a scam. Then, during the Modi era, the existing 150-year-old state road between Bengaluru and Mysuru was turned into a national highway project. Its widening, however, not only affected the daily life and livelihood of as many as 175 villages along the route but also damaged the natural waterscape of the area, thus blocking the interconnected channels for the rainwater to escape. The Mandya-Mysuru wetlands are badly affected by the project,” he said.

Saldahna further elaborated, “The villagers were dependent on the commuters on that state road for a livelihood, which was taken away from them by the expressway. No provision was made for them to cross the highway either; their houses were on one side and their fields left on the other. How do their children go to school? Close to 90 deaths have happened so far from people trying to cross the high-speed expressway. The government, however, says the 118 km can be covered in just 75 minutes. In a way, it is an invitation for more deaths.”

The National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) said that part of the inundation was caused because villagers of Madapura “tried to create a shortcut access to their fields by blocking the drain with soil to make their own pathway”.

Ravichander added, “When such mega projects are planned, it is important to ask for whom are they being built. The expressway certainly doesn’t benefit the local stakeholders as their means of livelihood have been robbed by it. Development must be made with a holistic view.”

Saldahna said, “Most of the expressway work was done during the COVID lockdown, making it not so easy for the members of the public to properly understand what was going on there. A week after it was inaugurated by the prime minister, we have seen that it has become an example of how an expressway should not be made.”