As more houses are set for demolitions in Bengaluru, questions are being raised about whether anyone will really be held accountable for allowing housing activities.
The Karnataka High Court had in 2013 observed that there really is no punishment spelled out for officials who are found guilty of allowing the encroachments to occur in the first place. Section 321B was introduced into the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act in 2007, but no punishment was actually specified to penalise guilty officials.
The recent water-logging in Bengaluru, coming as it does after the Chennai floods, has exerted pressure on the state government which has suspended 13 BBMP officials and plans to take action against seven retired officials for allowing encroachments to occur in the first place.
While many have welcomed the demolitions, there is a lot of anger against the BBMP and state government for demolishing the houses of people. Questions are also being raised about due procedure.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar said be it erring officials, corrupt ministers or fraudulent developers, all of them need to be tried not just for cheating, but also for specific violations of various laws such as the environment protection laws and Prevention of Corruption Act. He said he would come up with a list of laws that were violated by builders.
“The government must protect citizens against illegal constructions as it has been blinded by the builders’ lobby. Now that it has taken a bold step by going ahead with the demolitions, it should dig up other cases too. There is no turning back because RWAs are charged up and affected people will make sure some action is taken,” he said.
Sridhar Pabbisetty, who is the CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, BRACE a consortium of 750 Residents Welfare Association is discussing legal experts as to what action can be taken against erring officials and fraud builders.
"Every sale deed has a line in the end saying 'I give you this property free of any encumbrance'. Affected people should trace the fraudsters and get them to pay compensation," he said.
Urban expert Ravichandar, these demolitions were done in larger public interest. “These houses are in the valley line. When seven houses block the drains, there will be back-flow of rainwater into hundreds of houses.”
Despite this, he said that the government should offer compensation to people whose houses have been demolished, regardless of who broke the law. “When they have been issued a khata, the relationship with the village map goes away. So cross-checking whether their house is lying on a drain is pointless. Nobody would spend lakhs if they knew there was a problem underground.”
He also said that the bigger players behind the encroachments should be exposed and punished. “While it is the official’s signature which is there on the file, he or she has done it only under political pressure. So it is a politico-bureaucratic link that needs to be exposed and prosecuted,” Ravichander said.
Domlur ward corporator and chairman of the Standing Committee on Town Planning CR Lakshminarayana points out that officials could not be the only ones blamed.
He also urged people to buy sites on land notified by the BDA or BBMP. “When people buy revenue sites from others, chances of the investor being cheated are higher. The government is strict about people buying revenue sites without approval,” he said. Already, many residents claim that they have the requisite permissions and approvals from the civic agencies.
Alleging that even ISRO has encroached upon land meant for storm water drains, Lakshminarayana said that every violator should be booked. “The government is taking action against all encroachments on all categories of drains. Koliwad committee draft report has exposed many big names. All erring developers, officials and ministers should be booked,” he said.
The draft report of the Koliwad Committee has named Adarsh Developers, Prestige Group, Shobha Developers, Advaita Developers and Bagmane Techpark among others as private encroachers.
It has also accused government agencies such as the Bangalore Development Authority, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Public Works Department (PWD), Forest Department and Education Department of encroachment.