Banning private vehicles on Chamundi: What a boon to devotees!

Bhamy V. Shenoy , Mysore Grahakara Parishat

Parking lot near Devi Kere was total chaos when private cars were allowed on Chamundi. Parking lot near Devi Kere when private vehicles were banned on Ashada days though few with doubtful VVIPs were given the privilege to violate the rule.
Mysore recently witnessed mass public protests against the construction of a multi level car parking facility, a shopping complex and widening of a stretch of road leading up Chamundi Hill. It is being argued that the proposed facilities in the name of ‘development’ and at a cost of eighty crores of public money would in fact diminish the heritage value of the place of a great historical importance. It would further reduce the forest cover and endanger some rare plants and birds unique to the hill. Chamundi Hill according to many should be a spiritual destination and not a tourist spot and efforts should be made to reduce vehicular traffic as it is done during the Ashada Masa when the crowds are much larger.

Two teams of activists of MGP consisting of Dr and Mrs M. M. Shenoy, Kosu Narasimhamurthy, Dr. Shobana and the author of this article went from the foot of Chamundi Hills (Helipad) and central bus stand taking KSRTC buses to get first hand experience on Ashada Friday (July 15).

They interviewed several devotees to assess what they felt about parking their private vehicles and taking KSRTC bus. Without an exception, every one was all praise for the arrangement made by the authorities to reach the top. Most expressed their willingness to pay for the bus service. Only few were not willing to pay. Even fewer stated that they may drop the idea of visiting the hill. However overwhelming majority were willing to pay for the bus service.

We computed the economics of savings of parking private vehicles at the foot of the hill and taking the bus using the data provided by KSRTC. On a conservative basis there are savings of at least Rs 6 to 7 lakhs per day during the busy period of Ashada. On other days, savings could be close to one lakh rupees. KSRTC is taking a survey next week to collect more definitive data.

If we take a conservative assumption of savings of rupees one lakh per day, then in a year we should be able to save at least Rs 3.65 crores. More than the rupee savings, ecological and environmental benefit will be of greater importance. During the busy days of Ashada, per day savings of at least 12000 liters of diesel can be achieved to reduce green house gases.

While travelling on the hill enjoying the comfort of a bus ride along the quiet roads with no traffic of private vehicles, and enjoying the beautiful Chamundi one would wish how nice it would be if only our political leaders give up the grandiose plan of “developing” Chamundi by constructing multi-level parking at the top. When we reached the top, there was not the usual chaos one sees on other days when private vehicles are allowed.

Elimination of the parking problem was quite obvious near Devi Kere. On other days there was always total chaos while parking vehicles. Two pictures shown here clearly show the difference.

On Ashada Friday there were few cars at the top of the hill. Even they should not have been allowed if only our authorities can get over the habit of giving privileges to the so called VVIP. When will we ever learn that in a democracy, every one is a VVIP? In fact when we started to inquire who these VVIPs were it was disheartening. For example in one case it was some youths belonging to a political party. In another it was a former president of village panchyat who refused to talk to us. In the third, passengers had secured the pass by claiming some disability and we saw all were healthy climbing the stairs. MGP is planning to file a RTI to find out what criteria were used to give passes, and how many were given. It is thus by finding loopholes to show favours to the privileged, we fail to get the benefits of an excellent strategy of banning private vehicles. Serpentine

Serpentine queues on Ashada Friday in which devotees are forced to spend long hours.
While on Ashada days, parking problem has been solved by banning private vehicles, authorities have not applied their mind to solve devotees waiting in long lines in scorching sun. If we can think of out of the box solution it should be possible to reduce the standing in the queue. But spending money on shelter as proposed is not going to help. Instead they should think of greening the entire temple surroundings by planting shade providing trees and applying some novel crowd management techniques. Village Panchayat has failed miserably to enforce the rule of law in Chamundi Village at the top which is surrounded by the reserve forest. Not one unlicensed shop has been closed down. Some shops were not opened only because of the absence of customers using private vehicles. On the other hand there were more shops in the vicinity of the temple adding to more chaos.

In short our experience has showed that by banning private vehicles, and allowing only KSRTC buses on Chamundi, not only it will help the pilgrims and tourists, but also reduces consumption of diesel. In the event we can save money to the tune of Rs 80 crores by dropping the multi-level parking (only losers will be some VVIPs to the tune of Rs 40 crores who will not be able to get their commissions) and other related projects. We can also prevent destroying the delicate ecological balance.

Only after the public protests and the Deputy Commissioner’s order to carry out an Environmental Management Plan, construction activities have been stopped on Chamundi Hills for the present. But to force the government to drop the projects on a permanent basis, MGP has filed a PIL in the Karnataka High Court on July 11. It is unfortunate that our political leadership can be prevented from implementing unproductive and ecologically damaging projects only through judicial intervention and not through democratic process of peaceful protests.