Violations at high levels

Violations at high levels

An Occupancy Certificate (OC) from BBMP is no longer mandatory to get a power connection to a new building. This recent ruling by the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) might help builders breathe free. But doesn’t it hold the potential to give violations a boost?

It does, says those who were shocked by what BBMP informed the Chief Minister in January: That, under the Palike limits, only 97 sanctioned high-rise buildings had come up in the last five years! Simply put, this would mean a majority of the 25,000 odd structures above 40 ft that have mushroomed all across the City are without sanctions and approvals!

Isn’t this a problem of mammoth proportions? A comprehensive probe by the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) might decide that. But for now, the September 2014 decision by the State to provide permanent power and water connections to only buildings with OC, is history.

Physical inspection
In Bengaluru, BBMP and BDA are the civic agencies authorized to issue OCs. The certificates are to be granted only after a physical inspection of the building to verify whether it adheres to norms of bye-laws, sanctioned plans and fire safety. 

The KERC was clear in its ruling that, “Even a person, whose occupation of a building is not as per the provisions of the Municipality Act and bye-laws, is entitled for supply of electricity to his premises if he satisfies the provision of the Escoms.” Power supply was a universal obligation, and it did not amount to abetting any illegality.

Builders have welcomed the KERC ruling. As CREDAI Secretary Suresh Hari points out, the OC-linkage leads to multiple delays in project completion.

He admits there are violations. But he asks, “why penalize the entire industry for the wrongs committed by a few black sheep?”

The issue is complicated. Insisting on OCs might theoretically keep violations at bay. Yet, it could also trigger fabrication of the all-important document, as the fake OC scam in BBMP indicates. The muck had surfaced with the arrest of a few BBMP employees, guilty of creating such documents with BBMP seals and official signatures.

Fake certificates
A complaint lodged with BMTF had hinted at a big nexus of BBMP insiders including those from the Town Planning department. The charges levelled were serious: More than 30,000 structures were allowed to come up on the support of what were suspected to be fake OCs.

The complainant, former BBMP ruling party leader, N R Ramesh insists that the shady racket is also about an understanding between builders and financing banks.

“When a bank loan is approved, it is generally believed that the property is genuine. The buyers, who invest their entire life savings into it, don’t even bother going to BBMP to check if the documents are original or fake,” he explains.

Actively involved in campaigns against lake bed encroachments by builders, civic activist, Nitin Seshadri elaborates on how most of the violations are camouflaged: “Since the fire department clearance has become very stringent after the Carlton Tower incident, many builders show the building height as 14.95m instead of 15m (the level fixed for a high-rise). Once the plans are sanctioned, the height is increased.”

As Ramesh points out, the unauthorized addition of at least one floor after plan sanction has become the norm. The involvement of insiders in BWSSB, Bescom in this elaborate nexus is not ruled out.

Rising highrises
That should explain why, for instance, Pai Layout near KR Puram has over 700 high-rise flats, Kaggadaspura has about 2,500 and Mahadevapura on the city’s outskirts has nearly 5,000 buildings that are way above the 40ft high-rise mark. But based on sanctioned plans and OCs, BBMP records show only a fraction of these numbers!
The difference in the official records and the estimated number of high-rises of different types, culled out from builders associations and other sources, is bound to shock everyone.

Between April 1, 1999 and March 31, 2014, the Palike had approved 1,258 building plans and issued 356 commencement certificates. However, about 22,000 apartments with more than 50 units are learnt to have actually emerged across Bengaluru during the same period.

The CREDAI secretary contends that it is the BBMP’s job to check violations. “There is a lack of adequate inspections and monitoring. Why are they allowing violations, and later creating unnecessary bottlenecks? Why is the onus on the builders? Let the Palike officers do the job for which they are paid for.”

Amend the legislations
But many citizen groups, concerned by the rampant mushrooming of illegal constructions, feel the earlier rule to link utility connections to the OCs should have been retained. Reasons Seshadri, “If a building does not have a Pollution Control Board approval, KSPCB can ask Bescom to cut off the power. Amazingly, BBMP and Urban Development Department don’t have the legal provision to do so”. The relevant legislation, he adds, should be amended.

What the BBMP does have now is the BMTF, which acts on a case-to-case basis. Explains its head, Additional Director General of Police, T Suneel Kumar, “We have taken action in a few fake OC cases unearthed earlier this year. Some BBMP officials were arrested for acting as mediators for builders to forge documents.”

Cases related to forgery, cheating and criminal breach of trust were registered against the accused, says Kumar. But did these arrests throw more light on a larger nexus that facilitated issue of fake OCs in huge numbers? “We are verifying with the concerned joint commissioners. Looking at each and every high-rise building is very difficult. It will take time,” he says.

Kumar, however, agrees that buidling bye-law /setback violations are rampant in the City. The Executive Engineers and Assistant Executive Engineers concerned should inspect the properties and curb them. The BMTF has no jurisdiction over private properties. The High Court had in October, 2013, quashed the charge sheets and FIRs filed by BMTF against BBMP engineers guilty of permitting illegal construction on private properties. The message was clear: That BMTF’s power was limited to protecting public property and detecting illegal constructions there.

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