Voices Tuesday, May 05, 2015 - 05:30
Politics in Karnataka has reached a new low with the BJP taunting the Congress party over a recent encroachment clearance drive, when no political party is serious about recovering huge tracts of land gobbled up by private parties in Bengaluru.   Land grabbing in the Karnataka capital is a widespread cancer peculiar to real estate dealers, cooperative societies, government officials and elected representatives, and leaders of all political parties.   The opposition BJP has accused the ruling Congress government of tearing down the huts of poor people while going soft on the powerful land grabbers, and has taunted the Congress, daring it to start its demolition drive with its own state headquarters on Miller tank.   It is shameful that the party is seeking to draw political mileage out of the demolition drive, when the BJP government too, did nothing to recover over 41,000 acres of encroached government land in and around Bengaluru.   These were the findings of the A T Ramaswamy committee report, which said that encroachment on such a large scale, made the city eligible for the title “Land Grabbing Capital of India”.   The report, submitted in February 2007 during the JD(S)-BJP coalition government, said that the alleged culprits include industrialists, real estate developers, cooperative societies, and other influential people.  It also made special note of unauthorised occupation of public land for the construction of huts and houses by poor people and urged that the Slum Board rehabilitate such people while taking action against powerful people.   While allegations of land encroachment against politicians are nothing new, there are also other ways in which government officials collude with political leaders and private interests to result in absurd scenarios. Recently, the Forest Department has claimed ownership of 700 acres of land which were allotted by other government agencies, for residential plots and industrial areas in the Whitefield area of the city, and now wants to clear unauthorized structures.   Given this state of affairs, one would hope that the state government would be more pro-active in recovering land appropriated by others. The Siddaramaiah government has been, to put it mildly, dragging its feet in acting on the A T Ramaswamy report. In August 2013, Siddaramaiah appointed a committee to review the findings of the report before taking any action, even though the legislature had accepted it.   Now, one-and-a-half years later, the state government is no closer to implementing any of the recommendations of the report, which include tough action on officials in every tier of government who were responsible for allowing land grab on such a large scale, the setting up of permanent courts to try these cases, amendments to relevant laws that deal with government property and various government bodies.   There is an urgent need to implement the report and clear illegal occupation of government land not just to uphold the law, but also because such encroachments have affected the life of the city in myriad ways. To name a few, land prices in the city are sky high, lakes have disappeared and those still existing are battling for life and have affected water supply and environment in the region, parks and public spaces too have been greatly reduced, residents are suddenly confronted with the fact that their houses are illegal.   Along with legislative and judicial interventions, there is an urgent need for civil society to make an effort to understand the system of governance and to demand transparent functioning. The government must expand the spirit of the Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act – to provide the entitlements of the people to them in a time-bound, transparent and simple manner.   Power does not surrender to rights unless it is forced to. Voters must develop ways to hold political parties accountable for their conduct in government and outside, and ensure that public resources are meant for the public good and not private gains.  
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