Land loot bigger than illegal mining

But for strange reasons, the BJP government has decided not to do anything about it.
The politicians’ connection with the money-spinning real estate business and the lucrative illegal mining has been proved beyond doubt by two important reports — one by the erstwhile Task Force for Protection of Government Land headed by V Balasubramanian, and another by the State Legislature Committee on Encroachment of Government Land in the Bangalore Urban District.

These reports, which the State government has almost discarded, are as explosive as the Karnataka Lokayukta’s report on illegal mining that stripped Yeddyurappa of his chief minister post and ministerial positions of the Bellary Reddy brothers, besides exposing prominent politicians of other parties.

Of course, the task force report is not binding on the government while the Lokayukta is a statutory body and the government can’t set aside its report. Setting aside the legal angles, if illegality as such is discussed, both mining and public land encroachment gain the same significance. It becomes the responsibility of the government to act if illegality comes to its attention.

While the total estimated loss to the State exchequer due to illegal mining (between 2006 and 2010) has been put at Rs 16,000 crore, the total worth of about 12 lakh acres of encroached land is pegged at a jaw-dropping Rs six lakh crore. Large number of politicians of all parties and bureaucrats are involved in grabbing these lands. And they continue to hold responsible positions.

The present cases of dubious land dealings involving former chief ministers and ministers are said to be only the tip of the iceberg.

A Lokayukta court has summoned Yeddyurappa, based on a complaint alleging that the former chief minister, in violation of rules, had denotified 2.5 acres in Arakere village, 1.7 acres in Devarachikkanahalli in Bangalore South taluk, and 1.21 acres in Geddalahalli in Bangalore East taluk.

The same court has issued summons to Kumaraswamy for allotting government land to Vishwa Bharati Housing Society allegedly for personal gains, besides his wife Anitha getting a free site, which she later returned to the Society.

These cases came to light because of mud-slinging among politicians and not through any investigation by the government. The government has so far not bothered to probe even some of the glaring cases of encroachments exposed in both the reports, and take action against the culprits.

For instance, the Balasubramanian report has found land documents in the entire Jaala Hobli in Bangalore North additional taluk, the Bangalore Urban district, fictitious. As the land prices shot up following the construction of the airport, hundreds of acres of government land in the hobli have been gobbled up by creating fake documents. About 11,000 government files related to government lands in the hobli are found to have been forged for this purpose.

The report has recommended a CID investigation into the issue.

Similarly, encroachment of about 5,274 acres of government land around Bangalore City limits, worth about Rs 6,000 crore, has been regularised in favour of encroachers under the Akrama-Sakrama scheme, by violating rules.

According to the Land Revenue Act, unauthorised agriculture land falling within 18 km radius of any city corporation cannot be regularised.

Even the Bangalore Development Authority has admitted before the Task Force that 2,813 acres of land acquired by it to form layouts have been de-notified over the years by successive governments.

A majority of these lands are dropped from being acquired due to pressure from political bosses.

The Task Force has also alleged that the then chief minister Yeddyurappa was shielding forest land encroachers in Chikmagalur district, which came as a severe embarrassment to the government.

The Joint Legislature Committee had found about 40,000 acres of encroachment in the Bangalore Urban district alone. It had come across some stunning cases of encroachments in the first two reports, including unauthorised layout formation by judicial employees (some of the high court judges have also obtained sites in this illegal layout) and land sharks mortgaging the Byrasandra tank bed to a bank.

Names of reputed builders had figured in the reports as encroachers.

The government, however, spiked these reports, obviously with an intention to protect encroachers. While both the first and second reports of the Legislature Committee are gathering dust, the government has rejected the Balasubramanian report alleging procedural lapses on part of the Task Force chairman in submitting the report.

A new panel

Strangely, a separate committee, excluding Balasubramanian, has now been formed to look into the findings of the report and re-submit it to the government.

The Legislature Committee is said to have indicted some of the prominent politicians in its final report, which was submitted to the then Legislative Assembly Speaker in 2007. But the report is yet to be submitted to the House.

Official sources said if all cases of encroachments, illegal land grants and de-notifications that are mentioned in these two reports are thoroughly probed the way the Lokayukta investigative team headed by U V Singh did on illegal mining, many politicians of all the three political parties — the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S) — and bureaucrats will be behind the bars.

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