The Khata conundrum
Vertically imposing, architecturally awe-inspiring, the apartments dotting Bangalore’s enormously crowded landscape might trigger an avalanche of envy.
But scratch the surface, probe deeper, to discover a darker reality: Within many of those impressive structures live thousands, who feel cheated and trapped without an important legal document for their property: Khata. Paying lakhs to the builders, meeting every expense on demand, they still wait endlessly for that elusive certificate.
The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had for years insisted that the improvement fees / development charges should be paid before the khata can be issued. But individual landowners and land developers were not prepared to pay the hefty fees fixed by the BBMP. They went to court, the Palike reworked the rates, and yet the gridlock remained. For, the rates were apparently not fixed systematically. In its latest order on April 11, 2013, the High Court quashed the Palike’s notification fixing a uniform improvement fee of Rs 550 per sq metre of the land.
More importantly, the Court ruled that BBMP could not make payment of the fees a pre-condition for the registration, transfer, bifurcation or amalgamation of khatas. This was in response to the petitioners’ complaint that the Palike continued to impose that condition despite an earlier High Court order not to do so.
For the Palike, it is time to rework the rates yet again. But that is unlikely before the heat of the election season dies down, although a top Palike official says the process will start within the next 15 days. Once that is done, it has to be approved by the BBMP Council and a separate circular issued.
However, for apartment owners there is some respite. The Palike is now open to delink improvement charge payment from khata registrations. But while submitting all the necessary documents for khata, the owners would have to submit an affidavit that improvement charges would be paid whenever the new rates are fixed. The Palike has offered an option to pay the charge in instalments.
But what if the property owners choose not to pay the charge once they are in possession of the khata certificate? “Then we will fix a penalty. If there is no payment for four instalments, we will also start taking interest on the pending amount,” says a top revenue official in the Palike.
The BBMP had on February 7, 2011 issued a circular fixing a differential improvement fees based on the dimension of the land. The rates were fixed at Rs 150 per sq mt for 30’x40’ sites, Rs 200 per sq mt for 40’x60’ sites and Rs 300 for sites bigger than 40’x60’. That circular was quashed by the court on April 20, 2012, citing lack of a scientific method in determining the rates.
Apartment owners’ woes
The Palike’s practice of linking payment of improvement charges to issue of khatas has already left thousands of apartment owners in the lurch. Pending payment is the issue in most cases. For instance, 984 people who had bought apartments from a reputed builder in Peenya Industrial Area are still fighting for their khatas. The developer owed around Rs 4.26 crore to the Palike and payment was not made despite a BBMP notice issued in December 2012. Another notice issued on February 28 warned that the property registration too would be cancelled.
Following the latest High Court order, apartment owners are worried that the scope for more reworking would only prolong their wait for khatas. As one resident of a prestigious apartment complex in Subramanyapura put it, the ambiguity exists because the BBMP has been given the liberty to determine the appropriate improvement fee.
He and 1,130 others in the apartment complex had paid about Rs 2,500 towards khata fees to the developers. “The developers say they have paid that amount to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). Now, we hear that the BBMP too is demanding improvement charges, and that the developers have gone to court. We don’t know that for sure,” notes the resident.
The developers hold undivided khatas for the entire land acquired for their apartment projects. Bifurcation of those undivided documents are required for the individual flat owners to get their own khata certificates, and register the properties in their names. In thousands of apartments across the City, the bifurcation has not materialised. Many flat owners, having paid lakhs of rupees to the builders, are yet to possess documents such as title deeds, No Objection Certificate (NOC) and other papers.
The collective angst of the flat owners is articulated through a question by Sudha Narasimhachar, a resident of Yelahanka Satellite Town. She notes, “How did the sub-registrars register such property in individual names? The buyers make their purchase plan as per the cost quoted by the developer and avail loans from banks, including nationalised banks. Now, after so many steps of clearance, how has this sudden hurdle cropped up? What should the hapless purchasers do?”
Khata: An election issue
Trouble-free issue of khatas has even become an election issue. Most candidates who went to canvass in apartments had to face a barrage of questions from flat-owners seeking the document. They wanted to know what plans the different political parties had to ensure speedy release of the ‘A’ khata.
A huge banner put up outside an apartment complex on Sarjapur road on Saturday was telling enough. It read in big, bold letters: “We have 1,500 votes. We want Cauvery water and khatas!”
BBMP officials contend that many builders had agreed to pay improvement charges before individual khatas could be issued. In several cases, they had even collected that amount, but did not remit it to the Palike, the officials claim.
Once the matter went to court, and the gridlock between BBMP and the developers got more complicated, the Palike realised that its property tax collection was severely hampered. That is when it decided to conduct a verification drive of the high-rises.
The special teams formed for that purpose found that there were thousands of apartments without khatas.
“In Rajarajeshwarinagar alone, as many as 3,700 apartments were without khatas. The owners were not paying property tax as well,” recalls a Palike official.
That was when the Palike came up with the option of a ‘B’ Register, which later was mistaken to be a ‘B’ khata. Nevertheless, the drive helped BBMP generate tax revenue in excess of Rs 200 crore.