A determined Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) continued its demolition drive on Tuesday in Bengaluru, targeting encroachments on lake beds and Rajakaluves or Storm Water Drains (SWDs).
Nearly 100 houses have been razed to the ground across the city making several families homeless. The BBMP has identified 1,923 encroachments, some of which have already been removed in earlier drives. BBMP officials have been marking structures and boundary walls which have encroached on the SWDs and given the residents two days’ time to remove the encroachments themselves otherwise face demolition.
With intense media focus on the demolitions and criticism that the BBMP was targeting only small houses and middle class homes and turning a blind eye on the big builders, the BBMP commissioner N Manjunath told the media that the Palike had already penalized three builders in Yelahanka and criminal cases would be filed against builders involved.
The BBMP also clarified that only the encroached sections were being demolished. However, several houses were destroyed in the last two days, as the encroachments were found to be right in the middle of these properties. On Monday, the demolitions continued with structures like boundary walls abutting the SWDs, being brought down.
That the slumberous BBMP has finally woken up to the encroachments on lake beds and SWDs had a trigger point with heavy flooding last week 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.
The Hindu had reported that in the wake of last week’s flooding, 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, to fill potholes, remove silt from SWDs and take up other maintenance works in rain-affected areas.
The BBMP had undertaken similar demolition drives in the past too. In April 2015, several middle class homes, schools, medical centres, including a government office were demolished in the neighbourhood of JP Nagar near the Saraki lake. However, the demolition drive was cut short, when some of the residents got a stay from the Karnataka High Court on the demolition of their homes. Several buildings were also demolished in Banaswadi as the government set out to recover 33 acres of encroached land worth about Rs 2,000 crore. Around 3500 Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) plots in various neighbourhoods also faced the threat of demolition. This was part of the massive drive the civic authorities took up to clear the lake beds that had been encroached upon. The high court had issued an order in August 2014 to free the lakes of all encroachments.
There was also an earlier attempt in 2010 to demolish some 70 houses, which had encroached on the Puttenahalli Lake at JP Nagar.
This time around the BBMP has planned to approach the high court and file a caveat to prevent people from obtaining stay orders on the demolitions.
A determined mayor Manjunath Reddy has even refused a plea from MLA Satish Reddy seeking three days’ time for the residents to comply. On Monday morning, chief minister Siddaramaiah told the media that he wanted to prevent a Chennai kind of flooding situation from happening in Bengaluru. He also promised action against officials past and present who had cleared these encroachments and erring builders too.
Unfortunately, Sidddaramaiah faces "a damned if you do and damned if you don't” kind of situation. Activists and the media have been leading a crusade against the government for its inaction on encroachments on lake beds and SWDs for months now and even attacked the civic authorities severely after the heavy flooding last week.
However, the government could have avoided the ham-handed way it has gone about destroying homes of middle class families. Some of the families have been forced to live in shelters and refugee-like in their own homes. For many of these families, this was their only home.
Deccan Herald reported how entire families, including a pregnant woman and children of demolished houses in Arekere, off Bannerghatta Road, were living their worst nightmare. Some of them had spent their entire savings on buying their homes and were paying off home loans with banks. Many of the residents had sale deeds, property tax receipts, betterment charges, A Khata and electricity connection documents too.
Encroachment by builders is one of the main reasons for the near disappearance of the wetlands in and around Bengaluru. Many lakes were converted to bus stands, golf courses, playgrounds and residential colonies or leased out by the government. The rest have been encroached by slums and builders, some have dried up, or turned into human and toxic waste cess pools. 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 1,000 lakes.
In May 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped a penalty of Rs 117 crores on Mantri Techzone and Rs 13.5 crore on Core Mind Software, for construction around the Bellandur and Agara lakes of Bengaluru. NGT also asked the developers to restore the encroached 3.10 acres lake bed area and cancelled and quashed all environmental clearances and sanctioned plans.
The NGT’s directive to the civic authorities to demolish or disallow any further construction around 75 metres from a lake and 50 metres around primary storm water drains has also strengthened and armed the Karnataka government’s demolition drive now.
In September last year too, 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 even slammed the high-powered committee and the Lake Development Authority on the unauthorised encroachment and possession of wetlands by builders. Several environment organisations too have been conducting regular surveys on the lost and disappearing lakes of Bengaluru.
However, some property owners and builders have gone to court against the NGT’s directives stating that the green body had no jurisdiction to issue such general direction.
Given such legal hassles, and constant media and scathing civil society scrutiny, the government’s move to clear encroachments from lake beds and SWDs could have been handled sensitively. Enough notice should have been given to the residents and the government should have also gone armed with a rehabilitation and relocation (R&R) package for families being displaced from their homes.
Now, it is imperative that the government gets into a fire-fighting mode and gets a team together to assess the damage caused to families affected by the demolition drive and comes up with a feasible R&R package right away. The government should also show the same determination against influential builders, who flouted the norms in the first place and encroached on the SWDs and lake beds. They should levy fines on erring builders and use the funds thus collected to fund the R&R package for affected families. It should also take stringent action against pliant government officials who allowed the encroachments by builders.
Updated Date: Aug 09, 2016 14:06:32 IST