For decades, this neighbourhood had stubbornly held on to its reputation as a quiet, peaceful liveable place. Walking was a pleasure, cycling a breeze. And then came the invasion. Reckless, noisy and utterly commercial, the shops, the offices and complexes destroyed the peace, as the guardians of land use regulations looked away. Deliberately.
Voices of reason cried halt. Yet, the blatant violation of the zonal boundaries earmarked clearly in Master Plans, continued. Now, the government wants to put its stamp of approval, through a controversial draft notification on common zoning regulations. The controversial part: Commercialisation will be allowed on all roads that are 29.5ft or wider.
Predictably, citizens have been outraged. Thousands of residents welfare associations (RWAs) and citizen collectives have posted their objections. Vociferously demanding sanctity of zonal divisions, they want the shops and offices out of their living spaces. The proposed regulations are clearly not the way to go.
A well-oiled nexus of corrupt bureaucrats and influential people's representatives had twisted rules, greased palms and fabricated records to permit shops and other businesses in residential areas. Bearing the brunt of this transformation, Indiranagar, Koramangala, Banashankari, Vijayanagar and other areas have seen traffic takeover streets, parking disappear and nights turn noisy and chaotic.
The new rules are being seen as an exercise to legitimise these violations and let the violators go unpunished. But common zoning rules, it is feared, will go even further, and make violations the rule.
In despair, citizens of Defence Colony, Indiranagar, for instance, had fanned out to the streets in protest. They expected the state to respond, clean up the streets. Instead, the draft regulations threaten to make it worse. Irreversibly.
The citizens' objections insist that the notification is a clear violation of the 74th amendment of the Constitution. Planning, the amendment states, should be tasked with the Metropolitan Planning Committee or the municipal body, and not the state government.Commercialisation, remind the residents, is a direct challenge to the right to life.
The state has no business to interfere in planning, reasons Srinivas Alavilli, a member of Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB). Cities and towns have their own planning authorities. “The Master Plan is the right vehicle for land use changes. The notification is a backdoor way of getting zonal regulations changed,” he points out.
Simply put, the notification itself is wrong. “Our objection is not to one clause here or one there. The entire notification should be withdrawn, because the state has no jurisdiction. The BBMP, the city's local body, is not even informed. It is like the Centre meddling in the affairs of the state,” explains Alavilli.
Building momentum, the citizen's campaign has now reached out to 14 of the city's 28 MLAs. “Twelve of them have agreed to our point of view. They will raise this issue on the floor of the Assembly. We are also meeting Bengaluru Development Minister K J George.”
Residents of Indiranagar and Koramangala have been at the forefront of the citizens campaign against commercialisation for years now. Explosive traffic growth, garbage pile-ups, reduced safety, high noise levels and greater pressure on water and sewerage systems had forced them to take the legal route, when appeals to the government had failed.
I Change Indiranagar, a federation of RWAs in the locality, recalls; “The Karnataka High Court had directed that no commercial establishments be allowed on roads less than or equal to 40ft width, post the year 2012. Even with road width above 40 ft, only 20% ancillary usage with parking facility is allowed.”
Under the Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2015 formulated by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), most streets in Indiranagar were classified as ‘residential.' On February 19, 2014, the High Court, in its final order, had directed the BDA not to effect change in land-use of any residential area for commercial use. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was directed not to issue trade licences to such establishments.
In April 2017, the High Court division bench had issued an order on 73 commercial establishments that allegedly violated zoning regulations. The civic body is yet to act on it, and the new common zoning regulations are bound to legitimise the violations.
Seasoned civic activist Vijayan Menon notes that the citizens’ campaign had taken seven years to get some legal remedy. “The High Court and government had admitted that there is a problem. What has changed from that position?” he wonders.
Constitutionally, it is the MPC (Metropolitan Planning Committee) that should be looking into zonal regulations. “The process of drafting the Master Plan 2031 is at an advanced stage. Citizens have spent a lot of time engaging with the state on that. Why the government is now doing this is beyond me. It is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional,” feels Menon.
So, are the new rules a ploy to regularise the existing violations? Nobody knows the exact reason, but many consultants with inside knowledge of how the government works feel regularisation could be one objective. Does that mean an Akrama-Sakrama scheme by stealth?