Bengaluru stressed with violations

What was to be a pensioner’s paradise has burgeoned into a dense, messy, uncontrolled and concretised city, neck deep in building violations pertaining to setback, floor area ratio (FAR), construction coverage area and the height of the building. Rarely do buildings being built in the city conform to sanctioned plans and other civic rules.

The most common violation is with regard to the setback area. Setback refers to the minimum distance a builder is required to maintain between a building and road or other neighbouring buildings.

After landlords in Indiranagar, Koramangala and other residential localities sell their houses to greedy unscrupulous builders, the existing house is instantly demolished and in its place, a block of multi-storeyed apartments or a multi-storeyed commercial complex immediately starts hogging every bit of available
space.

With space at a premium, rarely does a builder want to leave a setback area, leading to chaotic consequences – neighbours fighting with each other, constant complaints of encroachment and blocking of each other’s ventilation. The reputed cool Bengaluru breeze at the end of a hot summer’s day is blocked off by a neighbour who has ignored the setback criterion and built his own structure within “kissing” distance of the neighbouring building. Builders sometimes leave a gratuitous small setback area on the ground floor only to have their structure jut out to the plot boundary from the first floor onwards.

The government’s Transferable Development Rights (TDR) Policy 2006-07 added to the lack of clarity on the setback issue. For years, the TDR route has made land acquisition simple and cost-effective by giving a transferable grant of an additional built-up area to a landowner in return for land taken from him for a public project. Builders began to freely interpret the setback ratio and armed with a TDR certificate, made generous use of the setback allowances on the ground floor itself, causing a nuisance to neighbours. The revised rules linking setback provisions to the height of the building has removed this anomaly.

The next most common violation pertains to coverage area – the total area covered by the building immediately above the plinth level while a third violation pertains to the floor area ratio (FAR) of a building site, calculated based on the width of the adjoining road. A fourth and more frequent violation is with regard to the height of the building - more floors are added than what is legally sanctioned. Even when the plan sanction given by BBMP/BDA/BMRDA stipulates a building violation if a fourth floor is built, the builder brazenly goes ahead, knowing the deviation can be rectified once the Akrama-Sakrama scheme comes into implementation.

Formally known as the Karnataka Town and Country Planning (Regularisation of Unauthorised Developments) Rules, 2013, the Akrama-Sakrama scheme aims to regularise building violations by imposing penalties — a sort of amnesty scheme highly discriminatory to the law-abiding citizen vis-a-vis the violator.

Illegal constructions need no longer be demolished. A one-time regularisation of up to 50% setback and floor space index (FSI) violations in case of residential constructions and a setback violation of 25% for commercial buildings would be condoned after payment of a penalty and a Certificate of Completion issued by the authorities.

This has given brazen encouragement to builders and developers out to make money by giving them an escape route to condone their illegal activity by paying a mere fine, while the government gloats over the booty it can collect as a penalty and has even evolved a discount scheme for those who pay the penalty promptly.

How do we get out of this concrete mess that Bengaluru has already become? Firstly instead of a one-time regularisation fee, all problematic properties should be marked as “deviant property” from whom a hefty annual penalty fee should be collected till the violation is set right.

This will not only reward law-abiding citizens, but regular properties will start commanding a premium over those with violations. All deviant properties should be painted differently for easy detection and continue to be given the B Khata.

Secondly, accountability must be established. The akrama-sakrama scheme after payment of the annual penalty and regularisation should not allow the developer-corporator-civic officials to get away scot-free. The ward junior engineer and assistant executive engineer must be made culpable for allowing violations on their watch.

Thirdly, successful citizen activism should ensure that thugs, mafia and bribes do not determine who gets to follow the bylaws and who does not. Vigilant neighbours usually do keep BBMP area engineers in the loop about deviations – this should be acted upon. Law abiding citizens should not have to take recourse to courts suffering threats in the process.

It is for all of us to ensure that Bengaluru becomes livable once more and that no neighbour flaunts setback violations and upgrades his property by blocking air and light from our houses, waiting for an akrama-sakrama scheme to regularise the violation.

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(The writer is an associate professor at Sai Vidya Institute of Technology, Rajanukunte, Bengaluru)

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