Sakrama: A short cut to ghettoisation of Bangalore

The government is in a hurry to raise funds for flood relief works. It is viewing the Sakrama as a source of finances, rather than as a means of city improvement. Sakrama (regularisation of buildings), or the need for it, has a long and sad history. The Karnataka Town & Country Planning Act, 1961, was a fine piece of legislation with laudable objectives. It had four objectives: to ‘create conditions favourable for planning  with a view to providing full civic and social amenities for the people of the state’; to ‘stop uncontrolled development of land due to land speculation and profiteering in land’; to ‘preserve and improve existing recreational facilities’; and to ‘ensure desirable standards of environmental health, hygiene, and creating facilities for orderly growth of industry and commerce’.

That none of these objectives was ever achieved is well known and a daily experience of this City’s residents. Successive governments, while talking about making the City into a ‘world class’ one, went merrily about, not merely turning a blind eye to the frenzied pace of commercialisation and unplanned growth, but actively aided and abetted the speculation and profiteering that accompanied the rapid destruction of this garden city.

Various organisations were set up for ‘coordinating with civic service organisations and preventing the haphazard growth.’ In 1976, the Bangalore Development Authority was set up, as the central authority for preventing haphazard growth. The political and bureaucratic class found ready use in BDA’s power to acquire land.

The land was acquired for providing affordable housing and civic amenities, such as parks, shopping complexes and so forth. The landowners, whose lands were thus acquired, were paid ‘reasonable’ compensation, as decided by the government. As soon as the lands were acquired, their value shot up and the erstwhile owners felt cheated. The sites in the layouts were auctioned and sold to the highest bidders. BDA was a convenient device to favour the cronies of politicians and bureaucrats.

BDA did not prevent haphazard growth. Bangalore Metropolitan Development Authority (BMRDA) was next set up, with the chief minister as its chairperson. This was in 1985. Haphazard growth continued unabated, unchecked and uncontrolled. There was little or no coordination between various civic service providers, all intent on protecting their bureaucratic turf. Large areas were without basic services, water supply, sewerage, roads, open spaces and drainages.

The 90s saw a spurt in demand for office space and housing resulting from the IT boom. Rather than spread the investment to prevent overcrowding, bureaucrats, politicians and the IT industry bigwigs confined to the city limits. It was a ‘field day’ for the land mafia, speculators and profiteers. Every available inch was built upon. Storm drains and natural water-bodies were not spared.

Lip service
All along, lip service was paid to town planning. Thus, ‘outline development plans,’ ‘comprehensive development plans’ and ‘master plans’ were prepared, only to be violated with impunity. The government admits that illegal constructions far outnumber constructions in accordance with building regulations.

Building construction-sanctioning authorities in BDA, BMRDA, BBMP and the CMCs and inspectors and engineers who were to control the illegal activities of the builders connived with the culprits. Residential areas were commercialised. IT companies were happy to operate out of residential accommodation, being cheaper than commercial space.

Needing funds for development projects and in order to show the viability of BBMP, the bureaucrats hit upon a plan for raising the needed sums by levying a fee for regularising the illegal constructions. A bill was passed in 2004 and rules made in 2007, enabling the government to regularise illegal constructions by collecting a fee. The only justification for the bill was ‘expediency.’ Government officials are on record stating that the number of illegal constructions is so large that it is impossible to demolish them, that the number of government servants involved is so large that it is impossible to punish them and that the builders are unknown!

The sakrama law had no provision to prevent future illegal constructions. Only house owners are penalised. The real culprits — the builders and government officials go scot-free. A PIL in the high court questioned these legal infirmities. There was a public outcry against the law. The PIL resulted in ‘stay of processing of the applications’ for regularisation. The government refunded the fees.

For the last two years, the government has been pleading with the court that it is coming up with a new law. Instead of addressing the legal lacunae of failure to establish the rule of law and principles of natural justice, the new law is a repeat of the old one, with some ‘reduction’ in penalties. The reduction is offset by the introduction of different ‘zone rates.’

The sad part is that instead of viewing this as an opportunity to prevent future violations, the government, is treating it as a financial opportunity. Illegal constructions and haphazard growth is bad enough. To use it merely to garner funds is even worse. It reveals a complete ignorance or disregard of the basics of governance.

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