Akrama Sakrama, a new test

Akrama Sakrama, a new test

Flouting building bye-laws with impunity, lakhs of properties have sprung up across the city. Revenue layouts have mushroomed without the necessary approvals. Is a one-time regularisation the answer?

A one-time opportunity to regularise building bye-law violations with an apt branding: Akrama Sakrama. Thousands of properties, both residential and commercial, should benefit from it, although with conditions. But is this the panacea for Bengaluru’s hugely unregulated urban growth?

Here's what is in store: Over the next four months, owners could apply to get 50% of violations in their residential properties regularised.

For commercial properties, only 25% violations will come under the scheme, being implemented in the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) limits. Properties built before October 19, 2013 are eligible.

Widespread violations

Violations have been widespread. If commercial buildings have mushroomed in areas demarcated for residential layouts, many have flouted rules of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) with disdain, building multiple floors in violation of the Town and Country Planning Act.

But demolishing these buildings would mean rendering lakhs of families homeless. Instead, the government chose to give them this one-time chance to regularise all illegal structures.

There is another category of violations, bunched together for regularisation: Revenue layouts. Over the last several years, lakhs of buildings have sprung up across the city without any permission from the competent authorities.

As a well-oiled machinery of corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, builders and land-owners took shape, agricultural lands transformed into these revenue layouts without the mandatory changes in land-use.

Low-cost options

Rising demand for affordable housing forced the citizens to fall prey to this corrupt nexus. Neither the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) nor the Karnataka Housing Board (KHB) could meet the demand. As these agencies, along with BMRDA, BIAAPA and BMICPA failed to provide sites and houses at a cheaper rate, citizens had no choice but to opt for the revenue layouts.

Since the brains behind these layouts had enough clout in the nexus, the necessary approvals were given the go-by. Sites were thus far cheaper than those in the layouts approved by the government agencies.

Rampant corruption and high conversion charges escalate the cost of genuine sites, rendering them completely unaffordable to the middle and lower classes. Taking advantage of the people’s desperation to own a house, realtors form revenue layouts and sell them at low rates.

Inevitably, such transactions are highly risky. In most of the cases, as property owners themselves admit, the documents would not be genuine. If conversion issues plague many sites on revenue layouts, there are cases where layouts are formed on lakes, stormwater drains, parks, playgrounds and other civic amenity sites. The rules are clear that the regularisation exercise will not cover sites on encroachments.

Why one-time?

Critics of the Akrama-Sakrama scheme ask why the regularisation exercise should be a one-time activity. They feel it would only spur violators to indulge in more illegalities in the hope that another Akrama-Sakrama would be waiting five years down the line.   

So, what is their alternative? Civic evangelist V Ravichander suggests a model where houses with violations are brought under a cloud. “This can be a self-assessment exercise and let this be recorded in BBMP, BDA records, in stamps and registration offices and online. And specify how the citizen can remove the ‘stigma’ associated with the property. The day the regularisation is complied with, the property is no longer under a cloud. Else the property owner pays an annual ‘akrama-sakrama’ cess in perpetuity.”

Annual cess

Under this model, minor violations that do not have any impact on the neighbourhood can be waived off at the outset. “On an annual basis the civic authorities could levy a cess that could be -around 7-10 per cent of the one-time regularisation fee amount currently being advocated. The way to get out of paying this cess and removing the ‘stigma’ is to correct the irregularity. If that cannot be done, the cess stays,” he explains. This, however, remains a suggestion. With the High Court of Karnataka giving its approval for the Akrama Sakrama scheme, the regularisation exercise has already begun. But it is not clear how many will opt for it. The last time such an option was offered, only about 1,600 applications were received.

Whatever penalty amount the government eventually ends up collecting, an informed suggestion is this: Use at least 50% of that money in improving the same locality from where the penalty amount is collected.

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