Report on encroachment gathering dust

Report on encroachment gathering dust

Submitted four years ago, it now appears to have been conveniently forgotten by the State government.

On June 17, 2006, the then government, responding to questions raised by legislators in the Assembly and Council, set up a 21-member Joint House Committee under the chairmanship of A T Ramaswamy to identify encroachments on government properties across the Bangalore Urban and Rural districts. The panel was mandated to submit a report with recommendations to the House.

After a detailed study for six months and spot inspections based on 1,000-odd complaints, on February 1, 2007, the committee submitted its report to the government.

Its recommendations were placed before both the Houses of the legislature. In its preamble, the Committee stated that it had identified over 13,614.37 acres of encroachment till 2007, the property’s worth estimated at a whopping Rs 27,377.75 crore.

Noting the extent of land encroachment, the Ramaswamy Committee records that many a lake or tank bed area had been lost to private parties and ‘influential’ people. The panel recommended that these be recovered and those involved be held accountable for the loss. Four years on, none of the recommendations made by the House Committee is  anywhere near implementation, thanks to lack of commitment by the government in trying to root out the menace of the ‘land grabbers’ and punish officers who colluded with the land sharks.

Portraying such collusion, the Ramaswamy report identifies an example of a lake encroachment at Pattandur Agrahara in Bangalore East Taluk.

‘A tip of the iceberg’ is what the High Court observed when the case of the tank bed, originally in the name of the government and later encroached upon by creating bogus records, came up for hearing in 2007.

The tank bed measuring 11 acres and 20 guntas was encroached upon by K B Munivenkatappa who was granted occupancy rights by an order, purportedly by the Land Reforms Tribunal.

According to the records mentioned by Ramaswamy in his Interim Report II, the tank bed on survey no. 54 was encroached upon by the fraudulent owner who claimed ownership despite the original surveys showing that the land in question was a ‘Sarkari Kere’ or ‘government lake’.

After a long-drawn-out battle in the lower courts, the High Court, looking into an affidavit filed by the government, went into the details of the case and examined the original records of the survey and the Revenue Department. The court concluded that the entry made in the Land Reforms Tribunal for receiving applications was indeed fraudulent and further stated that about last 70 pages of the register concerned showed prima facie that the officials had tampered with it.

The court, in its order of March 8, 2007, came down heavily on the government officers, advocates and even the Lokayukta who had given a clean chit to the officers who had not acted promptly to prefer an appeal against the decree passed by the lower court in 1995. Recounting the incident, the report made it evidently clear that the encroachment, especially with regard to the lake beds, was found to be willfully abetted by the government officers at various departments.

It is learnt from sources that an untabled report has mentioned names of 31 companies and developers who have willfully encroached upon 21 tanks across the Bangalore Urban Forest division.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, committee chairman Ramaswamy said: “There seems to be absolute lack of commitment from the government in trying to find these abettors who were instrumental in the encroachment of land in Bangalore. They (government) have shown that as much as 9,000 acres of land had been recovered as of today. It (the government) has not moved an inch since we tabled the report. Even in our report they mentioned the same figures.”

In despair, Ramaswamy said the public policy appeared to be designed to protect the ‘influential’ and trampling upon the lives of the poor.

“What can an ordinary man do when he is shown documents that the land he is purchasing is verified and registered by the government? It is those officers who collude with the developer or the private party who should be held responsible for forging the documents,” said Ramaswamy.

The former MLA believed that not a single officer in the numerous cases mentioned in the report was convicted for, or charged with forgery. The removal of encroachment on tank beds and lakes should be of utmost priority, especially when the City is facing acute water shortage, he said. While the City fights it out to protect the last few remaining lakes, the government appears to have locked the Ramaswamy report in one of its cupboards and thrown away the key.

A T Ramaswamy,  former MLA and Chairman of the Joint House Committee which looked into land encroachment

There is a persistent lack of commitment from the government in taking punitive easures against those officials who abetted in forging documents for the encroachers. This is the prime reason that the land mafia does not fear the rule of law.