There are agents for every area and the bribe increases depending on the plot size.

Bribes for buildings The nexus of corruption in Bengalurus civic body
news News Friday, January 19, 2018 - 19:26

Is Bengaluru’s nodal civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or BBMP, on a superhero mode?

At first look, it may seem so. In the last two months, the BBMP has cracked down on rooftop bars and restaurants in Bengaluru, shutting them down for building without approval. The crackdown has become intense after 14 people died in a fire at a pub in Mumbai’s Kamla Mills.

While some establishments had building plans that were approved by BBMP, they hadn’t adhered to the building bylaws of the BBMP itself. A few establishments had managed to get No Objection certificates without getting the plan approved.

So how did this happen? TNM spoke to a few architects, builders and also owners of independent houses, who revealed how a network of bribes has made the procedure of approving buildings a lucrative process for many.

According to the norms set forth by the Karnataka government, property owners who want to construct houses or commercial structures, will first have to get their building plans approved by the BBMP.

This procedure is done to ensure that the construction adheres to the building bylaws put forth by the BBMP.

“In 2016, the BBMP was made the sole authority to sanction plans. Earlier, different agencies were tasked with providing technical approval, commencement certificate, layout plans, occupancy certificate and so on. It was after this that the bribe amounts demanded also went up,” says a Bengaluru-based builder.

The process of bribe

An architect based in East Bengaluru says that many BBMP engineers charge a minimum of Rs 35,000 for a 20x30 sq ft plot.

“The bribes are given to ensure that the plans get approved quickly. If the bribe is not paid, they will delay the plan sanctioning procedure to six months or sometimes even a year. They will say that the file is being processed and eventually the excuse will be that the file is lost. Once the bribe is paid, the file magically appears and the plan gets sanctioned,” the architect adds.

Another builder that TNM spoke to corroborated the claim and added that though BBMP boasts of approving plans online, it never happens.

“The Karnataka government announced a year-and-a-half ago that every citizen can get building plans approved by uploading it online. Either the site is not working or once the plan is submitted, the BBMP does not respond. Then you should go to the BBMP office and they will prolong the sanctioning process until the bribe is paid. This may not happen in all cases but most of the time it does happen,” he adds.

A network of agents

According to the builder, there are thousands of BBMP agents who operate for the various BBMP offices at the zonal level.

“Each zone has an agent. Their only job is to get building plans approved. For a 30x40 ft the cost is anywhere between Rs 50,000 – Rs 60,000. The bribe amount increases with the plot size. For a 10,000 sq ft area where 25 flats were being constructed, the agent demanded a bribe of Rs 20 lakh. This is apart from the fees paid as labour cess, license fees, road cutting charges and scrutiny fees,” the builder adds.

When TNM contacted an agent in Mahadevapura zone, he said that there is no fixed bribe amount that is taken and that the amount demanded depends on how “rich the customer is”.

“Usually, we get customers through recommendation. The builders in this area know all the agents here. The builder will approach one of us and if he/she is someone who has more money, we ask for more. We charge a minimum of Rs 20,000 but in some areas, agents charge a minimum of Rs 50,000. This depends on the land prices in the areas and also the total area of the property. If the construction is encroaching on public land, then the cost will run into Rs 35 lakh – Rs 40 lakh. This usually happens with big apartments,” he adds.

The agent says that if the client who approaches him wants to avoid inspections and also obtain a No Objection certificate without getting the plan approved, that’s when the bribe amount runs into lakhs of rupees.

“This is asked by people with big money. It doesn’t happen very often in this area but when it does, the amount to be paid is a lot,” he says.

He says that if the bribe amount is small, the concerned engineer and the agent split the money. However, as the bribe amount gets bigger, the amount is divided among the agent, Assistant Executive engineer, Executive Engineer and the Chief Engineer as well.

Everyone to be blamed

Stating that the even building owners are to blame for the corrupt system, the architect says that the “unreasonable nature of clients and their willingness to pay the bribe” could also be the reason for such a system to exist.

“I am currently working with a client, who refuses to budge on any issue. She wants to use up all the 60x40 ft of her property and does not care about encroaching the tertiary drain. She is willing to pay the bribe in order to do that. I have come across so many clients who are willing to bend the law to get what they want. The BBMP engineers are definitely corrupt. No doubt about it, but even people are responsible for this mess,” the architect adds.

Condemning the BBMP’s mode of functioning, former Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde says that corruption in the BBMP is the “worst” compared to other government departments.

“Corruption happens at every level of the government and more so in the BBMP. It is the worst because this is not a new thing. It has been happening for decades, even before the BBMP was formed. The corruption was rampant in the city’s municipality. The problem is that the Anti-Corruption Bureau is a governmental organisation. It has no real power to stop corruption at the highest level,” Justice Hegde says.

The retired judge maintains that ever since the Lokayukta was dissolved, the power to prosecute corrupt politicians right up to the Chief Ministerial level was lost.

“If the leaders at the highest level are corrupt, how can corruption be curbed at lower level? When the Lokayukta was independent, we had managed to investigate and nab even a Chief Minister. If there is nt initiative to change the situation, nothing will happen,” he says.

Justice Hedge also states that apart from a corrupt system, the public are also at fault. “We live in a corrupt society. People give importance to money and that is largely true. If they stop trying to break the law, then they will not have to pay bribes,” he added.