On the intervening night of 28-29 July, IT city Bengaluru witnessed heavy rains, with southeast Bengaluru alone receiving 90 mm rainfall in a span of 12 hours. This led to three lakes in the southeastern part of the city to overflow, submerging hundreds of houses and over 500 cars. Unprecedented scenes of residents being rescued using dinghies and people fishing on waterlogged roads were seen in Bengaluru. This made national headlines along with the flooding in Gurugram, exposing what an urban disaster our millennial cities had become.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was still grieving after the sudden demise of his son, called a meeting of senior officials and ordered for the merciless clearing of encroachments on the storm water drains that were believed to have caused the deluge in large parts of Bengaluru.
At the strike of dawn on 6 August, an army of demolition workers, JCBs, drilling machines and gas cutters hit the streets, roaring along with dozens of BBMP officials, who had just been pulled up by the Chief Minister a few days ago. A total of 1,923 encroachments had already been identified and nearly 800 of them had already been cleared; now the task was to clear the remaining 1,100 odd encroachments.
Woken up by Chief Minister’s diktat and equipped with high court orders, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials along with revenue officials started the demolition drive in three major zones of the city—Yelahanka, Bommanahalli and Mahadevpura.
Huge drilling machines started punching holes into the houses in Shubh Enclave off Sarjapur Road and Avani Sringeri Layout off Begur Road. They did not just bring down houses, they also brought down the dreams of the millennials.
The areas that have seen the demolition drive are largely in outer Bengaluru. As the city expanded after the IT boom, it swallowed the “hallis” or the villages on the outskirts and huge layouts and apartment complexes cropped up on farmlands. The millennials, who are largely the post liberalisation era workforce enabled by the IT boom in the 2000s, purchased property here. A majority includes people coming from outside the city and state, wanting to settle down in Bengaluru. But the same lot is an easy target for builders/developers who want to dupe their customers.
One such case is that of Nishanth. His newly built villa in Shubh Enclave was in the firing line. His entire family threatened to come under the JCBs and drilling machines if the BBMP went ahead with the demolition. But the demolition drive, which also had enough police back up, continued undeterred and demolished nearly 5ft of their dream home. A furious Nishanth claimed that they had volunteered to demolish the structure on the storm water drain, but the BBMP was carrying out the demolition with JCBs, which affected the stability of the entire structure. “We had taken permission from their chief engineer to remove the marked areas in a scientific manner as it had a pillar too, but they came post sunset and started the demolition. We have plan approval, ‘A’ Katha and have paid property tax until now. They didn’t say anything about encroachment then”, said Nishanth even as his building was being reduced to rubble in the background.
TERROR OF RED AND YELLOW
Several buildings in the city have markings made by BBMP in yellow or red paint, indicating the area that has to be demolished in that particular property and this is giving sleepless nights to residents and building owners. Owners claim that these surveys and markings have been arbitrary and ambiguous, dictated by the whims and fancies of the BBMP and revenue officials. Mr Reddy, a house owner in Shubh Enclave claimed that on 8 August, after the survey, BBMP officials told him that a tertiary storm water drain would be passing through the adjacent plot and his house would not be affected. But to his absolute shock, the very next morning the same officials marked 2.4 metres of his property for demolition. Shouting at the BBMP officials, Mr Reddy argued, “I have tippani (revenue observations), plan sanctions, revenue department survey and the comprehensive development plan and all approvals for my property, I sensed trouble and stayed back home on Monday. After the survey they told that my property was safe, but on Tuesday morning they are saying they will have to demolish 2.4 metres of my property. Is there no rule of law?”
SANCTIONED PLANS DO NOT HELP
Most of the houses in Shubh Enclave and Avani Sringeri Layout had their plan sanctions, “A” Katha (revenue document detailing size, taxes and holding of the property), occupancy certificates, utility connections and had paid property tax to the municipality up to date. Banks had approved their loans after legal scrutiny. Vanitha, another owner claimed that the BBMP had given them tax rebate too for early payment of property tax and recognised their property as legal, “We have paid taxes, got all permissions. The CDP (city development plan) doesn’t show any storm water drain near our property, but still it has been marked as encroachment and demolished. This shakes the faith we had in the system and government. Who do we believe now?”
Essentially, they had all the legal documents for one to come to the conclusion that it is safe to purchase a property. But they were all stumped by a more than a century-old village map.
111-YEAR-OLD VILLAGE MAP
The BBMP is using revenue sketches and survey maps prepared in the 1900s (1905 in the case of Shubh Enclave) as the point of reference to recognise the storm water drain area but the Revised Master Plan 2015, a vision document for city’s growth showing all the details like utilities, lakes, drains, zones etc., is not in sync with the village map, leaving people confused on which should be used as the reference point—a 111-year-old map or the city planning body’s vision document.
Rajeev, a resident from Kasavanahalli argues that the Karnataka High Court, in a judgement given by Justice B.S. Patil has made it clear that the Revised Master Plan 2015 prevails over the village map and the gram thana maps: “The judgement clearly says the Revised Master Plan will prevail over all else, so how can the BBMP now bring a century old map and start demolishing houses, when we have established a proper drain network in the layout? What is the point in demolishing houses for a tertiary drain? the master plan doesn’t show any tertiary drain.”
BUILDERS AND BABUS BOOKED
11 FIRs have been registered with the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force against 21 officials from BBMP and BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) for lapses in plan approval and allowing layouts and buildings to come up on the storm water drain area. A few builders too have been booked. The Chief Minister claims that the government will go after encroachers and corrupt officials no matter how powerful they are: “However influential or big they may be, merciless action will be taken against all those who have encroached upon storm water drains.”
The civic agency of Bengaluru had decided to intensify the demolition drive from 17 August. And with the high court not willing to entertain any request for a stay order, many dreams will be reduced to rubble in the coming weeks in this showpiece IT city.