In a desperate bid to provide a playground for more than 700 children living in L&T South City, residents of the apartment complex in Mico-Arakere Layout on 19th March hired a bulldozer to level a part of the 5.5 acre land that was meant to be developed as a playground. The layout is located off Bannerghatta Road roughly opposite IIM-Bengaluru.
The event witnessed high drama as Hulimavu police, BDA officials and officials from even the BBMP were at the site within half an hour and halted the operation abruptly. The open play area is a part of 12 acres relinquished by Dinesh Ranka (original owner of the land before it was developed jointly with L&T) to the BDA in two sale deeds in 1996 and 2006 but was to be developed as a playground for children by L&T.
R Rajagopalan, vice-president of SUGRUHA, the association of apartment owners, emailed Citizen Matters an account of what transpired on that Saturday morning. Rajagopalan says the residents of the apartment complex were forced to take matter into their own hands as L&T had failed to keep their promise of developing a play area for children. "The playground was never a priority to L&T," he claims, adding that summer vacations being only a week away necessitated residents’ move.
However, D K Narang, Vice President (ECC Division) at L&T says that they have relinquished the land to BDA as was required by them. "The matter is now between BDA and the residents and L&T has no involvement in this," said Narang over the phone to Citizen Matters.
Kuruvilla says that according to the development agreement between the residents and L&T, it was the latter’s responsibility to develop an open play area but so far it has not been done. Narang was unavailable this week for further comments.
How it unfolded
"A professional survey was done and a plan which preserves the entire existing greenery was prepared. No trouble was expected as the community was doing BDA’s work for free," Rajagopalan says in his email.
The residents then hired a bulldozer only to level some of the play area which was uneven and had construction debris left behind and not make any structural changes. He says this move aggravated L&T and they instructed the security at the gate to stop the bulldozer but the security failed to do so as they were reminded that they were there to protect the community only.
Within half an hour a BBMP executive engineer and assistant engineer turned up at the site and were followed by a contingent of local police from Hulimavu police station who came there because someone had complained that the ‘community was rioting’. BDA officials, who came later, handed a written complaint to the police and refused to give any explanation to the residents as it was BDA property.
Rajagopalan says that when asked why L&T’s marketing office was allowed to be built on the playground land, the official said he received no complaints against it. "Contrast it with the prompt police complaint BDA itself files against the community now," says Rajagoplaan.
It was then that the driver of the bulldozer was taken by the police to Hulimavu police station. After heated arguments with BDA officials and the Inspector of Police, on legal advice, the residents give a written undertaking that they will resume preparation of the open park area for use as a children’s playground only after getting BDA’s approval and the driver was released.
"How could they have taken an innocent man to the police station? He was employed by us. Any actions should have been taken against us and not him as he was employed by us," says Abraham Kuruvilla, president of SUGRUHA. He added that their lawyer K Prathapan said they were doing no wrong as no structural changes were being done to the land. We probably should have informed the BDA but since we were not doing anything illegal we didn’t think it necessary," says Kuruvilla.
Hulimavu police station Sub-Inspector Yellappa who was onsite on Saturday declined to comment to Citizen Matters on grounds he was not authorized to talk about it. Inspector Rame Gowda remained unavailable for comment, despite several attempts made to reach him. BDA Executive Engineer (South) Thimmappa too could not be contacted.
The matter seems to be heading for a peaceful resolution as, Kuruvilla says, they have spoken to BDA commissioner Bharat Lal Meena about the issue and he has assured permission would be given to them to develop the playground. "He advised us to apply for written permission to level the ground and it would be granted. We just have to wait and see," says Kuruvilla.
Lingering backdrop of unresolved matters
South City residents’ court cases against L&T and Ranka on the contested issue of relinquishment of land are still hanging fire. The original land owner Dinesh Ranka had relinquished 12 of the total 34 acres of the group housing complex land to the BDA. This includes 5.5 acre park with children’s play area and a 60-feet road.
While the High Court directed all six cases to be clubbed together for hearing – as per an affidavit filed by L&T – residents now plan to approach the court to appeal that the cases should be heard separately. "All cases can be heard by one judge, but the hearings for each case should be separate. The issues and pleas in each case are different," says SUGRUHA’s Vice-President R Rajagopalan. The next hearing of the case is scheduled for April.
Meanwhile BDA’s initiative to accomodate citizen resentment and build a public road along the periphery of the complex has not gone very far either. Though BDA officials have inspected the site, they have not passed the order asking L&T to build the road yet. L&T has said that it would get involved only if BDA passes the order. ⊕