The spate of demolitions of ‘illegal’ buildings taking place in Bengaluru has drawn widespread attention. This is however not the first time that such demolitions have taken place. It actually started in 1995 when I was the Administrator of the Bangalore City Corporation or the then BMP. The city had not yet become `Brihat’, spreading its boundaries to include the adjoining eight smaller municipal bodies and 110 villages. A comparison between demolitions then and now reveals some interesting features.
What is happening now is essentially the removal of encroachments on storm water drains. Back in mid-1990s, the focus of action was the CBD. It was a well-planned strategy aimed at curbing the practice of illegal constructions in gross violation of building and zoning regulations. Our first target was buildings where basements meant for parking had been converted for commercial purpose. The first set of buildings taken up for demolition was on St Mark’s Road. It took everyone by surprise -the builders, the citizens and also the political leaders. Subsequently, we also took up removal of encroachments on lands acquired by BDA as I also happened to be the BDA chairman.
What followed was a scenario totally in contrast to the one we are witnessing now. The affected persons ran to the courts to obtain stay orders and the courts readily obliged unlike now where the judiciary has refused to intervene in the ongoing process. We had followed the due process of law, respecting the principles of natural justice but were restrained from proceeding further in a number of cases by the liberal policy of the courts to give protection to the ‘affected’ persons.
Another significant difference between then and now is in the stand taken by the government and the attitude of politicians. The current operations started only after directions were given by the CM following a review of the severe flood situation. Earlier, it was a bureaucratic decision and the political leaders were ambivalent. Since the government was not a party to the decision, it was perhaps not possible for them to resist the pressures exerted on them. I did not last long in the Corporation.
Some lessons from the demolitions two decades apart.
- First, the scant respect for law by the people who took it for granted that nothing would happen however serious the offence is. This was abetted and encouraged by those in authority at different levels. What began in a small way in the 1980s started gathering strength in the 1990s except for a brief spell during the demolitions and became rampant in the 21st century. If only the momentum to enforce the law had been kept up, things would not have come to such a pass.
- Secondly, the message is clear that political will is the key to the success of any such operation. But for the CM’s intervention, the strong and sustained action by BBMP would not have been possible. It is an irony that some of the officials who would have connived or colluded in illegal constructions are now engaged in demolishing them.
- And the third lesson is for the officials. Taking shelter under the pretext of political interference and ignoring their duty can someday land them in trouble, as has happened now.
Finally , the importance of accurate land records cannot be over-emphasised. The present confusion about the veracity of documents relating to storm water drains is the result of ignoring the vital function of not only maintaining but updating the records. Further, there needs to be clarity about the validity of different records such as village maps, ward maps, khatas and master plan and people must be made aware of them. The hurry with which BBMP is uploading data on its website after the commencement of demolitions seems like a late act to justify its actions.
While those who have wantonly flouted the law must be dealt with a heavy hand, care must be taken to make sure that those whose plans were sanctioned by the appropriate authority on the basis of valid documents are not penalised. After all, the government has taken certain conscious decisions to convert what were once green areas or lakes for urban uses such as a bus station, a stadium or a housing colony. As a city grows, the compulsions of urbanisation need to be balanced alongside environmental requirements. This calls for imaginative urban planning which has been sorely lacking. The time is ripe for a rethink on Bengaluru‘s planning systems.
Author: A Ravindra, is a former Administrator & Commissioner of Bangalore City Corporation
Credits ET Realty