Controversy to the fore as demolition drive spares malls in Bengaluru

Which will stand and which will fall? That’s the question anxious house owners in Bengaluru have been grappling with in the wake of a massive drive to remove encroachments on stormwater drains in the city.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) began the drive in August following severe floods in the city after several lakes overflowed because of clogged stormwater drains ( rajakaluves).

No clarity

Yet, even a month later, there is no clarity on whether the drive will be effective, and what yardsticks were used to raze around 200 buildings without issuing notice even while sparing around 1,800 that were identified as “encroachments.”

The fact that most structures demolished were individual homes and those left untouched include big malls and tech parks has led to serious allegations against the civic body.

So, just how was this drive taken up?

Most of the razed structures had been approved by civic authorities and 21 BBMP and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) officials have been booked for granting clearances over the last many decades.

Civic analyst V. Ravichandar explains: “The problem in Bengaluru is of records, which are in a pathetic state. Though several villages have lost rural characteristics, they are still in village maps in the absence of city records.”

The network of drains fell into disrepair with the rapid urbanisation that Bengaluru saw post-1990s. With the BDA inactive, private landowners-turned-developers allegedly connived with Revenue Department officials and encroached on the “inalienable” drains to form layouts in areas around the core city of 132 sq. km. The civic agency inherited the problem in 2007 when 580 sq. km was added to it. In the absence of digital maps and lack of access to village maps, thousands of gullible property buyers fell prey.

Even in the present demolition drive, there is a controversy over which records to go by. The BBMP has relied on village survey maps prepared by the Revenue Department from 1900 to 1920 (updated till late 1960s) to identify the drains, and not the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) prepared by the BDA.

Mr. Ravichandar pointed out that the BDA-prepared CDP is not geo-referenced and does not accurately validate the stormwater drains, resulting in confusion, whereas the village survey maps are geo-referenced and accurate. The CDP is the only reference document for urbanisation, he said.

No notice issued

This confusion has led to accusations that some structures were “arbitrarily” chosen for demolition while others are spared. Further, most demolitions so far have been carried out without any notice being issued, with the BBMP citing a provision in the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act that demolitions can be undertaken. However, the famous Orion Mall in Rajajinagar and a tech park developed by the Prestige Group in Bellandur received a lifeline after re-surveys were ordered.

“There is no transparency in the method adopted. On the face of it, it looks like the demolition drive has been unfair. Individual houses have been demolished without notices, but re-survey has been ordered for big complexes,” said real estate expert R. Ramesh.

Deny charges

Both the Orion Mall management and the Prestige Group have refuted allegations of encroachments. In a release, Prestige Group Chairman and Managing Director Irfan Razack said the group had always respected the rule of law. “Whatever work we have undertaken till date has always been completed with all requisite permissions and sanctions,” he said.

In a clarification, the Orion Mall management claimed that the mall was developed on land bought from Kirloskar Electric, which in turn had acquired it from the BDA. They also claimed that they had a 1995 survey from the Revenue Department which did not show any drain or nala in the land.

Legal experts have opined that the BBMP should have followed due process of law by first cancelling the plan and khata by issuing notices before demolishing structures. Incidentally, the Karnataka High Court has also taken note of the argument and has stayed further demolitions without cancellation of plan sanction and khata for some individual cases.

BBMP stance

Defending the civic agency’s demolition approach, BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad said a resurvey had been ordered in the case of Orion Mall since a survey had not been conducted. In the case of Prestige Tech Park in Bellandur (the State’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, T.B. Jayachandra, had accused it of being an encroachment), a re-survey was on to confirm encroachments, if any, he said.

He, however, said other demolitions were in line with the High Court direction of 2012, without clarifying why a resurvey had not been taken up in these cases.

Highly placed sources in the government admitted that “the government felt that the demolition drive could scare the IT industry since some tech parks were also facing allegations of encroachment.” As if matters couldn’t get worse, a sudden distinction was brought in by the civic authorities between live and dead drains. Mr. Ramesh says: “Instead of plugging the loopholes for posterity, a new, yet controversial topic was invented.”

Former Law Secretary Ishwar Bhat also acknowledged that the drains — irrespective of their character now — cannot be used for any other purpose and any ownership claim does not stand.

Mr. Prasad, however, says the distinction had been done to prioritise encroachment removal, and that the illegal structures on dead drains would be removed later.

Ironically, in the midst of the controversy around the drive, architects and city planners seem doubtful of whether it will serve the purpose. “The demolition drive has been haphazard and done in a hurry,” said urban expert Ashiwn Mahesh, raising fears that it may not be effective in ensuring that the city does not face another flood.

The demolition could have been done with more deliberation rather than a knee-jerk reaction. There is no guarantee this will prevent flooding, Mr. Ravichandar said.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 5:45:45 AM |

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