Just when the most resilient real estate market in the country – Bengaluru has been cooling off due to slow sales, TDR and NGT issues, another dreaded term “Rajakaluves” hits it hard. The launch of crusading drive by BBMP to tackle lake and drain encroachments has sent shock waves in the country.
In reaction to recent flooding where parts of Bengaluru were inundated due to an unusual amount of downpour, BBMP has taken to road with bulldozers removing any obstructions to Rajakaluves (the storm water drain). The government’s sincere aim seems to avoid a similar crisis in Bengaluru like last year’s floods in Chennai, triggered by heavy rains. The root cause of floods in Bengaluru is being identified as blockages caused by unauthorised (or authorised) construction on Rajakaluves - a network of canals built more than 100+ years ago connecting lakes in Bengaluru. The aim of these canals was to ensure that overflow of lakes are managed via this network and eliminate changes of flooding in low lying valley regions of the city.
Reaction to the radical solution.
While there are supporters for this step by administration, there are no let-ups for the residents who have lost their houses in the demolition drive. The demolished areas look like ghost towns with debris all over and residents taking to streets for protest against the demolition drive. There have been arguments on adequacy of revenue maps beings used to identify encroachments in the city. The demolition was based on almost a century old revenue maps whereas most of the construction in the city is based on the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) which came in much later. People have also raised questions on legitimacy of the approved plans which were provided by authorities themselves in the first place. Moreover the efforts to reclaim storm water drains by authorities may further aggravate the flooding problems, as now, the rushing water in the opened-up Rajakaluves will flood these erstwhile lake areas, and people living on these lake beds will face a huge threat.
Let’s look at a phased restoration instead of a quick fix.
In my opinion what got overlooked in this drive was the long term repercussions and an assessment of expected impact vs an actual impact. The government bodies should come up with a planned program to tackle the infrastructure bottlenecks without causing too much havoc in the life of citizens. As an immediate action, temporary blockages should be removed and a possibility of alternate/temporary storm water drains should be assessed before heavy rains hit. For the long term, the owners of permanent structures causing blockages should be dealt with in a more procedural way by serving notices and discussing alternate solutions like fines or compensation, if the structure needs to be demolished. In case, a customer had bought the property in good faith without having played a part in building an unauthorised structure, there could be levy of a fine in the form of compensation from the errant developer to compensate the current owner. Following that, demolition activities can be undertaken and Rajakaluves restored when there is clarity on the exact status of the building and of the action that has been taken on the guilty, be it, the current owner, BBMP/BDA officials or the builder.
The current approach to the problem, in my view, leads to panic and mistrust in the system as stakeholders start feeling that they would always be at risk irrespective of the perception that safety from demolition is a function of Govenrment paperwork - tax receipts, sale deeds and khata. I understand that the water problem needs to be dealt with seriously but the approach to this problem needs to be worked out in such a way that Brand Bengaluru does not suffer and the solution should have a much longer term perspective.