The Karnataka government’s decision to frame charges against 20 officials for allowing illegal construction of buildings on stormwater drains in Bengaluru may send out a welcome signal that it is ready to protect civic infrastructure and take action against those who aid and collude in their destruction. The officials have been charged with permitting constructions on drains in some parts of the city that led to the severe flooding of 2016. It was among the worst water calamities that the city has seen and had caused a lot of damage. The flooding and the encroachments that came into the focus then had led to a demolition drive later. A large number of houses which had encroached on the drains were removed during the drive.
Drain encroachment is a major cause of flooding and other civic problems not only in Bengaluru but in other cities, too. This happens when building plans are approved in violation of rules and regulations and buffer zone requirements are not followed. Even the existence of stormwater drains were ignored, according to the charge-sheets and showcause notices issued to the officials. The illegally constructed premises were mainly residential houses and included some highly priced complexes. A total length of 842 km of stormwater drains exist in the city. Out of 1,953 cases of encroachment reported, 1,224 cases are said to have been cleared. Survey maps are being prepared in some cases and there are many others that remain to be cleared. Officials may have to face legal and other difficulties in clearing the encroachments, but it is important that the administration shows determination and sincerity in dealing with the problem.
Taking action against errant officials is necessary to ensure that rules and equations are not violated in future. There is a nexus between corrupt officials and builders and that needs to be broken. It is unfortunate that such actions take a long time to move forward and are sometimes dropped, diluted or otherwise undermined midway. Among the charge-sheeted officials, some have retired or are under suspension and some others are still in service. They belong to various departments and sections of the administration. It is perhaps for the first time that such action is taken simultaneously against so many officials, and it should be taken to its logical end. For years, officials have got away with taking bribes and allowing builders to encroach over stormwater drains. It is imperative that these encroachments are removed, stormwater drains are rebuilt and the links between the lakes in and around the city restored to prevent flooding during any future rains.