Thursday, January 21, 2010

Akrama Sakrama must help only weaker sections, not land sharks

Akrama Sakrama must help only weaker sections, not land sharks

Parliamentarian Rajeev Chandrasekhar's proposals for a revised Akrama Sakrama legislation seek to address the issues of housing for the poor and also ensure that illegal developers and home owners don't wrongly benefit at the cost of law abiding residents of our city



With our governor HR Bharadwaj declining to give his nod for the government's proposed Akrama Sakrama legislation, the spotlight is back again on this controversial legislation.
It is not the first time that such a legislation has been attempted to legalise the many illegal constructions that have sprung up around Bangalore over the last several years. And it is not the first time that a large number of people have joined the debate on this, either opposing it or supporting it. Even the respected Lokayukta justice N Santosh Hegde has joined the debate and opposed it. Akrama Sakrama is proposed as a programme to legalise the many illegal constructions that have come up in and around Bangalore with the ostensible objective of helping the poor householders who have built some/most of these illegal homes.
However, there is a misconception and a deliberate misleading view that all such illegal constructions pertain to the urban poor and lower income class residents. There are many illegal constructions by crooked real-estate developers, and middle and high income home owners in Bangalore city and in the outskirts who will also be direct beneficiaries of Akrama Sakrama. There is clearly no justification at all for this group to be benefited at all, at the cost of the good law abiding citizens and residents of the city.
Currently, there are four types of violators in our city:
1 Those who build on land that does not belong to them; example, government/city land (encroachments).
2 Those who build in zones that are not designated for development in the CDP/RMP and, therefore, do not have any building plan approval (illegal layouts, etc).
3 Those who build on their owned land without any building plan approval.
4 Those who build on their owned land, in excess/violation of their approved building plan.
Risks involved
No modern city can grow without adequate and strong zoning regulations and strong oversight of these zoning and building planning. Otherwise, there will be chaos. Also, no government or city can or should send a message that it is better to be law breakers than be law abiding citizens.
It cannot be the case of anyone (and if it is, then it is untenable and indefensible) that all violators have to be allowed to go scot-free by paying a fee. It also cannot be the case that regularising such violations is a way to generate revenue for the city. That is a dangerous argument because it is like saying legalise smuggling and criminals because by taxing them, governments can make money.
Civilised society is about living by rules and, of course, helping the poor and destitute with deliberate and directed assistance. So there is a clear need to make sure that any legislation or programme such as this has a clear and narrowly defined objective of ensuring that the poor get their homes, and the rich and others do not get away scot-free. Therefore, if an Akrama Sakrama is to be proposed, it has to be focused, so that the beneficiaries are only the poor and deserving.
How to help the poor
The argument being made by some is that regardless of the nature of the violations, it is important to help the poor to get some homes. This argument has some merit because the state and city have done very little to create habitation and housing capacity for the poor in the last many years. The poor had to resort to creating housing for themselves which, in many instances, tend to be illegal in one of the four categories mentioned above.
The following points will ensure that only the poor will benefit from Akrama Sakrama.
a The housing/dwelling in question should be 350sq ft or smaller.
b The family must be living in that for some period (ie., it did not come up in the last few weeks or years). Evidence of this such as water and electricity bills for the last four years, etc., should be there.
c These dwellings must be on their owned land and must be either violation 3 or violation 4 mentioned above.
For violations 1 and 2, for all types of residents, there cannot be any condoning. But the poor, who have created habitations (350sq ft or less) under violations 1 and 2, should be supported by a longer term solution of being provided a government-backed housing credit programme, entitling them to credit/loan towards purchase of a home by a private developer or a government layout.
They should also be given a period of 18 months to relocate. This will cost the government and taxpayers. But that is the cost of many years of negligence to the problem of housing for urban poor that we have to pay.

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