Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is on a crusading drive against defaulters of all kinds in Bengaluru. While the demolition drive enters the seventh day, BBMP has begun cracking down on big commercial property tax defaulters by shaming them.
According to Bangalore Mirror, the BBMP will resume the drive after the Independence Day weekend to "clear the city's stormwater drains of encroachment from Wednesday." BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad quoted in One India, said that all illegal structures on stormwater drains in all the eight zones of the city will be demolished in four months.
On Thursday TV 9 reported that BBMP had raided premier hotel JW Marriot for defaulting Rs 5.59 crore worth property tax. The BBMP officials shamed the hotel authorities by walking off with the lobby furniture. They left only after collecting the property tax through a demand draft for Rs 4. 39 crore and a cheque for Rs 1.19 crore.
On Monday, BBMP officials went on another novel drive to shame yet another defaulter. Armed with garbage-laden trucks, officials went to the office of tech giant, Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd in Bellandur. They threatened to dump the garbage inside the office premises, if the firm did not pay their pending property tax of Rs 34 crore. The garbage trucks were removed only after Intel officials gave a written undertaking to pay half their dues of Rs 16.5 crore by 28 August, as per an interim order of the Karnataka High Court.
Mayor Manjunath Reddy told news channels on Thursday that the BBMP would be targeting IT and BT defaulters next.
It’s to be seen whether the BBMP continues its new drive and is not muscled to withdraw in haste or worse still, some of the crusading officials get transferred.
Meanwhile, there’s no let-up for residents, whose homes abut or are built over rajakaluves or storm water drains (SWDs) as the BBMP continued its demolition drive on Thursday, six days after it began on Saturday of last week.
Every day, nearly 50 to 100 houses and illegal structures are being razed to the ground across the city in suburbs and outlying areas of the city. BBMP has identified 1,923 encroachments.
Some of the neighbourhoods have already acquired the look of ghost towns, as families, whose homes were destroyed, have all moved out. At the sound of the bulldozers, entire families are fleeing their homes with their belongings, as the BBMP is determined to clear the encroachments on the SWDS.
In the suburb of Yelahanka, even a martyr’s home was targeted, earning national media attention to BBMP’s demolition drive. Lt Col EK Niranjan, who was the head of the NSG bomb squad was killed six months ago in Pathankot, while searching the bodies of terrorists. A partial wall of the martyr’s house was demolished and the BBMP withdrew hastily, after intense media focus on the move. BBMP said that Niranjan’s family had sought time to break down an offending pillar themselves. Later, spokespersons for the government also told local TV channels that the government would provide land for the family to relocate.
What is ironic is that BBMP even demolished a part of its own property and a corporator’s office in Srinagar, a neighbourhood in the city, which was among the 19 buildings that was razed on Thursday.
The Economic Times reported that the Supreme Court on Monday had asked all builders in the buffer zones of Bengaluru's lakes and wetlands to push back their projects by 75 metres from the edge of these water bodies. The SC also refused to halt demolitions initiated by BBMP, as it was an attempt to open up drains discharging excess water from lakes and to prevent a repeat of the recent deluge. The SC directed no construction be carried out for some time, while staying the fine imposed on a builder by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) earlier.
In September last year and later in May 2016, the NGT had pulled up the Karnataka government over encroachments on lake beds, stating that a city renowned for its 261 lakes only had 68 now. It also slammed the high-powered committee and the Lake Development Authority on the unauthorised encroachment and possession of wetlands by builders and penalised a couple of builders who encroached into the Bellandur lake.
As media attention and civil society continue to remain focused on the demolition drive, and with mounting criticism that BBMP was targeting only small and middle class homes, the BBMP went ahead and penalised three builders in Yelahanka. They also promised criminal cases would be filed against other builders.
BBMP also closed in on 20 officials, both retired and presently working in BBMP, and released their names to the media. Four of these officials later moved the high court but it has refused to stay the suspensions of these engineers.
Meanwhile, the intense media and civic society focus has shifted to which map should be used as a legitimate reference point for Bengaluru. There has been much angst over the maps that BBMP has been basing the demolitions on. These are the 1902 revenue maps. Builders have questioned the maps being used by the BBMP, saying that there was a lot of confusion between the revenue maps being used for the demolition and BBMP’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) that came later.
They are right to question the revenue or village maps, as these are also referred to, as many major lakes have long ago been converted to bus stands, golf courses, playgrounds and residential colonies or leased out by the government. There were media reports that the BBMP is trying to make sense of these maps and come up with a GIS mapping of the city within a week.
On Friday, newspapers reported that there was a precedent of a high court ruling in 2012, filed by a builder, which had ruled against the BBMP stating that the Bangalore Development Authority master plan had certain geographical details missing. Incidentally BBMP ward map of 198 wards as available on its website does not have finer details of SWDs in its geographical area wise zoning map.
The Hindu carried a report last year that the Survey, Settlement and Land Records Department would be uploading details of all properties under BBMP jurisdiction, which would help residents to understand whether the properties being sold were being developed on lake beds or rajakaluves. All the properties on the 198 wards and 340 villages that come under the BBMP were to be uploaded on the SSLRD website. The outcome of the survey of encroachments of lakes and rajakaluves were also supposed to be given to the Legislative House Committee headed by KB Koliwad, which was constituted to study the state of lakes in Bengaluru.
However, both these haven’t happened yet. Koliwad told the media on Thursday that he would come up with the report in a couple of months, and that the officials had been given a deadline of 20 days to finish the survey. Urban planners too have been demanding that the most updated maps be made available on the public domain.
That the slumberous BBMP finally woke up to the encroachments on lake beds and SWDs had a trigger point with heavy flooding two weeks ago in south west Bengaluru. Nearly 600 houses were submerged after the city recorded 250 mm of rain, the highest in more than five decades. The government faced severe criticism that it was doing nothing to prevent flooding and stop the encroachments on lake beds and SWDs.
Following the deluge, the state government directed the BBMP to clear all encroachments on SWDs and lake beds in the city. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also asked the civic authorities to utilise the emergency fund of Rs 140 crore allocated to each ward.
Meanwhile, the BBMP also approached the high court and filed caveats to prevent people from obtaining stay orders on the demotions.
Perhaps the BBMP woke up late, but it’s better late than never. As long as the demolition drive and the property tax drive are not targeted at the poor and the middle class alone, but the powerful too are brought into the net, more power to the BBMP.
But the BBMP would also need to arm itself with a battery of efficient lawyers to fight several litigations, which are likely to be filed against them by residents and builders.