Karnataka CM deserves credit for working to save Bangalore

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has begun to hit the big fish where it hurts.

 |  4-minute read |   14-08-2016
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Let credit be given where it is due.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah has cracked the whip on errant Bangalore.

Make no mistake, it wouldn't have been an easy decision, given the vice-like grip the real estate lobby has on the city's political ecosystem, not to discount the influence of the information technology (IT), biotechnology (BT) and hospitality sector.

In India's Independence Day month, Bangalore seems determined to gain independence from corruption and malpractices by vested groups, government and even citizens.

It is an exercise to reclaim the city and save it.

Siddaramaiah has held the Bangalore city portfolio, ever since his trusted aide KJ George had to quit in ignominy, after DSP MK Ganapathy named him as one of the persons who was making life difficult for him.

Also read: Bengaluru, Gurugram rains: Are names of cities more important than people?

The DSP committed suicide and George had no option but to put in his papers once the FIR included his name.

The chief minister has now gone for the jugular, trying to save and revive Bangalore which, by way of unregulated growth, is in the ICU.

After Bangalore was flooded on July 29, Siddaramaiah has given a free hand to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the municipal body of the city, to retrieve storm water drains, some 2,000 of them.

The majority of them, located along a length of 857 km, have been encroached upon, which means rainwater has no way to reach the lakes and tanks, and ends up flooding different parts of India's Silicon Valley.

sid-embed_081416061752.jpg CM Siddaramaiah has held the Bangalore city portfolio ever since his trusted aide KJ George had to quit in ignominy.

This has meant upsetting the citizens who have built their homes with BBMP permission and are angry that the same civic body is telling them it is unauthorised now.

On that day in Bangalore, when it rained 250 mm of rain, the highest in five decades, some 600 homes went under water.

So now when it is a question of ensuring against a Chennai-like situation in Bangalore, everything is fair in love and legally authorised demolitions.

The High Court of Karnataka has backed the government's efforts to restore Bangalore to its days of glory.

That has meant 1,923 constructions will be history. Of that list, 800-odd have already been reduced to rubble.

Now as some storm water drains that were buried under concrete are resurfacing, the government is gloating over its Operation Saving Bangalore.

The chief minister's office tweeted a photograph with the caption: "Storm water drains being rediscovered in Namma Bengaluru."

The next big test for Siddaramaiah will be to go after the big land sharks who have gobbled up lake beds in Bangalore.

Also read: Siddaramaiah has turned Karnataka into a graveyard for bureaucrats

From a city of 261 lakes, Bangalore today has only 68, with both government and the private sector equally to blame for encroachments.

The Karnataka Assembly-appointed KB Koliwad committee on tank encroachment in Bangalore reported this year that 11,595 organisations and people had encroached upon 10,472 acres of lake and tank beds.

An Indian Institute of Science study in 2016 found that 98 per cent of the city's lakes are encroached upon and 90 per cent polluted by sewage, with the foaming Bellandur lake a representative image of a city that needs an urgent fix.

That the BBMP means business is evident from the manner in which it has begun to hit the big fish where it hurts.

Charged with targeting only middle class localities, the BBMP went after commercial property tax defaulters by shaming them in full media glare.

JW Marriott hotel, which reportedly defaulted on payment of Rs 5.59 crore as property tax, was embarrassed when BBMP officials took away the hotel furniture kept in the lobby.

They relented only after the amount was cleared.

swd-1-embed_081416061652.jpg Storm water drains buried under concrete are resurfacing in the city.

IT major Intel was another firm that had defaulted on payment of property tax to the tune of Rs 34 crore.

The BBMP reached the gates of the tech giant with garbage trucks and threatened to dump it inside their premises.

They left only after securing a written undertaking that half the amount will be paid by the end of August.

The BBMP did not spare itself either. On Thursday, it brought down a few of its own offices which were built 25 years ago on a storm water drain in Srinagar area of Bangalore.

It has taken action against 20 BBMP officials, both serving and retired, who had given permissions for these encroachments.

Also read: Why India's IT capital needs a development minister now

Taking on the builder lobby, three developers have been penalised.

The drive against middle class citizens of Bangalore was the easy part.

Pressure on Siddaramaiah will begin if and when he directs his bulldozers towards the lake beds, which are now home to many glitzy shopping malls and other high-rise commercial and residential complexes.

The chief minister has the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal's backing, which had fined big real estate groups for constructions on the lake bed.

With Siddaramaiah biting the bullet, Karnataka's Congress government has an opportunity like never before.

Writer

TS Sudhir TS Sudhir @iamtssudhir

The writer is a journalist.

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