The waiting bulldozers

Last Updated 16 May 2015, 19:31 IST

The dramatic demolition of unauthorised buildings on lake beds is on hold. The fate of BDA site owners and private residential plots hangs delicately on the State’s response to the Upa Lokayukta and the Koliwad committee’s interim report.

The lull is chilling. Bulldozers and demolition squads are just round the corner, awaiting the government’s next move. Their houses on encroached lake beds under threat of being razed, hundreds in both BDA and revenue layouts live in mortal fear. Will the State’s next step be a mighty storm?

Unprecedented in its use of force, dramatic in its intent to clear the Sarakki and Banaswadi lakebeds of all encroachments, the State had sought to send a clear message: That its long-delayed drive to clear illegal structures would spare none. But how far back in time will it go to restore that once-thriving water body?

The storm kicked up by the demolitions has already triggered a vociferous political backlash. Both the opposition BJP and JD(S) are up in arms. And, with BBMP elections closing in, the heat wouldn’t just cool off in a hurry. So, is Bengaluru urban deputy commissioner V Shankar in damage control mode when he insists that only commercial structures will be targeted?

Elusive clarity
The issue is definitely on the boil, with the State caught in a twister of facts and lake histories, and calls to spare lakes that were dubbed dry and non-functional. Yet, clarity of any sort is unlikely to emerge till the Koliwad Committee presents its interim report, two weeks from now.

The immediate concern is for site allottees in BDA layouts formed on lake beds in the past, some even going as far back as 1971. Transport and Bengaluru in-charge minister Ramalinga Reddy is sure that they should be spared as such layouts were formed only after the State cabinet of the day gave its approval.

Here’s his rationale: “BDA is a government body. They formed layouts on the basis of decisions taken by the cabinet, which had the power to do so. So, it cannot be called encroachment. The land was legally allotted.”

But Upa Lokayukta Justice Subhash B Adi is clear that “as far as encroachments are concerned, there cannot be any distinction. The direction (to the authorities) is to restore the lake. The lake has to be free from all structures.”

Response by June 5
A clearer picture might emerge only after the government responds to Justice Adi, who had asked it to state its stand on BDA sites by June 5. “I have also asked the government to clarify whether it is in a position to go ahead with the demolitions of all the structures on lakes and lakebeds in Benguluru,” the Upa Lokayukta informs.

The government could find a way out by classifying lakes as functional and non-functional. However, there is a catch here. Although the Laxman Rau committee report had made a mention of dry lakes in its annexure, it was not spelt out that such lakes could be taken up for layout formation.

Former minister and Koliwad committee member S Suresh Kumar contends that there cannot be a uniform approach to all lakes. “The state pollution control board, for instance, has built a zonal office right on the Saneguruvanahalli lake bed. The KPCC office is on the Millers tank bed. Will they demolish these structures?” he wonders.

Spelling out BJP’s stand on the issue, Kumar asserts that dwelling units built on lakebeds should not be demolished. “Classify the lakes as living and dead and those that can be rejuvenated. Then there is some meaning. We are with the government when they take stringent action against land grabbers and the land sharks, but not when they target the poor,” he explains.

Don’t discriminate
Kumar concurs with the position that there should be no discrimination between BDA site allottees and private site/ building owners. But demolition is not the solution. In the case of Banaswadi lake, he suggests reviving a 20-acre piece of disputed land where nothing stands today. “Take that into possession and make it a tree park. We are visiting a few lakes on May 19 and 20 (to find a way out).”

On May 5, BDA had submitted to the Upa Lokayukta that it had developed 14 layouts in lake areas, forming about 3,500 sites. That list included layouts carved out as early as 1971. Will the bulldozers go there next? For instance, the HAL 3rd Stage layout with 300 sites was shown as originally part of the Thippasandra lake area.

A reality check had the layout’s BDA site owners wonder whether there was ever such a lake. Thippasandra resident A M Haneefa had only heard about a lake in Kodihalli, about a kilometre away. “I had come to this locality in 1963 and built a house on the BDA site in 1974. Of course, it was a low-lying area with a few agriculture fields. Beyond some wells and a pond, there was no such thing as a Thippasandra lake,” recalls Haneefa.

His recollection is corroborated by C Gangadharan, a retired BEML employee, who has been residing in the area since 1955. But there is no way to ascertain this from government records due to lack of proper survey maps. This is a city-wide phenomenon, as the revenue department was asked to survey lakes only when the government woke up to restore lakes and discovered rampant encroachments!

Late realisation
Prior to this late realisation, the government itself has been guilty of building bus stands, stadiums and many grand structures right on lake beds. For every house demolished, there is a Kempegowda bus terminal built on Dharmambudhi lake and a hockey stadium built on Akkitimmanahalli tank or a KSRTC regional workshop installed on the Sunkal tank.

This brings the issue right back to the original question: How far back in time will the State go to restore a lake? Will the Koliwad committee’s final report in September offer a lasting solution? The bulldozers are waiting. So are the residents, anxiety writ large over their collective visages!

(Published 16 May 2015, 19:31 IST)

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