Lost in the quietness of their tree-lined neighbourhoods, Bengaluru's Indiranagar residents once lived a beautiful dream. But today, that vision from a different era lies completely in tatters. Blatant, unregulated commercialisation has trapped the residents in a chaotic twister of sleepless nights, encroached public spaces, over-stretched amenities and traffic that never seems to end.
On the main roads of this sprawling area, zonal regulations remain deeply compromised. Buildings, ominously commercial in design and intent, have sprung up all over without setbacks, without even a token respect to the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) rules. The audacity of these violations has left everyone wondering: Why did the civic agencies permit this?
The message is loud and clear: Rules were flouted. Yet, Occupancy Certificates, trade licenses, power and water connections were issued in a jiffy. The all-clear go-aheads had corruption, bribery, nepotism and a system gone horribly wrong written in big, bold letters, all at the expense of the long-suffering, tax-paying residents.
Simmering anger had spilled out on the streets as the residents organised themselves and came out in protest. But over two years of continuous fight, three high court judgements, 10,000 objections filed to the Chief Minister and infinite protests on weekends and weekdays have failed to rescue them from the effects of crass commercialisation.
Barring a few token closures, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has failed to take action despite orders from the Karnataka High Court.
The zoning regulations that came into effect in 2012 does not allow any commercial activities on roads less than 40 feet wide. This was modified to 41ft in the Revised Draft Master Plan - 2031 (RMP). However, RMP-2031 does not spell out how to tackle the issue on a larger scale.
"There is no mandate which oversees the masterplan. This is critical while planning further development of the city," notes Vijayan Menon, representative of Citizen's Action Forum.
The Palike's Health Officer M N Lokesh, responsible for isssuing trade licenses contends that closure notices are being issued. "We have even shut down some of these shops flouting regulations," he says.
But statistics show that only 96 outlets have shut shop out of the 1,500 outlets issued closure notices in the BBMP's East Zone (which includes Indiranagar and HAL 2nd Stage).
Slow closure process
Lokesh acknowledges that the closure process is slow. He explains, "After the zoning regulations were notified, many commercial shops had already established their businesses. We are now strictly ensuring that trade licenses are not issued to new and upcoming commercial establishments in residential areas."
On the ground, there is no change. An Indiranagar resident for 40 years, Jayalakshmi Sriguha had seen the dramatic transformation of the place in all its ferocity. "We came when this area was very calm. But today, we have lost even our right to have a good night's sleep due to the rampant commercialisation. I don't know how many of these outlets have Occupancy Certificates and who checks them," says Sriguha, who is also the street coordinator of 12th A main, HAL 2nd Stage.
She articulates a big question that every concerned citizen of the area wants to know: When the zoning regulations does not permit commercial establishments, why have pubs, bars, gyms, spa's, hotels, spiritual centres and markets come up even on narrow cross roads of HAL 2nd Stage / Indiranagar?
As if to prove her point, a five-storeyed building towers over the neighbourhood near 12th main. That structure, as HAL 2 Civic Amenities and Cultural Association Secretary Sujatha Ramprasad asserts, should have been only two floors tall.
Years ago, when the first pubs took shape along Indiranagar 100 ft road and 12th main, the residents had absolutely no idea what would follow. The crowds that came in droves had their bikes, cars, SUVs and cabs parked on those once peaceful cross roads. Valet parking meant taking over those public spaces in the wee hours of the night, even if it meant right outside the gates of citizens.
But what came next has shocked the residents even more. Says Nagaraj R, a senior citizen from 13th main, 3rd cross: "Once the pubs close, the party-goers bring the bottles to the cars parked in our lanes and go berserk. When we complain, they say the road is not our property and they are tax-payers too."
Pub closure deadline
Residents are convinced that their problems dramatically changed for the worse after the deadline for closure of pubs was extended to 1 am. If most roads of Indiranagar, the 12th, 13th and 100 ft road in particular, are hyper-clogged with vehicles packed with boisterous party-goers on Fridays and Saturdays, this order is solely to blame, they say.
But this is just the manifestation of a bigger change brought about by the Revised Master Plan 2015, reminds civic evangelist V Ravichander. He explains: "The proposed land-use in the RMP-2015 had an idea called mutation corridor. Some corridors in Indiranagar completely changed their character from residential to commercial."
Before the mutation corridor concept was introduced, commercial establishments had to first apply to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and seek permission from the neighbours. The go-ahead was given only after a hearing.
This process, as Ravichander recalls, had to be done property by property. "But with the mutation corridor, entire roads became commercial overnight. Those behind these outlets claimed they were allowed under law."