'BMTF cannot act against illegal constructions on private properties'

The Karnataka High Court on Thursday declared that the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) cannot book criminal cases against BBMP engineers for their alleged failure to prevent illegal constructions on private properties. And, BMTF cannot initiate action against illegal constructions on private properties in violation of the sanctioned plan.

The court delivered the verdict while quashing FIRs and chargesheets, filed in 2012 and 2013 by the BMTF against some engineers accusing them of failing to either prevent construction of a building on private property in the absence of a sanctioned plan or failing to take action on constructions put up in violation of the sanctioned plan.

As many as 200 engineers would benefit from this verdict delivered while allowing 156 petitions filed by engineers, including BBMP’s Engineer-in-Chief B.T. Ramesh, who had challenged BMTF’s action.

In his judgment, Justice K.N. Keshavanarayana also held that the procedure followed by the BMTF in registering the FIRs was contrary to the law besides declaring that the permissions given by the jurisdictional magistrate to the BMTF for registering the FIRs and conducting probe were also without authority in law.

The court held that the powers conferred on the BMTF are limited to protect the public properties, detect unauthorised constructions on public properties and launch criminal prosecution against encroachers and officials who collude with such encroachers, and probe cases of fabrication of documents resulting in loss to the revenue of various civic bodies over which BMTF has jurisdiction.

Pointing out that the BBMP engineers are under obligation, as per Section 321 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, to prevent and take action against illegal constructions put up on private properties, and failure to discharge this duty would be an offence on the part of the engineers as defined under Section 321B, the court, however, said that the BMTF has no jurisdiction to proceed against engineers under Section 321B of the Act.

The court also said that as the complaints against the engineers fell under Section 217, 109 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which are non-cognisable, the BMTF, as per Section 155 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), should have merely entered the information/complaints in the book as per the law had should have referred the informants/complainants to the magistrate.

The BMTF’s acts of submitting reports to the magistrate on receipt of information/complaints, and seeking permission for investigation from the magistrate were not recognised in Section 155 of CrPC, Justice Keshavanarayana said while making it clear that it was for the informants/complainants to approach the magistrate after intimating the police.

Declaring as without authority in law the order of the magistrate granting permission for registering cases and conducting probe on BMTF’s request, the High Court said that the magistrate, under Section 155 of CrPC, should act only if informants/complainants approach them. In none of these cases, the informants/complainants had approached the magistrate, the court added.

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