In the background of the entire nation’s focus on the Cauvery River water protests in Karnataka, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has quietly renewed its demolition drive, which began in July.
BBMP’s demolition drive has been targeting encroachments on lake beds and rajakaluves or storm water drains (SWDs) after heavy rains flooded south west Bengaluru end of July. Nearly 600 houses were submerged after the city recorded 250mm of rain, the highest in more than five decades. The government had faced severe criticism that it was doing nothing to prevent flooding and stop the encroachments on lake beds and SWDs and the BBMP launched the demolition drive soon after.
But, what is amazing is that BBMP, which is normally known for its lethargy, has continued its demolition drive into the second month, stopping only for national holidays and festivals. It has already razed some 200 homes and structures, of the 1,923 encroachments identified. It has not deviated from its focus nor stopped its demolition drive after a mere tokenism.
Firstpost reached out to V Ravichandar, Chairman and Managing Director, Feedback Consulting who is part of the three-member expert committee to restructure the Bangalore City Corporation. He told us, “the BBMP’s continued determination is to basically follow through the July directive of chief minister Siddaramaiah to clear vulnerable areas that were prone to flooding. I will reserve my judgement of BBMP’s credibility until the whole campaign is over.”
But, having said that, Ravichandar added, “as long as BBMP’s broad intent is maintained and neither the high nor the low are spared, they would be sending a clear message to the future, that if you violate the law, we’ll proceed against you.”
What is interesting, is that the BBMP has been seen targeting the big builders too. Karnataka Law Minister TB Jayachandra told reporters after a recent Cabinet meeting, that nobody would be spared and that malls, high-rise buildings and apartment blocks built illegally on storm water drains would be demolished. Soon, an FIR was filed against 20 officers and six builders for corruption by the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force under the direction of the BBMP. The officers booked were BBMP and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), both serving and retired officials for granting clearances over the years.
However, some of the influential members were able to get re-surveys ordered on the encroachments. Orion Mall and Prestige Tech park which came under the BBMP’s scanner got a reprieve when a re-survey was ordered to confirm their encroachments. A re-survey was also ordered on actor Darshan’s home and a Congress leader’s home, both of which came under the encroachment scanner.
Ravichandar said, “Although a re-survey seems like a sign of influence, we also don’t have enough data to show the encroachments. So, sometimes a re-survey is needed.” But, as he says, if after the re-survey, it’s proved that the builder or the influential owner had encroached upon the SWDs, then the BBMP must act. Ravichandar also feels that there is a need to now step back and rethink whether the demolition drive is the only way to go about clearing flood prone areas. ‘There have been incidents when even after clearing encroachments in past years, the flooding of the areas did not stop. We should rethink watershed management, associated rajakaluve (storm water drains) and streams, continuity between tanks, land cover within watershed and mobility networks. This will help us avoid flooding and minimize demolition.”
This does make sense, as many public properties, like bus stands, golf courses, playgrounds and residential colonies have been built on lake beds. Can the government really go back that far back into the past and change the topography of Bengaluru? Is it feasible? But, with the Damocles sword hanging over their projects, some 250 big builders met under the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI) banner in end August, and reiterated that their projects had the approvals, sanctions and occupancy certificates and there had been no violations from their side.
Meanwhile, there has been much angst over the maps that BBMP has been basing the demolitions on — the 1902 mother document, updated to 1962 revenue maps. Builders have questioned the maps being used by the BBMP, saying that there was a lot of confusion between the revenue maps and BBMP’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) of 2015. Why doesn’t the BDA trust its own CDP? Were the rajakaluves diverted by conniving officers on the behest of wily builders, so that their projects looked legally tenable, is that why BBMP is relying on old revenue maps? BBMP has now put up maps across the city on its website detailing encroachment violation on rajakaluves and warning people to remove them.
Clarifying the question of the maps, Ravichandar says “the CDP document is mainly a land use document and does not specify SWDs alignment and thus is not a legal document. It also contains a clause that in case of dispute, the mother document had to be referred to, which are the revenue maps.” Ravichandar is now working on combining all the various documents available – the map layers planned for public viewing, village maps, storm water drains, CDP 2015, contour maps, vulnerable areas and ward boundaries.
In Bengaluru, encroachment is one of the main reasons for the near disappearance of the wetlands in and around Bengaluru. So shocking is the condition of the lakes in and around Bengaluru that only some 17 healthy lakes exist today. At one time, Bengaluru was referred to as the city of 1000 lakes. Both the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Supreme Court has come down heavily on builders in Bengaluru. The NGT directed civic authorities to demolish or disallow any further construction around 75 metres from a lake and 50 metres around primary storm water drains. The Supreme Court concurred with NGT and asked builders in the buffer zones of Bengaluru‘s lakes and wetlands to push back their projects 75 metres from the edge of these water bodies and refused to halt demolitions initiated by BBMP.
So, what are the next steps for BBMP?
To ensure that its demolition drive is not mere tokenism and spare no-one, high or low.
To freeze the maps which it is using to decide how far back into the past it will go to decide on encroachments.
To re-build the rajakaluves and clear the silt in the existing SWDs so that rainwater can flow freely through the SWDs.
To maintain the 68 lakes still existing and recover as many of the 261 lakes that have been encroached upon since 1961.