After the flood, demolition begins

Print edition : September 16, 2016

BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad studying a map to identify the storm water drain at Nayanappanahalli and remove encroachments. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

At Doddabommasandra main road on August 11, BBMP officials demolish a building that stood on a storm water drain. Photo: SUDHAKARA JAIN

ARMED with revenue maps of Bengaluru dating back to 1904, court orders and a diktat from Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) began a series of demolitions in August much to the consternation of the city’s residents. In all, the BBMP, has earmarked 1,923 properties that have, as per revenue records, come up on lakebeds and storm water drains (SWDs), or raja kaluves, which connect around 937 lakes that once existed in the 2,200-square-kilometre area that is now the Bengaluru Urban district. These drains have existed for over a century and are a major component of the city’s 857 km network of drains. Nearly 900 of these properties have been demolished and the others are awaiting a similar fate.

A downpour of around 8 cm of rain over a 48-hour period this July caused extensive flooding in a number of areas, especially the newer and more far-flung ones. That led to an uproar about blocked drains and resulted in the launch of the demolitions.

But the demolitions have led to more basic questions being asked: Why were these buildings allowed to be constructed? Why were layouts allowed to flout rules? Who sanctioned their plans? Did officials from the sanctioning/building plan approval authorities, namely, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and the BBMP respectively, not consult revenue records/maps and take into account the clearly demarcated areas for the SWDs, and so on? Will these erring officials face criminal prosecution and be forced to pay civil damages to people who have lost property they bought in good faith? Are the SWDs, which are around 30 feet (9.14 metres) wide, the only solution right across the city for the flow of rainwater? After the removal of illegal constructions, will storm water now flow to the lakebeds that no longer exist? Most importantly, is this just a knee-jerk reaction to the bad publicity the government received following the July flooding?

Similar exercises in April 2015, when the BBMP razed 180 structures that had sprung up on the 38-acre Sarakki lakebed, fizzled out because of stay orders from courts, shoddy preparatory work to legally fight them, and the absence of political will to act against some very powerful lobbies, including politicians and big builders.

The ongoing demolition exercise caught property owners unawares, and even as bulldozers tore down their residences many of them argued and brandished the building plan approval issued by the BBMP, property tax receipts, occupancy certificates and clearances by other civic authorities.

According to some urban experts that Frontline spoke to, neither the sale deed, which is only a deed registering a sale or a transaction, nor the khata, which is just a document indicating that an account has been opened for the payment of tax), nor the master plan of land use can be proof of ownership. Survey records—the RTC (record of rights, tenancy and crops)—and revenue records indicate respectively the ownership and what parcel of the land has been demarcated for what purpose.

While some have questioned the authenticity of the revenue maps dating back to the 1900s, experts point out that they are legal and, after all, the Bengaluru of today evolved from the revenue villages of yesteryear. The maps, which were periodically upgraded, faithfully recorded the existence of walking tracks, cart tracks, streams, gravel, small ponds, rocks, hillocks, cultivable wasteland and, of course, the raja kaluves. According to the Revenue Department’s records, there are 308 villages in the 778 sq km BBMP limits.

Officials said that under the Karnataka Municipal Act, 1976, Section 288 (A) and (D) it was illegal to encroach upon drains or change their alignment. The BBMP was empowered to clear such encroachments without issuing any notice. As in a property transaction, of the three players involved, that is, the developer, the civic authority and the buyer, it is the buyer who has the least information and is penalised the most in the event of a title dispute. In most of the encroachments, the property owners had been hoodwinked by unscrupulous developers/builders, who, in cohorts with corrupt officials primarily from the BDA, the BBMP and Revenue Department, had grabbed government land and sold them to unsuspecting buyers.

In many instances, government land records had been doctored and bogus ones created. In some cases, the original records themselves had disappeared. Building plan sanctions and occupancy certificates had been issued for constructions on SWDs and lakebeds. Many a time the sketches in the possession of residents were at variance with the original village maps that clearly indicated the raja kaluves.

Of the 22 lakh houses in the BBMP’s jurisdiction, hardly nine lakh had been provided with water and sanitation connections by the municipal body; the remaining depended mostly on the four lakh borewells and in days gone by, tanks and lakes.

Today Bengaluru, situated at an altitude of almost 3,000 feet (914 m) above mean sea level, receives water that is pumped up from the Cauvery, but the allocation (currently 19 thousand million cubic feet, and it will go up by a further 10 tmc ft) hardly matches the city’s exponential growth both in population and size. This makes it critical to have lakes and tanks for an efficient recharging of the groundwater systems. A thought not lost even on the city’s founding fathers, who either refurbished existing ponds or built hundreds of tanks and lakes across the city. The system of tanks and lakes was greatly strengthened over a hundred years ago under the British and right until Independence. According to revenue records, the Bengaluru Urban District, which includes the BBMP’s 778 sq km area, boasted 937 tanks and lakes. Using a cascading system, lakes at the highest level (3,000 ft) were connected to lakes and tanks at lower levels and these in turn to the next level of waterbodies through the raja kaluves. The four levels of tanks, eventually led the water into Bengaluru’s four well-known valleys.

More than half the number of lakes have disappeared, according to the committee on encroachment of lakebeds headed by State Assembly Speaker K.B. Koliwad. This has led to massive flooding. The modus operandi is simple: first, the inflow of storm water is cut off. Then, after the lake dries out, it is dumped with tonnes of debris, after which layouts are created and buildings constructed. The government itself has breached 51 lakes. As verified by the “Greed and Connivance: Report of the Task Force for Recovery of Public Land and its Protection (2011)”, 1,200 acres of land on 937 lakebeds have been encroached upon mostly by commercial complexes and Information Technology companies. The demolitions are meant to remove encroachments so that rainwater flows into the existing lakes.

However, the crucial question many urban planners ask is, with many of the lakes encroached and buildings now standing where there was once water and a lake, will just clearing the raja kaluves really offer a long-term solution? Some urban planners have suggested that instead of having 30-foot-wide raja kaluves, concrete pipes sunk below the ground could do the job of interconnecting lakes.

Ravi Sharma

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