Saturday, June 19, 2004

Commercialization of residential localities

Those who have been residents of Bangalore from the days prior to the IT boom would surely agonize over the way lovely residential areas like Indiranagar, Koramangala and Jayanagar, with broad canopy-caressed avenues with little traffic on them - every bit the pensioner's paradise, have gone to seed in the last few years thanks to unchecked commercialization and total lack of town planning or upholding of building bye-laws. I have also posted several times with specific instances of such degeneration. TOI holds an inquest into the issue and the BMP is pronounced guilty by no less than former Justice Michael F Saldanha whose yeoman service to the city's cause by way of his judicial activism will forever be cherished.

Commercial break: buck game still on

As the distinction between residential complexes and commercial hubs blurs in areas like Koramangala and Indiranagar, accusatory fingers are pointed at the BCC. But the blame of contention shifts, as Smitha Rao grills BCC engineer-in-chief Rame Gowda.

Why have residential areas like Indiranagar, Koramangala, BTM Layout turned into commercial havens despite BCC diktats that offices should not be set up in such areas?
In some cases, the BDA has given change of land. There is provision to give commercial uses in residential areas for some special purposes, like setting up bakeries and grocery shops. But I fully agree that some unauthorised conversions are there. This sanction happened sometime ago and should have been prevented in the initial stages itself. Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), the planning authority, should initiate action against zoning regulation. These buildings were constructed for residential purposes but unfortunately used for commercial ends.

It is alleged that office complexes come up in residential areas by greasing the palms of officials. Do you agree?
In the first instance, who has paid these officials? The one paying them is the first defaulter. Cases like these have not come to my notice but if there really are such instances, we will definitely take action.

The BDA maintains that it has not per mitted change of land use, but why has the BCC gone ahead and issued trade licences?
We have issued licences for the purpose they are reserved for. After that, if there is any unauthorised action and deviation, we can demolish such buildings. The BDA has to again initiate action because it is a violation of allotment conditions. Since they have changed allotment action, the buildings remain residential but are used for a different purpose. We can’t demolish them because there is no deviation from sanction plan.

Without demanding land conversion deed papers, how can BCC start collecting tax and issue trade licence?
Tax is by the revenue department and trade licence does not come under the purview of engineering department. According to complete plan, the BDA has to verify. Suppose they issue a licence for a hotel, it has to be in a commercial area alone. Avenue Road is the biggest example of unauthorised complexes.

So this has become a buck-passing exercise, BCC to BDA, and commercial complexes will still thrive under your nose...?
See, if there is deviation in plan, a petition requests for 5 feet but builds on 10 feet, then there is a plan deviation and we can demolish it. But like I’ve already said, if a building is according to plan, we can’t do anything about it. We have no powers to vacate them. What can we do?

Name: Rame Gowda
Date of Birth: June 1, 1947
Qualification: BE (Civil) from SIT, Tumkur, Mysore University, MIE
Address: Engineer-in-chief, Bangalore City Corporation, Narasimharaja Square, Bangalore

The sixth rank in his BE was a rare distinction for Gudemaranahalli-born Rame Gowda. Joining BCC in 1972 as assistant engineer was not just a stint, it was a tenure, and having made a transition to chief engineer seven years ago, he has been in the BCC for 31 years. The flyovers at Sirsi Circle and Richmond Circle are his claims to engineering fame as are projects like beautification of Ulsoor, Yediyur and Sankey lakes.


Justice Michael Saldanha, former judge, High Court of Karnataka

If the history of Bangalore’s recent devastation is to be assessed it would be difficult to rule out as to whether the BCC or BDA is more liable — they function in total collusion with one singular objective, the destruction of this once fine city. A private survey done in January 2004 recorded 58,117 illegal structures, all of recent origin and another 328 of the same category under construction. If the city is choking to death due to congestion and the planning laws have been breached 100 per cent, it is traceable to the uncontrolled corruption in those two organisations which function in tandem.
In this background, the defence pleaded is not only weak and untenable, it is absolutely sham. No wonder the same survey indicated zero per cent compliance with building laws and the engineering department of the BCC is in an indefensible position and the head of the department has to accept total responsibility. It is sad because the citizens of this city who represent the right thinking majority deserve a better deal. On the facts as presented, there can be only one verdict — guilty all the way.


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