news Monday, April 27, 2015 - 05:30

Walking through the narrow uneven mud road in Puttenhalli around Sarakki lake, the stench of unattended garbage and mounds of rubble from a demolition drive is among the first things that one would notice. This is perhaps the largest demolition drive undertaken in the city that boasts of numerous lakes and most have been encroached upon over the years. Civic bodies seem to have suddenly woken up from their deep slumber after High Court ordered them to clear encroachments in August 2014. One thirty five structures, mostly houses belonging to the economically backward sections, had come up around the lake over the years and now all of them are being razed to ground. But what is the problem that everyone has failed to see? Even as the demolition drive was carried out and houses were being diligently demolished, all the religious places were untouched by the bull-dozers citing ‘hurting religious sentiments’. Shankar V, the Deputy Commissioner of Bengaluru (Urban) reportedly does not want to go ahead with the demolition of religious places despite High Court dictating that no illegal structure should be spared. Responding to that, Assistant Commissioner C L Nagaraj said that demolition the temples would raise a feeling of them (the officials) being inconsiderate to the religious feelings of the residents of the area. “People will not let us carry on the demolition of the houses, let alone the temple.” He said they intend to transfer all the temples to the Muzrai department under the State government who will then look after the welfare of the temples. He referred to an earlier Supreme Court which said that no places of religious importance could stay if it was an encroached land around the lake area. The Commissioner has now reportedly asked the government to take a decision. According to Kshitij Urs of People’s Campaign for Right to Water (PCRW), one of the petitioners in the High Court who were against the encroachment of the land at Sarakki lake said, “Several temples and a church have not been demolished. According to a Supreme Court order in another case, houses belonging to the SC/ST and hospitals will also be spared. The officials intend to transfer the temples to the government to prevent it from being demolished.”      The Karnataka High Court in its order on 5th August 2014 had said that, “all necessary action will be taken to remove the encroachment which is found to be illegal and unauthorised”. It further stated that, “except the land occupied by BWSSB for the purpose of protecting the lake from being filled with sewage water, the other parties or persons in illegal occupation of the tank or tank bed of Sarakki lake will be evicted and the constructions thereon shall be demolished.”      (These are the two temples that have not been demolished by the civic authorities, although everything around it have been demolished) The order clearly specifies that except for the sewage plant of the BWSSB in the area, all structures must be demolished. Therefore, not complying with the court orders warrants a case of contempt of court against civic bodies. So far, among the demolished include houses, hospital a government school, hostel and a government office. Only 10 houses lying between Puttenhalli and around Sarakki lake have obtained a stay order for which the hearing is scheduled forApril 30. In an interesting case, houses on either side of a temple have been demolished. In a second instance, debris is all that is left of government school situated behind a large Ganapathy temple. Ramya Nandagopal, a resident of the area csays,“According to the BBMP we have encroached 5 feet. It is not much and we are far from the lake, with even a main road lying between the house and the lake,” says Ramya. Another resident, M S Puttaswamy Gowda who has been living around the lake for 35 years recalls how he had an agricultural land before it was converted into revenue sites. Today, he owns 15 houses but most of them are empty after the civic bodies under took the demolition. “We were issued notices asking us to furnish details to prove that the property was off the buffer zone limits only on Saturday and were given three days’ time. Sunday being a holiday, we were able to submit it by Monday evening andTuesday was again a holiday on account of Ambedkar Jayanti.” But before they could follow up, the civic authorities arrived early in the morning on Wednesday and demolished their structures partially. Like Puttaswamy and Ramya, several owners have had to lose their tenants and to some extent, even their house. “We are not against lake development or having lung space. But they should have spared people like us who have encroached only about 3-5 feet,” Ramya adds. On enquiring if they were aware that their property fell into the purview of the buffer zone, both Ramya and Puttaswamy respond in negative. “Why would we purchase a site if we had known that this was off limits?” Ramya asks. There is also another hurdle that they face. While small settlements have been razed completely by the civic bodies themselves, apartment owners have opted to do the job themselves fearing that the civic bodies would be haphazard in its operation. Therefore in addition to restoring their house, they must also spend to demolish and clear the debris.

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