Outrage grows over ‘land grab’ in Nandini Layout

Outrage grows over ‘land grab’ in Nandini Layout

Citizens are livid as a huge playground in Nandini Layout is carved out and given away to three organisations with political connections.

School children prevent the JCB from excavating the 40-year-old playground in Nandini Layout, Ramakrishna Nagar, near the Rajkumar Samadhi.

A sprawling 40-year-old playground in Nandini Layout, Ramakrishna Nagar, near the Rajkumar Samadhi, has been given away dirt cheap to three private bodies.

Classified as civic amenities space by the Bangalore Development Authority, the land has been leased out for Rs 60 lakh, when its estimated cost is Rs 50 crore, says Lokesh Bahujan, who lives in the area.

 Lokesh Bahujan

Lokesh is among those protesting against the park being given to private bodies. “We have filed a writ in the High Court, seeking a stay. The three parties have the backing of three big political parties,” Lokesh told Metrolife.

Many residents remember the park being in use for 40 years, and playing there as children. At one point, the BBMP fenced off the playground, and installed children’s play equipment.

In the past few days, JCBs have appeared and tried to dig up the place.

“We didn’t know the space belonged to the BDA till 2017. We were kept in the dark. We have now procured all relevant documents under RTI. We know who the land has been given to and at what price,” says Lokesh.

The three parties who will now carve up and enjoy the land are: Mahalakshmipuram Brahmana Sabha, Tungabhadra Education Society and Tumkur Milk Producer’s Union.

Citizens wrote to K Gopalaiah, MLA from Mahalakshmi Layout, and met him before the Assembly elections. He had promised to resolve the problem, but has done nothing. “He is avoiding our calls. How can an MLA not be accessible and answerable to the public?” says Lokesh. Metrolife called him repeatedly, but the calls went unanswered. 

Political bigwigs are involved in the deal and are going all out to quell the protests, protesters say.

“I was offered Rs 50 lakh to give up our struggle. If they are offering me so much money, you can imagine how much they have at their disposal,” says Lokesh.   

Actor Chetan, who has also been leading the protests, was approached by citizens two months ago.

“I received a call from a Bengaluru-based social worker I had crossed paths with. A half dozen allies flanked him when he entered my office that evening with a pile of documents,” says Chetan.

A simple matter is now lodged in a complex web of “political-bureaucratic avarice,” he told Metrolife.

Actor Chetan at the protest near the playground on Saturday.

The land was being used for sports and athletics by 10-12 schools in the neighbourhood. Community events also took place there.

“An affluent sitting MP from central Karnataka and a powerful religious organisation which got letters of recommendation from state and Central politicians have taken the land,” says Chetan.

Politicians of all three mainstream parties in Karnataka are backing what the citizens describe as land grab.

Chetan observes that playgrounds in Bengaluru are shrinking precipitously. “With a population of over a crore, the city has barely 250 playgrounds. Without open spaces, children play on busy streets, and are at risk,” he says. If Bengaluru truly hopes to emerge
as a ‘global city,’ it needs much more than a glorified state budget, elevated
corridors, and IT parks, he says.

“In any society, those pushed to the farthest extremes are children; without money, influence, or even a voting ID, children and their interests remain reserved for podium speeches and administrative rhetoric,” says Chetan.

Last weekend, one of those who got the land sent in vehicles and equipment
to dig up the ground. “Hundreds of school children and conscientious citizens stood in the JCBs’ path, preventing further damage. I was fortunate to join so many current and budding crusaders,” he says.

Sivamanithan S, lawyer representing citizens, says the BDA has divided the land into 1A, 1B and 1C and given it away to three parties. Those granted the land have been trying to take possession, but citizen protests over two years have stalled their efforts, he says. Sivamanithan sees no public interest in the way the land has been given away. “We hope High Court will grant a stay and give us relief,” he told Metrolife.

BDA chief’s rationale

Defending the BDA’s action, its commissioner Rakesh Singh says civic amenities sites can be given away for purposes deemed fit by the authorities. “Of late, there has been a tendency among schools to use CA sites for their activities, including sports. A school should start only if they have a reasonable playground for the number of students studying there,” he says.

When a layout is developed, civic amenities sites are earmarked and their use can be changed on request. “The authorities have deliberated on that. I would also like to correct you that these are open grounds being used for playing and there is really no playground as such,” he says.