It has been almost a decade since different political parties promised regularisation of unauthorised development and constructions in urban areas, including Bangalore city which has the maximum number of such structures, through a scheme popularly known as Akrama-Sakrama.
And in 2007, the then Janata Dal(S)-Bharatiya Janata Party government made a little progress on this promise by enacting the Karnataka Town and Country Planning (KTCP) and certain others (Amendment) Act, 2004 in giving 90 days for regularisation of four types of irregularities.
Following this, the Akrama-Sakrama scheme was launched in September 2007 after rules, fixing fees for regularisation, depending upon type of violation, were framed.
Then, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), with much fanfare, issued a booklet with application forms for regularising four types of irregularities — plot in unauthorised layout/sub-divided land; building with land use violation; set back violation (up to 50 per cent for residential and 25 per cent for commercial); and floor area violation — between September 15 and December 14, 2007.
However, the scheme was put on hold after the owners of unauthorised structures/sites rose in protest, terming the regularisation fee as exorbitant, and the government agreed to revise the fee. At the same time, the Karnataka High Court was moved by some citizens questioning the legality of the scheme, while a few property owners questioned the high fee.
Meanwhile, the BBMP refunded about Rs. 28 crore collected from about 4,000 applicants.
Later, the BJP government during 2008-10, approved an Ordinance initially and later passed an amended Bill to facilitate re-launching of Akrama-Sakrama scheme while reducing the regularisation fee by about 50 per cent.
But, both the attempts were shot down by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj who said that the challenge to the 2007 amendment was pending before the High Court.
It is election time again and some political parties have revived their promise on the issue.
While the Janata Dal(S) has made a categorical promise to implement the scheme in its manifesto, the BJP has given an assurance to issue khatas for revenue site owners, besides legalising illegal occupancy of buildings in towns and cities.
However, the Congress manifesto is silent on this issue.
But a cross section of residents and legal experts say that the aim of such schemes should be to prevent recurrence of such illegality in future while regularising the existing violations as a one-time measure.
But unfortunately, the sole objective of the scheme is to make it a revenue generator for taking up development works as promised by the parties in their manifestos. In the process, the property owners are painted as “law-breakers”, though the politically well-connected developers are responsible as they are on the ones who formed these unauthorised layouts and sold the sites to the gullible buyers. “Why should only the purchasers of land pay penalties? Why is no penalty levied on developers who actually violated the law while forming layouts, and the officials who did not stop illegal formation of layouts and failed to protect the interest of the purchasers of sites,” said Ramesh K, a resident of Sai Layout. He also said that even banks had failed to protect the interest of borrowers as many people had purchased sites only after banks approved loan following a perusal of land documents.
Col. (Retd.) Mathew Thomas, a citizen activist, says that Supreme Court’s 2006 guideline on preventing illegal land use in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi area would be the best example to implement in Bangalore as it does not allow use of illegally built commercial structure in a residential area. As far as formation of unauthorised layouts are concerned, it is the developers of these layouts and the officials who deserve more penalty, though buyers too have to legally own up responsibility, says Col. Mathew.
As many politicians themselves are into land development business, will the political parties that promise regularisation show courage to make these developers pay up for the illegality, asks C. Sudhakar, a legal consultant. He stressed the need for a transparent mechanism where citizens can buy sites or apartment without fearing of getting branded as “a resident of unauthorised layout/apartment”.