Bottom Line: It is the story of Great Lake Theft in India’s Garden City, Bangalore, known for its beautiful lakes. Irony is that the policy makers are shrugging off their accountability while fixing blame on the builders alone.
It is a travesty of the law of natural justice that the policy makers in Karnataka State are today crying hoarse for what precisely has been the fault of the government agencies in the first place. It is not an ordinary story of theft but a sort of broad day robbery where the vested interests have stolen the lake in the city of Bangalore known for its beautiful lakes and water bodies.
A committee headed by Karnataka Assembly Speaker KB Koliward has presented an extensive report in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly that revealed that over 10,000 acres of lake area has been encroached in and around Bangalore.
The report states that 10,785 acres or around 18% of lake area has been encroached in 1,547 lakes in the two districts and also names over 75 companies in a list of offenders. The report blames almost all the prominent developers in the city. This includes developers like Prestige Group, Sobha Limited, Bagmane Group, NICE (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Limited) and Oasis Apartments, among others.
Interestingly, the Government Ashraya Scheme that provides temporary homes for children before safe houses are found for adoption has also been accused to encroach upon 79 acres 32 guntas land in Begur, Bengaluru South Taluk.
As a prima facie finding, the report suggests that the builders in connivance with the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA), Land Records Office and Revenue Department have stolen lakes in the city.
However, on a closer look the report raises more questions than it could answer how the natural water bodies like the lakes could be stolen in broad daylight. What were the government agencies doing while the developers could raise buildings over the years where there should have been lakes? Should not all the government approval agencies and the concerned officials be held accountable for this?
More importantly, even after the report has been tabled in the Legislative Assembly why criminal cases have not been filed yet? Is it just an arm-twisting or the report aims to correct the wrong doing of the builders?
Many of these developers did not respond to the query sent by Track2Realty. A spokesperson of Brigade Group says, “We don’t want to react at present without going through the report.”
Sobha Limited has been upfront in refuting the charges even when the alleged encroachment on lake is just 0.025 Guntas or quarter Gunta (approx. 272 sq feet). This encroachment is shown in Begur Hobli, Ibblur Village in sy. No. 36.
“This was contested by us before the Assistant Commissioner, Bangalore South, and the Assistant Commissioner has passed an order clearly stating that the property wherein Sobha has constructed apartments does not fall under the lake area and also held that there is no encroachment by Sobha. Probably, this order of the Assistant Commissioner has been overlooked by them at the time of preparing the report,” says a Sobha spokesperson.
The report suggests demolition or takeover of properties like apartments that were built by private companies and allotting the properties to the same companies on a lease agreement. It is not clear how this will restore the lakes on the given piece of land.
Requesting anonymity, a prominent builder in Bangalore says the issue has been raked six months ahead of the State Elections for obvious reason. No developer is worried since they know why the issue has been raked up at this time. “Once the election is over, there will be either collective conspiracy of silence or some committee will be formed and report will gather dust. By that time the issue will be erased from the public memory and in all probability no one would ever get to know who are the vested interests having stolen the lake in the city famous for lakes,” says the builder.
Track2Realty investigation finds that the report itself raises more questions than it could answer as to why the city of Bangalore has been robbed with the natural water bodies. There are some obvious questions about the authenticity of the report, its timing, and intent. What has been the technical qualification of the team that has prepared the report? Why the builders were not asked for representation before finalizing the report? For instance, why the report omits the fact that the Sobha had refuted the charges earlier and the Assistant Commissioner, Bangalore South who passed an order to the effect, accepted their plea.
In another classic instance, Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Limited (NICE) is alleged to have encroached upon 7 acres 6 guntas of lake area in Kengeri. Interestingly, this alleged encroachment is part of the government project under the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project (BMICP). This raises a fundamental question as to whether a builder will encroach upon the lake area to construct an infrastructure project.
Responding to the allegations, Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Limited said in a media statement that the land in question had not been encroached but had been handed over by the State Government. “The land has been handed over on lease via a government order and the possession was handed over to us in 2000. The land has been utilized for the construction of the peripheral road as per the alignment and approval of the Public Works Department (PWD).”
Track2Realty has following questions to ask which no one from the power corridors or the BDA is ready to speak on record:
Q. If the builders have encroached upon the lake area, has this lake theft happened overnight?
Q. Why did not the government agencies raise an objection when the builders were encroaching upon?
Q. If BDA is also hand-in-glove with the builders, why did other government agencies give the permission to construct projects over there?
Q. If all the government agencies have colluded with the builders, then why have they not been blamed in the report?
Q. Why there has been no action when the lake area was encroached upon even after the report is tabled in the Assembly?
Q. Why this report has been tabled just before six months ahead of the assembly elections?
The report neither touches upon any of these questions, nor fixes the accountability. No government spokesperson (including the government agencies) is ready to speak on the subject as well. The story of stolen lakes in Bangalore would also be buried over a period of time. However, the question that will always be unanswered is that who has actually stolen the lakes in the city of Bangalore.
By: Ravi Sinha