Rap on realtors welcome

Rap on realtors welcome

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has done well to impose fines on two Bengaluru-based real estate developers for violating environmental norms in their execution of a major project in the City. The two realtors, Mantri Techzone and CoreMind Software and Services are developing a Special Economic Zone on some 80 acres of wetlands between Bellandur and Agara lakes. The NGT principal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar has drawn attention to their failure to follow due process. It appears that they began construction on the project without securing environmental clearances. Some components of the project did receive green nod subsequently, but that they went ahead and commenced work on the project without securing all licenses first shows their arrogant contempt for rules and laws. What is more, they polluted the environment, especially the lakes. Citizens’ groups of Koramangala, Bellandur and HSR Layout had been pointing to the dumping of construction debris in the wetlands and the blocking of rajakaluves (primary drains) in the area. Bengalureans will, no doubt, be disappointed that the NGT did not order a halt to the SEZ project as it is in an eco-sensitive area. However, it has imposed a penalty of Rs 140 crore on the two realtors. Importantly, this amount will be used for the area’s environmental and ecological restoration.

Violation of environmental and other laws by real estate companies happens with the connivance of politicians, bureaucrats and police. Construction of an SEZ doesn’t happen overnight; it goes on over a period of time and in full view of authorities and the public. The Bellandur-Agara SEZ project was a high-profile one. Although alert citizens were protesting its many irregularities, authorities had refused to act. An independent probe into how the government facilitated this gross violation of law is required and action taken against the guilty. A recent IISc study revealed that the number of Bengaluru’s water bodies fell from 207 in 1973 to 93 in 2010 and 54 per cent of its lakes have been encroached upon for illegal constructions. To rescue the City’s water bodies and wetlands, the politician-official-real estate nexus must be broken. The NGT verdict on the Bellandur-Agara SEZ project is a step in this direction.

It shows that public efforts to fight irregularities and corruption can do wonders. This is a victory for civil society activism. These organisations and residents’ welfare associations which took the matter to the tribunal must be applauded. They collected data diligently, resisted pressure from goons and persevered in their efforts. The public must back them in their future efforts to rescue Bengaluru’s lakes from the predations of greedy realtors.
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