Steel flyover will ruin Bengaluru's heritage: Ramachandra Guha

If the government is sincere, why doesn't it constitute a panel of experts to study if the steel flyover is the only option? says Guha.

Considering his fan following from Karnataka to Kolkata to the national capital, Delhi, it’s not surprising that many career-oriented academics deeply envy eminent historian Ramachandra Guha.

When Guha, a suave and an effective communicator speaks, not only academics, even commoners are attracted to the issues he brings up. Neither the Leftists nor Right-wingers have been able to claim him as their prize catch.

It could be because he sees any socio-political issue through a unique prism different from others. Academic rigour blended with a deep sense of empathy is his USP. His versatility arises from his deep engagement with issues as diverse, from forests and ecology to cricket and music.

Dr Guha is in the news again, this time because of his stiff opposition to the steel flyover project unlike many Kannada writers and intellectuals, who have shied away from raising their voices against it. He came out vehemently against the project, going to the extent of claiming that the ‘cut’ it provides, made it viable for the ruling Congress party.

During an interview with Deccan Chronicle, the historian took questions sportily and replied with patience even if some of the questions were a bit harsh. Here are excerpts from his interview.

Generally you don't associate yourself with protests and movements. But this time you joined the protest against the steel flyover project. Why?
I started my career as a scholar of the environment, and I am a fourth-generation resident of Bengaluru. Since the steel flyover was a case of environmental and municipal vandalism, I felt compelled to join the movement.

The government says those who oppose this project are not technically qualified to speak about it. Two, they (those who oppose the steel flyover) have no practical alternative. Therefore the government says it will implement the project for the sake of the city’s development. What is wrong in it?
The Government is lying. The leading technical institute in India is the Indian Institute of Science. Several experts at IISc in the fields of energy and transport have opposed the project and pointed to better, cheaper and safer alternatives.

Do you think there is an alternative? If so, what is it?
That is for scientific experts, not bullying and greedy ministers to decide. If the government is sincere, why does it not constitute a committee of acknowledged and independent experts in town planning, transportation, energy and ecology to go into the question of whether the steel flyover is the best or the only option?

A few in academia feel that by becoming an activist or participating in agitations, one will lose academic rigour, the trait of neutrality and the eagerness to find the truth will vanish. Do you agree with this school of thought?
A scholar is also a citizen. That said, activism has more credibility if it is combined with knowledge and empathy. I am not an all-purpose activist. But when it comes to questions of environmental sustainability I have some knowledge. Also, as a student of history, I can see this project will have very negative impacts on Bengaluru’s heritage, while as a scholar of Indian democracy, I worry about its lack of transparency.

Bengaluru Development minister K.J. George had said his plans were opposed or he was targeted because he was Mr George (read from a minority community).
This is the typical response of a politician in error; when you cannot dispute the other side's arguments, attribute motives. Even if D.K. Shivakumar or Roshan Baig were to be the Bengaluru Development minister, citizens like me would have opposed the project on moral grounds, even then experts would have opposed it on technical grounds.

There is a dilemma in people’s minds. Many writers and intellectuals feel that by opposing the Congress or its policies, they will only help BJP bounce back to power. So their view is: remain silent instead of helping BJP. How do you think one should resolve this dilemma?
Each writer or individual is answerable to his or her conscience. I cannot speak for others. For myself, even if the BJP opposes the project for the wrong reasons, I shall oppose it for the right reasons.

Moving on, long back, you made an observation about the media playing a role in building a strong nation. Now only the media, even academicians like you seem to have fallen into a trap, focusing or writing only on the Union government and virtually ignoring state priorities and how it affects regional and local development which is important in a federal structure. Do you agree with this viewpoint?
This is a perceptive and largely accurate criticism. I do have my columns translated into many Indian languages other than English; but perhaps too many deal with ‘national’ rather than 'state' level issues. By writing on the malevolent steel flyover, I am trying modestly to redress the balance!

Finally do you feel people of Karnataka miss U.R. Anantha Murthy and Shivaram Karanth? If so, how?
Yes, we miss them very much. As I knew both of them, and I had studied both their careers, I can say with some conviction that both would have opposed the brutal pushing through of this project and called for a wider consultation. Both would have been appalled at the environmental and civic destruction the project shall cause. Besides, as great writers in Kannada, they had a standing that a writer in English may lack. If either had been alive, the Chief Minister would have been compelled to listen to them rather than to his malevolent ministers.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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