Rule scrapped to protect the corrupt


The Karnataka government’s decision to abruptly withdraw the draft rules pertaining to penal action for various acts of omission and commission by corporation and municipal officers is a retrograde step that will further contribute to the deterioration of urban centres, while allowing the culprits to go scot free. In 2007, the government brought about a revolutionary amendment to the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act through Section 321 B: “The jurisdictional officer who is proved to have failed to prevent unauthorised deviation or construction that has taken place in his jurisdiction shall be subject to such punishment as may be prescribed.” However, the law has remained dormant for nearly 12 years now, with the government failing to prescribe the punishment. Finally, after a nudge from the High Court, the draft rules were published to provide for a penalty ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 50,000 and even imprisonment ranging from two days to two years, depending on the severity of the offence committed by the officer concerned.

The Karnataka Law Commission, headed by Justice S R Nayak, which conducted a detailed study into the issue in 2015 on the request of the High Court, had noted in its report that there were several provisions under the law empowering the corporation commissioner to take punitive action to demolish illegal structures or constructions which are in violation of the sanctioned plan, besides initiating preventive steps to stop any such activity. Despite these provisions, there is rampant violation of building bye-laws, encroachment of public assets like government land and stormwater drains, leading to uncontrolled illegal construction, the commission had noted. While there are several provisions to bring private violators to book, only disciplinary action like suspension under the Service (Conduct) Rules could be initiated against the erring officers. Section 321B had sought to set right this anomaly by making the respective officers responsible for any violation within their jurisdictions by prescribing penal punishment.

One of the prime reasons for the unplanned growth of cities is the active connivance of officers with the law-breakers. It is inconceivable that multi-storied buildings are raised in violation of the sanctioned plans or that encroachments take place with impunity right under the nose of the jurisdictional officers without their direct involvement. In the absence of any deterrent in the form of punitive action, officers have become law unto themselves. The government should immediately notify the draft rules and put an end to the free run of unscrupulous bureaucrats, many of whom are no more than appendages of the builders’ lobby and land mafia.

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