Clearing encroachments on storm water drains and lakes in Bengaluru is adding to the mayhem JIGYASA WATWANI | YELAHANKA, BENGALURU
ON THE morning of August 31, V Krishna of Bengaluru’s Doddabommasandra locality tried to kill himself because the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike ( bbmp) razed both his garment shops to the ground earlier that month. He was one of the many who were left homeless and anguished after the civic body tore apart 15 shops and 22 houses in the locality as part of a demolition drive.
bbmp has been conducting a demolition drive since 2012, following a Karnataka High Court directive and a state government order to clear encroachments on storm water drains and lake beds in the city (see ‘Razed in the city’). But the drive acquired unprecedented momentum in the first week of August this year. Extreme rainfall in the last week of July and subsequent flooding awoke the state executive and judiciary.
On August 3, bbmp said encroachments on nallas, lakes and water bodies are the main reason for the floods, and accorded priority to the removal of the encroachments. “In the first phase of the drive, which will go on for the next three months, we will target encroachments on storm water drains. In the next, we will clear encroachments on lakes and other commons (water bodies),” says K Siddegowda, chief engineer, Storm Water Drain Department, bbmp. The intensity of the demolition drive this time can be guaged from the fact that in August alone bbmp demolished 237 en-
croachments in all eight zones of the city, whereas it had cleared only 822 of the 1,955 identified encroachments in four years.
Conservation groups have welcomed the new-found momentum, but they fear that the drive may lose steam as it is marred by confusion and commotion. “It has become more of a problem than a solution,” says V Ramprasad of Bengaluru-based non-profit Friends of Lakes.
The problem lies in the way bbmp identifies storm water drains. Siddegowda says his officials use the 2015 Comprehensive Development Plan ( cdp) map of the city to identify drains. If they do not see a channel in wetland or low-lying areas, they refer to village maps, prepared in 1905 and later updated in 1965.
But cdp is primarily a planning document with a focus on land use—it designates residential, commercial, industrial and green spaces but does not map them in their entirety. Besides, cdp maps are not georefer- enced. “cdp maps are prepared on the basis of satellite imagery, and so merely indicate the alignment and location of storm water drains,” says V Ravichandar, a Bengalurubased civic activist, who is also a member of a bbmp restructuring committee.
“The village maps are more accurate than cdp maps as they were georeferenced using the knowledge of those days,” Ravichandar says. But builders and residents question the practicality of using these maps as the city’s hydrological landscape has changed dramatically over the century.
bbmp’s demolition drive also faces criticism because quite a handful of encroachers have the legal sanction to reside where they do. “I bought this land 40 years ago and built a house on it 15 years ago,” says R Prakash of Doddabommasundra. “I have the sale deed, the kaata or a revenue document, the proof of having paid property tax to bbmp and approval of the construction plan. Yet, bbmp demolished my house, saying there is a drain beneath it.”
Like most of his neighbours, Prakash plans to sue the man who sold him the land and the bbmp engineer who approved the construction plan.
In fact, the drive exposes the alleged role of government officials in approving several housing societies on low-lying areas and giving builders a free hand to change the natural gradient of the region.
Consider the Kodichikkanahalli locality near the Madiwala lake. “The Bangalore Development Authority should not have approved the layout of Kodichikkanahalli. bbmp should not have sanctioned construction plans of buildings in the area,” says Ramprasad. Today, housing societies in the locality have mushroomed on channels that used to drain excess rainwater. The locality got severely affected due to the recent floods. Clause 26(b) of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act says town planning must make provisions for filling up low-lying areas. Small wonder, 98 per cent of the lakes in Bengaluru are encroached by mafia, according to a March 2016 study by T V Ramachandra of Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. In many parts of the city, layout
237 structures, which encroached on storm water drains, were razed in a month by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, across Bengaluru