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Curious case of a missing pond

A commercial structure is coming up on a portion of land meant for public use, and a water body has disappeared. Here is an account of the long saga
Last Updated : 21 June 2024, 22:41 IST

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At the corner of Siddapura 1st Main Road and Varthur-Whitefield Main Road, a prime property noted as Survey No. 7 in the tahsildar records, lay a piece of water body of 22 guntas. The villagers and erstwhile Whitefielders remember it as Siddapura Tavare Kola or lotus pond. With sparkling waters and lotus flowers, it was a sight to behold.

“In 1999, I was studying in St Joseph’s college on Brigade Road. My daily commute was on 326C BMTC bus along the Old Airport Road. Siddapura lotus pond was visible from the bus. Almost every day, I saw the beautiful pond laced with blooming lotus,” recalls Naveen Venkatapathi, a Hagadur resident.

This is all history now. You will not see it if you look for it today. How it vanished right in front of our eyes is also the story of the increasing water shortages and disappearing water bodies and public spaces in burgeoning Bengaluru.

The chronology

In 2015, Whitefield Rising (WR), a civic and citizen action group, observed the water storage area in Siddapura pond reducing, with debris and garbage filling it. WR volunteers came together to brainstorm on how to rejuvenate the pond. The matter was discussed in the Ward Committee meeting with S Udayakumar, then Corporator of Hagadur Ward under which the Siddapura village fell.

Following this, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) permitted Whitefield Rising to clean up and develop the pond by raising funds or using private money. WR also worked with an architect on a conceptual plan to develop the space as a public park, considering the environmentally sensitive water catchment area in the Siddapura village.

When Whitefield Rising requested the officials to fence the pond area to help demarcate the land, they said the land was with the Revenue Department and needed their permission. Meanwhile, the dumping continued.

In 2017, the Corporator allocated Rs 30 lakh for the project and asked the tahsildar to survey the land area. The tahsildar surveyed the land and reconfirmed its use as Mufat Kaval Kharab B land meant for public use. The pond area was fenced, and the Corporator even posted the updates on Facebook.

The joy did not last long. The owner of the adjacent property, Survey No. 8, broke it on one side to build a pathway. Other individuals also broke the fence on another corner and dumped garbage on the land.

Rejuvenation efforts continued in 2018, with follow-ups with the local BBMP officials and the tahsildar regarding the land transfer. Finally, in 2019, the Joint Commissioner of BBMP Mahadevapura zone wrote to the tahsildar on the encroachment of Survey No. 7, requesting action.

In November, the tahsildar replied with the information that four guntas out of 22 guntas of land had been awarded to individuals as compensation for giving up land elsewhere to the government for building public infrastructure. The remaining land was to be considered a public utility. This was new information for the WR volunteers involved.

Efforts to save and hold the tahsildar to the rejuvenation plan continued. WR filed an RTI query in 2019 seeking information on the status of the rejuvenation, which was rejected on a technicality.

The stalemate continued, with BBMP elections postponed indefinitely and irregular ward meetings. Meanwhile, the pandemic hit. The land went unprotected and unrejuvenated.

In January 2023, volunteers noticed construction activity in Survey No. 7. The individual who owned four of the 22 guntas was found constructing a commercial building.

With official letters and appeals to tahsildar going unanswered, WR requested the tahsildar office in March 2023 to share all property records relating to the Siddapura pond Kharab B land (considered to be public and not to be given to private or commercial entities)

The documents unveiled the following:

In 2011, 4 guntas of Survey No. 7 were allotted to four individuals at one gunta each as compensation for land they had relinquished to the government.

Three private landowners sold one gunta each to a woman; the fourth owner sold his part of the land to person X.

In 2019, the woman sold all three guntas to person X.

In 2021, person X sold all of it to another party. This current owner is constructing a commercial property.

However, the land is a Kharab B / public use land. Commercial construction is prohibited. 

In March 2020, Survey No. 8 owners filed a petition in the High Court seeking a pathway to access the road through Survey No. 7 land. Though the High Court asked revenue officials to depute an official to prepare a Statement of Objections and defend the case, it was never done. In November 2021, tahsildar granted Survey No. 8 owners pathway access with two guntas of road and two guntas of frontage—four guntas of land —free of cost from the government.

The court battle

Finally, in May 2023, Whitefield Rising Trust approached the High Court with a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to stop the construction and save the Kharab B land that contained the Siddapura pond. 

During court proceedings, the defendants presented a village map from the early 1900s (British era) that showed the absence of a water body on the piece of land identified as Survey No. 7. The court said it was a Mufat Kaval meant for grazing and exempt from taxation. 

Petitioners presented RTC (Record of rights, tenancy, and crop inspection, commonly known as Pahani) documents, which established that from 1992 onwards, the piece of land was “Sarkari Kunte”(government water tank) even if it was Mufat Kaval (grazing land) in Karnataka Land Records.

Another fact came to light through citizen investigation, which is currently being verified by Lokayukta: The original land allottees had not relinquished any private property to the government and deserved no land in compensation.

More shockers: As Mufat Kaval / Kharab B land could not be allocated as compensation to private parties, revenue officials had converted Kharab B land to Kharab A in revenue records without indicating the legal provision to do so as per the Karnataka Land Revenue Act 1964.

Besides, RTI queries proved that the private party had no building plan approval from BBMP  for the construction.

Business as usual

In October 2023, the High Court dismissed the PIL based on the land use pattern from the British-era village maps. Regarding building plan approval, it directed the BBMP to ensure approvals are provided based on land use.

BBMP issued a notice to the builders in August 2023 asking the party to stop the construction proceeding without plan approval. However, BBMP did not follow up on its enforcement or stop the violations.

Whitefield Rising Trust approached the Supreme Court in December 2023 as part of the appeal process. Now, the ball is in the top court.

In March 2024, construction activity was observed again at the site. Concerned BBMP officials were notified. Picture comparisons showed that the work had been going on stealthily for months. BBMP officials said the construction had no approval and slapped a notice on the building. The work was stopped again.

While residents of Whitefield continue to work to reclaim Survey No. 7 for public use, the building has been raised to five storeys.

The legal fight for Siddapura Tavare Kola is a testament to community resilience and the enduring spirit of civic activism. The fate of Siddapura pond serves as a rallying cry for transparency in governance and citizen-driven conservation efforts.

The public land on which Siddapura pond once stood was fenced for rejuvenation in 2017. PHOTO: Whitefield Rising

The public land on which Siddapura pond once stood was fenced for rejuvenation in 2017. PHOTO: Whitefield Rising

The outcome of this struggle will resonate far beyond Whitefield and Mahadevpura, across Bengaluru, where the pressure to balance environment and development is mounting.

The case for public utility land - Kharab B

When developing a city or township, city planners mandate 45% of the area for public utilities, such as parks, schools, and common utilities. Such public utility lands are called Kharab B. Even Kempogowda, the original master planner of Bengaluru, made arrangements in every village to have Kharab B land.

Even Mufat Kaval lands are still Kharab B lands meant for public utility. The nature of the utility can be changed from time to time depending on the villagers’ needs. Examples of allowed utility include grazing land, water bodies, and a cemetery, among others. However, according to the Karnataka Land Revenue Act 1964, Mufat Kaval Kharab B cannot be allotted to private parties.

Allowing administrators to convert and allot Kharab B land to private entities will harm Bengaluru's already congested and clogged ecosystem.

((The author is a volunteer for Whitefield Rising. Opinions expressed are the author’s)

Write to us with feedback: pointblank@deccanherald.co.in

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Published 21 June 2024, 22:41 IST

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