Land sharks prey on lakes

Land sharks prey on lakes

The disappearance of the once plentiful lakes in Bangalore is a testimony to the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and builders. The deadly combination of the trio has taken a toll on pristine lakes that were once the defining feature of this City.

The glorious past of Bangalore in terms of its water conservation techniques could be measured by Lord Cornwallis’ observation in 1791, describing Bangalore as ‘The Land of Thousand Lakes’. After 220 years, the number of lakes in the City has reduced to a mere 134. Of the existing lakes, many have turned into sewage junctions, thanks to the rapacity of builders patronised by politicians and bureaucrats.

The rest have either been land filled or are in the process of being covered up with soil, only to be grabbed by land sharks who obtain fake records to claim ownership of the land.

Consider this case for instance: The government revenue records from 2002-03 to 2006-07 show that a 11 acre 10 gunta plot of land in survey number 17 of Chinnappanahalli in KR Puram in Bangalore East Taluk was possessed by N C Gurumurthy Reddy and N C Krishna Reddy, who later sold it to G Anitha Reddy and N G Chandra Reddy.

But suddenly in 2006-07, the district administration woke up to find that the property was acquired by the Reddys on the basis of fake records. It also found that the survey number-17 is in fact Chinnappanahalli Lake. On May 12, 2009, a court ordered that it was a lake and had to be preserved.

That was two years ago. The lake is still in the possession of the Reddys who have now converted the land into a posh farmhouse. The administration is wary of moving ahead to get the public property back. For, N C Gurumurthy Reddy is the father of ruling BJP MLA of KR Puram Assembly constituency, Nandish Reddy.

The Karnataka Government Land Protection Task Force (KGLPTF) chairperson V Balasubramanian says he is “not aware” of this case. “I can’t recall whether I visited this place or this was among the 30 lakes I surveyed,” said Balasubramanian.

Another lake in survey number 29 at Bhoganahalli village in Varthur is now a barren field. Ten years ago, it was a lake called Narasimha Shastri Kere that was a haven for migratory birds. The lake is now owned by a man named Anand Kumar Naidu.

The BBMP claims that it is a government lake, but the district revenue department has no idea. Local residents say Anand Kumar Naidu’s proximity with a former minister who stepped down in the face of corruption charges is preventing the district administration to take possession of the lake.

On June 7, 2010, a three-page letter was reportedly despatched to I S N Prasad, the Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary, by Manjula, the Member Secretary of the Task Force for Protection of Government Land. She said the Task Force had found that survey number 18 of Devarabeesanahalli was a tank bed measuring 13 acres and 35 guntas, and it was encroached upon. The letter took exception to the chief minister’s office intervening for the second time in the past few years to help developers go ‘scot-free’.

Manjula’s letter was the bone of contention over the last month when allegations surfaced against the chief minister for helping Adarsh Developers in a ‘quid pro quo’ approach while acquiring huge sums of money for the Prerana Trust.

The letter said: “If we turn a Nelson’s Eye to encroachments by powerful people and developers (this is the second case concerning a developer where the chief minister’s office has intervened), we will have no moral courage to initiate action against any other encroacher.”

‘Not an inch of progress’

“The government has not moved an inch towards apprehending people who colluded in producing fake records for encroachment of the few surviving lakes in the City,” says former MLA and Chairman of the Joint House Committee, A T Ramaswamy, who prepared a detailed report on the encroachments in the City.

Ramaswamy, whose landmark report laid bare the mindboggling encroachment of public land in the City by land sharks in collusion with greedy politicians and pliant and willing bureaucracy, is caustic.

“What we are seeing is lack of commitment in the government and the officials in bringing to justice those involved in the racket of providing fake records to private parties, helping them to encroach upon government properties,” he says.

Lately, there has been some action towards evicting such encroachments. With the High Court accepting a report submitted by a committee constituted by it to look into the gross misuse of lakes in the City, the Palike recently launched its ‘Save Tank’ campaign from Dasarahalli.

As part of the campaign, the BBMP undertook a demolition drive last week, that left the Dasarahalli tank bed resembling a war-ravaged zone. Razed to the ground were 23 illegal commercial complexes and residences housing about 500 people. But such actions appear to be few and far between since the Ramaswamy report was tabled in the Legislature.  

On the process of recovering government land encroached by ‘influential’ people, Ramaswamy feels recovery is not the only part involved in getting justice for the City. “None will say that they have not done any work on recovering government property.

But recovery is not the only thing. Who is accountable for the encroachment? Are they being brought to justice for abetting the massive land scams in the City?” he questions.
In Dasarahalli, the Palike recovered an area of 32 acres of tank bed which showed in their records. The area had shrunk to 25 acres due to encroachment.

Besides private individuals who had built houses on the tank bed, the State government too had constructed a public library there. The library is also on the hit list of the Palike’s anti-encroachment squad. Officers claim that they recovered four acres and 19 guntas during the operation. A slum, however, could not be removed. So where does the buck stop?

Even after recovering the stolen lake beds, much work will be required to rehabilitate and revive the tanks to what they were.

The recent report on lakes submitted to the Karnataka High Court by Justice N K Patil, a sitting judge, reveals that none of the lakes in the city has potable water. The highest rating given to a lake in the City is a ‘C’. The rest have been rated ‘D’ or ‘E’.
Even the best among all the lakes in the City, the Sankey Tank could not secure a place in the ‘A’ or the ‘B’ category. It has been rated a mere ‘C’ category.

The highly polluted lakes are Bellandur Lake, Madiwala Lake, Hosahalli Lake, Subramanyapura Lake, Sarakki Lake and Ulsoor Lake. While measures have been initiated to preserve Bellandur Lake, the others are at the government’s mercy for revival.

The lakes would be precious sources of water considering the acute water famine the City is likely to face in the coming years. Even if a hundred of the City’s lakes could be revived, they could take care of the drinking needs of a million of the population. More importantly, they could recharge the groundwater, reviving the borewells and even open wells, and saving the City hundreds of crores of rupees it is expected to spend on bringing water from Cauvery and other rivers in future.

But, that requires political will to challenge the nexus of corruption, crime and greed. Sadly, there is not much to suggest that those who govern have that kind of will.

Anatomy of Lake Encroachments

Stage 1-

A developer or private party identifies a tank bund in the City that is not fenced or occupied by the Government. He buys the adjoining land for development and starts his  project. As the project nears completion, the developer starts to expand into the nearby tank bed which may be either dried up or is converted into a landfill.

Stage 2-

The private party approaches the government agency, which claims the lake bed area. It colludes with the agency official and produces fake records or tampers with the register which notes the property as part of its land assets. The report says most departments do not possess an updated register noting its assets making it convenient to create fake records.

Stage 3-

Once the records are fabricated, a title deed or a sale deed is created in the name of a dummy seller and the developer buys the property in his or her name. Claiming that the property was sold to him by the dummy seller, the buyer then approaches the authorities concerned to seek a khatha by laying his ‘rightful’ claim to the land.