“Sir, only Rs 10,500/- service charge for Khata and property tax. Quick and reliable service!” said a representative of a broker firm in Akshay Nagar, Begur.
The firm facilitated the issuing of Khatas for apartments, while residents of West End Heights, an apartment complex of 1,830 units, were looking to get Khatas. But they decided they had to do something about the blatant corruption in the delivery of Khatas.
What followed was a tale of how a group of aware and vocal citizens fought against the system and won, and received their Khata certificates without having to pay any bribes.
They were transferred to two different Assistant Revenue Officers (AROs), had to compete with a couple of brokers, sought police intervention, tried applying through Sakala and Bangalore One, filed an RTI, held peaceful gatherings to protest the state of the system and hosted a Twitter campaign, all in order to get their Khata without bribery.
There were five factors which were credited to their success in getting their Khatas without bribes:
- A cohesive strategy group of volunteers with at least one anchor volunteer.
- Effective communication strategy with BBMP and the builder (writing letters, email and placing phone calls)
- Pointed RTIs and diligent follow ups with appeals.
- The applicants’ trust in the #BribeFreeKhatha campaign and their will to find a way.
- A lot of patience.
Back in 2014, the occupancy of the West End Heights apartment complex had begun, and within two years, there was a sudden rise in the number of occupants who were scouting for Khata services. The BBMP Assistant Revenue Officer (ARO) Somashekar (Begur Ward 192) turned down the request to set up a Khata camp inside the complex, meaning that about 1,830 people, concentrated in less than 1 sq km, would have to travel a total of at least 30,000 km to visit the ARO office to get their Khata certificate.
They felt the effects of government apathy from that point on, and it was that apathy that paved the way for touts to make hay. Encouragement came in the form of news that flat owners like Prabhakar P Suvarna, a retired banker, had received his Khata through the bribe-free route in mid-2016. However, by the end of the year, a brokerage firm was registered at Akshay Nagar and incorporated soon after the demonetisation declaration in November 2016, and offered property tax payment and Khata services at Rs. 10,500/- per flat, not inclusive of actual BBMP tax and fees, making things difficult for owners to get their Khatas without bribery.
Rules flouted while issuing Khata
By the end of 2016, not a single direct Khata application was processed by the BBMP.
“We were orphaned by BBMP. No one was paying heed to the honest tax paying public who were standing at the doorstep of public servants,” said Shashi Bhushan, the anchor volunteer in the Bribe-Free-Khata campaign.
People applying for Khata for the first time had to get the property ID (PID) which involved an one-time password sent on mobile. This step was by itself difficult, and applicants had to run pillar-to-post just to complete the first stage.
It was the Khata bifurcation certificate that was missing in the whole picture. The Khata certificates were being selectively offered and no reason was given for keeping the applications pending. The circular sent by the Joint Commissioner (Revenue) dated January 4, 2017 had clearly mentioned that the property tax assessment of a flat must happen irrespective of whether the said property is registered or not, and that the bifurcation of Khata is necessary. In compliance with the circular, the BBMP was not supposed to issue Khata certificates to any flat owners unless the bifurcation was complete. However, they continued to issue Khata certificates to broker-linked applicants even without bifurcation.
“That was when we spearheaded the RTI campaign along with complaint letters to officials. We sought details about the bifurcation certificate, about compliance to the Revenue Commissioner’s circular, and about the status of pending applications and the action taken report for the complaint letters,” said Kartikeya Khanna, from the strategy group.
The applicants tried the Bengaluru One and BBMP’s online route to submit Khata certificate application. Both routes faced a dead-end when BBMP rejected the application citing “invalid documents”. Ironically, the same set of documents were accepted when given physically in the office.
Sadly, the BBMP was doing everything possible to not take property tax from residents who were waiting at their doors to hand it over and pay for Khata issuance. Meanwhile, ARO Somashekar was transferred in March 2017 and a new ARO, Chandrashekhar took charge.
With RTIs, complaints and meetings with Joint Commissioner Bommanahalli, the pressure mounted on the BBMP to the point that all the applications were put on hold, including the ones linked to brokers. The struggle continued and after a gap of about 16 months, the BBMP began processing broker-linked applications. Brokers applied for around 150 Khatas in July 2018 and “arranged” the Khata certificates in just a month’s time.
“It was time we decided to go to the BBMP office every working Saturday and demand our Khata certificate,” said Bharath Gowda M D, one of the residents. Finally, ARO Chandrashekhar agreed to issue Khata within two weeks and then he was abruptly transferred. “We were back to square one, but did not lose hope.” said Shashi Bhushan.
The struggle continued with the new ARO, Ananthram as well. “We were determined. Though I got my own Khata in 2016, I felt that it was my social obligation to support the cause and hence joined the applicant group at BBMP on several occasions,” said Prabhakar P Suvarna, from the strategy group.
The applicant group even resorted to an aggressive Twitter campaign. On November 24, 2018, the group of applicants decided to stay back at the Begur BBMP ARO’s Office until the certificates were issued. BBMP officials threatened to file a police complaint, and finally around 5.30 pm the police were called to remove the applicants from the place. The police had been given a different perspective on the situation. The applicants narrated their version of the story to the sub-inspector, Shivaraj. After a brief intervention, the applicants were assured that they would receive their certificates in a week’s time.
The BBMP then started issuing certificates from November 27, 2018 to the applications that had been pending for 19 months. About 50 applicants who had taken bribe-free-route got their Khatas by the first week of December 2018. It is roughly estimated that 5 lakhs was saved by the 50 applicants.
Concerns yet unaddressed
- Until now, Khata bifurcation has not happened for West End Heights apartment complex, yet an estimated number of over 600 Khatas have been issued. So where was the need for bifurcation, a requirement that allegedly held up the Khata issuance?
- While the top officials of the BBMP cry for funds and set out targets for property tax collections, the officials sitting in the ward office do everything to discourage the honest first-time property tax payers, leading to an unwelcoming environment for honest tax paying citizens.
The journey was not an easy one. The law was not held equally for all applicants and discouraged honest citizens from their duty, and such acts are detrimental to society. Apathy and blatant corruption in civic bodies has a major role to play in this, and needs to be rectified immediately for the good of society and the people who live within it.