Illegal booths spring up on Jayanagar streets

Illegal booths spring up on Jayanagar streets

Traders at the bustling Jayanagar Shopping Complex have petitioned the authorities against 15 structures that sprang up overnight on footpaths and public spaces. A powerful mafia is behind the land grab, and it collects daily rents, they allege

Fifteen booths have sprung up overnight on footpaths all around the Jayanagar Shopping Complex, obstructing pedestrian movement, and causing outrage among shopkeepers.

The booths look like the cabins allowed for cobblers, but are used for a variety of businesses. A mafia provides protection to the booths, and collects rent on them, many in Jayanagar told Metrolife.

On January 17, the Jayanagar Shopping Complex Merchants’ Association shot off a letter to BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar, Jayanagar MLA Soumya Reddy and Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao, asking them to have the booths removed in the interests of pedestrians and legitimate businesses.

When Metrolife visited the spot on Saturday, shop owners inside the complex, too afraid to give their names for this story, said powerful people were involved in the scam.

The booths have been springing up in and around Jayanagar in the last two years, but the numbers have increased in the last two weeks, according to the association.

The booths are let out. A ‘tenant’ pays between Rs 750 and Rs 1,000 a day as rent for a 6 ft by 8 ft booth installed on a footpath. The ‘mafia’ collects Rs 50,000 as deposit for each booth, people Metrolife spoke to said.

“The structures claim on the outside that they are meant for the handicapped or leather craftsmen, but people sitting in them belong to neither category. Hefty-looking men come by every evening to collect rent,” alleges a shop owner who has been running a business in the shopping complex for 44 years.

The proliferating metal booths are a new problem, but open spaces and corridors are grabbed and used blatantly by vendors inside and all around the complex, with neither the BBMP, which owns the complex, nor the police doing anything about it.

In fact, many say the authorities collude with the unauthorised vendors, and make money. A shop owner estimates the number of unauthorised vendors around the complex at a staggering 600.

Some of the new booths are cutting off visibility and easy access to regular stores. “I pay Rs 1 lakh as rent, besides electricity, water and other charges,” says the owner of a jewellery shop. “The vendors grease the palms of policemen and pay off goons to protect them,” he says.

Near transformer

Another shopkeeper, running a foam business for 15 years, is aghast that a metal structure has come up right in front of his shop and just below a transformer.

“It is a rule that any metal object be placed at least 50 ft away from a transformer. In this case, it is not even 5 inches away. It could endanger the life and limb of vendors and shoppers,” he says.

Two people were electrocuted near the transformer two years ago, he recalls. “We see birds and squirrels being electrocuted. BESCOM and BBMP officials are aware of our repeated complaints but have done nothing to remove the structure. Are they waiting for an accident?” he wonders.

Owners are asked for Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh to get an unauthorised structure removed, another shop owner says. “There is no receipt for the money and we don’t know where these people come from,” he told Metrolife.

MLA on ‘discrepancies’

Repeated attempts by this reporter to reach the Jayanagar corporator Nagaraj went in vain. MLA Sowmya Reddy told Metrolife she had given no permission for the structures.

“I understand some illegal structures were removed a while ago. There is also an excess concentration of these structures in Jayanagar. I have written to the BBMP and the police to have them evenly divided,” she says.

She observed that there was “some kind of discrepancy” in the booth allotments.
“We had earlier identified people who were misusing it and evicted them. If the structure is allocated to SC/ST categories then it must be occupied by none other than the genuine beneficiaries,” she says.

Who’s pocketing rents?

At Rs 1,000 a day, the rent for 15 illegal structures comes up to Rs 4.5 lakh a month. This, for booths erected illegally on public land. Who collects the rents? Shop owners in Jayanagar talk about a shadowy ‘mafia’ with political and police connections. 

Police booth now a shop

A booth from which a police-monitored pre-paid auto stand was run has been converted into a shop.

‘Have to be evicted’

BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar says he is not sure how many vendors have been given licences to set up booths on footpaths. “Even if they do have licences, they are not permitted to encroach pedestrian paths and obstruct movement. They will have to be evicted,” he says.

Who gave them permission?

In 2005, shop owners say, the BBMP issued a circular allowing 15 booths to be set up across Bengaluru for the use of cobblers. The ‘mafia’ could be violating the location clause and purpose clause, but citing this circular to set up booths near the bustling Jayanagar complex, traders say.