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The bane of land politics

Sudipto Mondal
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The process has in fact become a cash cow for the land mafia

THE BAIT:In areas such as Rajarajeshwarinagar, Bommanahalli and Yelahanka — where land has been notified for the controversial BMIC — poll promises include denotification of land.— FILE PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
THE BAIT:In areas such as Rajarajeshwarinagar, Bommanahalli and Yelahanka — where land has been notified for the controversial BMIC — poll promises include denotification of land.— FILE PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR

Even as the Union government drags its feet on the tabling of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill in the Lok Sabha, there are more immediate concerns over land acquisitions in and around Bangalore.

Thousand of landowners in the city and its surrounding areas have had their land notified for acquisition by the Karnataka Housing Board (KHB), the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA).

As the State goes to polls, the resentment over these notifications, which many of the landowners see as arbitrary and undemocratic, is turning into a significant issue that is likely to impact the outcome of the elections.

Far beyond the city

No wonder that in constituencies such as Rajarajeshwarinagar, Bommanahalli and Yelahanka — where land has been notified for the controversial Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project (BMIC) — poll promises include denotification of land. In fact, anti-BMIC activists such as T.J. Abraham claim that the same trend exists in the entire stretch from Srirangapatna to Bangalore.

“Members of all three political parties have been involved in the BMIC scam. None will denotify the excess land notified for the project if they come to power,” Mr. Abraham asserts.

In areas where the BDA has notified land for the Arkavathy Layout, farmers have turned violent on several occasions, refusing to part with their land because they have not yet been paid compensation. Areas near the airport, notified by the KIADB for industrial development, are also witnessing stiff resistance from farmers and other landowners.

RTI activist B.M. Shivkumar says some land in the city were notified almost two decades ago, but still haven’t been acquired. In K.R. Puram, for instance, 200 acres were notified by the BDA for the construction of a market for steel trading in 1998. The land has still not been acquired.

Once land is notified for acquisition, the owners cannot sell, transfer or make any improvements on it. “It becomes like a hot potato that cannot be swallowed nor spat out. Thousands on the outskirts of the city have been living like this for decades,” says Mr. Shivkumar. The land for BMIC was also notified in 1995-96. Both Mr. Abraham and Mr. Shivkumar feel that a time frame should be fixed for each project. If land that is notified is not acquired within a specific time frame, then the notification should become automatically null and void.

They argue that this indefinite suspended animation has caused the illegal denotification scam in which politicians such as B.S. Yeddyurappa, Katta Subramanya Naidu and S.N. Krishnaiah Setty are accused of exploiting the situation. “They would offer some money to the landowners and have a general power of attorney (GPA) executed in their name. Then, they would use their political clout and discretionary powers to get the land denotified. By the time the land is denotified, its value would have multiplied by several times,” said Mr. Shivkumar who exposed several such scams.

The acquisition process has in fact become a cash cow for the politically influential land mafia.

There are also several cases where politicians have been bribed by landowners to leave their property out of the acquisition. Indeed, observers say it is this ill-gotten money that is playing a huge role in financing the careers of several politicians.

The housing society scam also owes its genesis to flawed land acquisitions. Media investigation showed that land acquired by the government and allotted to housing cooperative societies were in turn sold to private builders. In other instances, housing societies purchased large tracts of farmland through unscrupulous middlemen.

Housing societies are barred from acquiring land directly from farmers, so they employ middlemen to do the job, said Ganesh S. Koundenya.

His expose of the societies scam showed the alleged involvement of bigwigs S.A. Ramdas, V. Somanna, D.K. Shivakumar, M. Mallikarjun Kharge, B.N. Bache Gowda, Mr. Setty, Mr. Yeddyurappa and his sons.

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