Bengaluru, Aug. 9: On a busy Monday morning, home-maker Rashmi is defiantly standing in the way of a bulldozer as its operator stands by for orders from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to demolish a wall of her house in the upscale Shubh Enclave in Kasavanahalli, Mahadevpura.
"If our property is built on a storm-water drain, then how did the Village Panchayat approve this layout, allow us to buy plots here and approve our building plans?" she asks, half protesting, half pleading.
Four days after the BBMP started a ruthless drive to demolish encroachments on storm-water drains and connecting channels in several private layouts in Bengaluru, that question is on the lips of everyone who has already become a victim of the drive or will be one if the BBMP continues with its "have bulldozer, will raze" attitude.
It's a question that the government and the BBMP will have to answer, sooner rather than later in a city where hundreds of private layouts have come up in the last two decades as the IT industry boom led to a real estate and housing boom and thousands of homes and apartment buildings came up as unscrupulous developers, builders and government authorities colluded.
It's also a city that only as recently as 2006 subsumed a number of surrounding village and town panchayats into the Bengaluru urban municipal authority, which now refuses to recognise property documents and maps issued by the former panchayat authorities.
For years, authorities at all levels turned a blind eye to encroachments and illegal building activity as layout developers and builders greased palms. Until last week, when rain water flooded several areas of the nation's technology capital, and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah suddenly woke up to the problem.
Since Saturday, the BBMP has razed houses in Shubh Enclave, Avani Sringeri Layout in Nyanappanahalli, and in a small pocket in Yelahanka. On Tuesday, bulldozers were on stand by in Yemalur, Bellandur and Hulimavu, stopped in their tracks only by a rising tide of protest against the sudden demolitions.
Displaying a map of her area that the village panchayat relied on to give permissions to the layout and buildings, Rashmi says that the map did not indicate that any storm-water drain passed through her property.
Mahendra Kumar, another resident of Shubh Enclave, says the same BBMP officials who had now come to demolish his property had issued him the 'A Khata', following which he had been paying property tax since 2008.
"At the time of buying the plot, the layout developer assured us that the storm-water drain was several feet away from it. We believed him", Kumar said. "Now, I have to pay EMI on a damaged house".
Who should be held responsible for illegal structures coming up on storm-water drains?
Speaking to OneIndia, BBMP Executive Engineer Malati said that the Palike is not the 'owner' of the land on which the storm-water drain runs, it belongs to the Revenue Department.
Asked how a building can be demolished when the village panchayat map shows no storm-water drain under it and the BBMP, based on that map, has already issued a 'A Khata' to the owners, Malati brushed off the question saying, "You must ask the officer who issued the 'A Khata' and the village panchayat".
Mahadevpura taluk Revenue Surveyor Ravi Shankar says that the village panchayat map is only a "bird's eye view" and not a detailed sketch of the area. "The detailed sketch is in a document called the secondary class survey document. There, the storm-water drains and the channels connecting them are marked".
Asks Mahendra Kumar, "Who is responsible for illegal sites being developed and sold? In urban areas of Bengaluru, the BDA approves layout plans before developers sell the plots and the BBMP issues khata for these. In what were previously rural areas that were outside the BBMP's jurisdiction, did the Village Panchayat, BDA and BBMP connive with private developers and certify layouts as legal?"
Importantly, how does a property that is legal under the rules of one government body, the village panchayat, become illegal under the rules of another government body, the BBMP or BDA, simply because the administration decided to transfer charge of an area from the former to the latter? What is the sanctity of government documents such as the khata?