It’s a prickly, 15 acres of prime land that stretches through shrub and wild grass, unaware of the legal battles that have been waged over it for the past 20 years. Part of the Jakkasandra Lake (Meistripalya), it stretches a few yards away from the BDA Complex in Koramangala, adjoining the 7th Cross Road and Telephone Exchange. The bone of contention has been its identity. Is this undeveloped land, belonging to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) earmarked as a civic amenity, or is it meant for construction with commercial intent?
The Laxman Rau Committee report of 1986 had already declared that the breached tank bed should be developed as a Forest area. Based on the said report, a gazette notification was issued in 1988 to preserve the area. Originally, the land was declared to be open space/tank bed area in the 1995 Master Plan of the BDA, and an undertaking to the effect was given to the High Court by the then BDA Commissioner. However, the BDA’s Revised Master Plan of 2015, now shows the land to be ‘built-up area’ for commercial purposes.
That is nothing short of frustrating for the residents of Koramangala, for they were instrumental in getting the land back to BDA after helping it fight a litigation claim on it by a private citizen. The land they fought for with the intention of preserving the much needed open space for their layout, is now in danger of being used for commercial purposes.
The story of the disputed land goes back to 1986, when the entire area belonged to one Hanumaiah. According to Vijayan Menon of the Koramangala Initiative (KI), a residents’ federation in the area, a lot of land was acquired by the government from Hanumaiah initially, including a particular stretch of land that happened to be a public tank. For this reason, the specific stretch was not ‘acquired’, in that sense, but Hanumaiah claimed that the land was his, and went to court to reclaim it.
Hanumaiah filed a petition to that effect in 1987 in the trial court, only to get a ruling in his disfavor, which prompted him to move the Supreme Court. However, the SC sent it back to the state high court, as that was the correct route to go through before it reached the apex court.
It was at this point that KI stepped in to fight the attempt by Hanumaiah to take over the land. Although initially, KI was ruled to have no ‘locus standi’, as it was seen as an outsider in the battle that was being waged between Hanumaiah and the government, it was soon allowed to support the latter, for which it engaged its own lawyer. Eventually, the court ruled against Hanumaiah’s in 2007, and the piece of land went to the Forest Department. This might not be the end of the story, for Hanumaiah still has the option of knocking on the doors of the SC for justice.
Adjacent to this property is another seven acres of similar looking land which is overlaid with bushes and wilderness. It was simultaneously under dispute between the same parties. Declaring that this land was taken and then returned to him by the government in the 1970s, Hanumaiah tried to claim it. This case was fought in the Supreme Court, and the apex court ruled that the land belonged to the BDA, and was therefore a ‘civic amenities’ land. The court’s laudable decision in favour of a green belt literally breathed fresh air into the choked concrete jungle of Koramangala. The directive was based on a ruling of the 1990s, when the law had noted that Koramangala’s green area had come down from 9.8 per cent to 2 per cent, while the mandatory need was 15 per cent.
This is how the piece of land finally went to the BDA, and the citizens of Koramangala were vindicated in their stand. Or were they? The BDA’s Master Plan of 2015 currently shows the entire area to be ‘built-up area’, although the land has been earmarked by the courts for civic amenities.
Muralidhar Rao, a resident and active member of KI, points out indignantly that the land, being prime property, is up for grabs. "Everyone is interested in wresting that piece of land, as it is in an important hub of the city," he says, and adds that there are rumours of a Legislators’ Home being constructed at the spot.
The Forest Department didn’t know about its own ownership of a chunk of this land until the KI appraised it, according to Menon. Ironically, and for its part, the BDA too doesn’t seem to be aware of the existence of the adjoining land that is now supposed to belong to it. Janardhan Reddy, an Executive Engineer at the BDA, was aware of the land, and appeared to think that the ownership of the land was still under contention. Reddy threw up a new twist. "The land will be given to the Municipal Corporation," he says.
However, Reddy was not sure who the lawyers involved in the case were. The ones he did mention, when contacted, were not aware either of who was handling the dispute, or that there was such a case in the first place.
Thus, there it lies, all 15 acres of land in the prime area of Koramangala. It’s claimant is desperate to acquire the land, but it’s current owners – government bodies – not conducting themselves as owners. Will the land be left alone to give the residents the much needed breathing space, as it is intended to, or will its bowels be dug up to lay the foundations for more construction?
Several other questions need to be answered. If the BDA allows construction activity there, will it not be contempt of court? If the authorities in the BDA and the Forest department are not aware at all of the land that belongs to them, who marked it as ‘Residential’ in the 2015 Master Plan, and with what authority? ⊕