Vanishing art, lost livelihoods: In shadow of Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway
The Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway has come as a boon for travellers but as a curse for the quaint towns that dot this route and stand for slices of local culture
The new 119-km Bengaluru-MysuruExpressway has indeed come as a boon for travellers, slashing their journey time between the two cities to a mere 90 minutes. But the Rs 8,400-crore swanky symbol of development also acts as a reminder to a bitter truth: progress isn’t always inclusive.
Many of the quaint towns which dot this route — Bidadi, Ramanagara, Channapatna, Maddur, Mandya, Srirangapatna —stand for slices of local culture and history. As people today zip past along the six-lane expressway, their windows rolled up and the world outside a mere blur, there is no stopping at Ramanagara for a bite of the famed Mysore Pak, or at Channapatna to pick up colourful wooden toys for their children, or for a meal of the unique “tatte idlis”.
“Business is down by 70 percent. We are struggling to keep the shutters up,” admitted Lokesh Gowda, a local food stall owner. The plight of over 65 “tatte idli” outlets is no different. These idlis, exclusive to the region, are flat and wide, somewhat resembling a plate; hence the name “tatte”, which means “plate” in Kannada. Over 50 of these stalls have shut down because of the expressway.
“Before the expressway was built, my profits were Rs 1.75 lakh a month. Now, it has hit the ground, and earning even Rs 20,000 a month is difficult. Tatte idlis will also slowly die out,” said Gowda.
Two-century-old craft in peril
Perhaps the worst sufferers of this unequal development have been the toy-makers of Channapatna. These craftsmen, who kept this Persian art form of wooden toy-making alive for over two centuries, are now struggling to keep their art — and livelihoods — alive.
“I never thought I’d see a day when I’d have to abandon my family craft,” rued Pawan Deep, a Channapatna toy store owner. “The expressway was the last nail on our coffins. The average turnover of the toy business, which used to be Rs 10–12 crore a year, has nosedived in the past six months. I used to earn close to Rs 5 lakh a month. Now, it’s down to Rs 50,000 a month,” he added.
This craft, brought to the region by Tipu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore, in the 18th century, also stands for communal harmony in this sleepy town, where both Hindus and Muslims make and sell these toys. Now, with the expressway making the Channapatna toy shops “invisible”, the rows of wooden rocking horses are gathering dust.
“Six labourers used to work in my shop earlier. Now, only one is assisting me,” Pawan Deep said. The situation is no different at the other toy shops in Channapatna. The six-decade-old Sri Meenakshi Handicraft, one of the biggest toy stores in Channapatna, wears a deserted look. The staff strength is down to two from 15. Handmade wooden toys worth lakhs lie unsold.
With all eyes on the new expressway, few now care about the condition of the old Bangaluru-Mysuru highway, which used to be the lifeline for these local communities. Full of potholes and lacking basic maintenance, it’s lying in a shambles, making it a risky ride for anyone who might choose to avoid the expressway. It was last asphalted several years ago.
But with the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) banning two- and three-wheelers and all slow-moving vehicles from the expressway, many have been forced to take the risky old highway.
The ban was part of the safety measures being taken following a spate of accidents on the expressway. These also included increased highway patrolling and vehicular speed being limited to 100 kmph. And the results are positive. According to Alok Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Traffic and Road Safety, the number of deaths from accidents have come down drastically. While 296 accidents and 132 deaths occurred on the expressway in the past seven months, only six fatalities were reported in August.
However, those who have been forced to take the old highway are not a happy lot. These include Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses, too. “Now, with the NHAI banning two- and three-wheelers and all slow-moving vehicles from the expressway, we have been forced to use this dangerous road. Our demand to repair it has not been heard,” complained Thimme Gowda of Bidadi town.
Congress MLC Dinesh Gooligowda recently appealed to the government to improve the condition of the old highway that was developed when the SM Krishna-headed Congress government was in power. Plans are reportedly afoot to develop large resting areas near these towns to revive them. However, most locals are sceptical.“One thing is certain: development comes at a price. And we are paying for it,” said a bitter Pawan Deep.