In January 2013, over 5,000- residents were evicted from the EWS quarters in Ejipura near Koramangala in South Bengaluru. The eviction was to facilitate BBMP’s new plan — a developer, Maverick Holdings would construct new EWS quarters for the 1,512 families who were residing in the quarters. It has been five years since the eviction took place. In this series, Citizen Matters will bring to you a reality check on the developments in the project, what the evicted families are up to and what went wrong in implementation.
In the first part, we hear from Uday B Garudachar, developer and Managing Director of Garuda Group (Maverick Holdings), the man in the middle of controversy, accused of brutally evicting the families from the project area. This piece reflects his point of view on the entire project.
It was mid noon on June 23rd. Just as I was about to wind up the long conversation that I had with Uday B Garudachar, developer and Managing Director of Garuda Group at his office chamber in Garuda Mall located in the heart of the city, he quickly pulls an almanac from his drawer and flips through it.
I ask him about the almanac. In his typical business tycoon style, he says he is looking for an “auspicious time” to sign the plan approval documents of a mega project that the City Corporation has sent across suggesting modification. Referring to the caste he belongs to, he explains very matter of factly that it’s important to note the correct time to sign such documents.
For Uday Garudachar, the controversial builder and developer of Bengaluru and owner of Garuda Mall, an important project is underway. This particular project has been mired in controversy since its inception.
The project I am referring to is the proposed construction of a long pending housing facility for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) families in Ejipura near Koramangala. My visit to Uday Garudachar’s office was to gather more information about the same project. I wanted to explore what was happening with this housing project conceptualised way back in 2004, but yet to see light of the day, even after 13 years.
In 2012, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) entered into a public-private-partnership with Maverick Holdings and Investments Pvt Ltd (MHI), a unit of Garuda Group, for the redevelopment of EWS quarters in Ejipura, to facilitate housing for 1,512 families.
While the project was anyway mired in litigations from 2005 to 2012, it continued to move in snail’s speed even after the concession agreement was signed between the BBMP and Maverick. The construction work is yet to take off.
During the conversation that lasted for over an hour, Garudachar narrated his version of the story. He explained the reasons for the delay in securing the contract and then the delay in commencing the work. He would frequently ask me, “Tell me madam, whose fault is this? Isn’t it the BBMP’s?”
I ask him what obstacles did he face to start the construction work even though the agreement was signed between BBMP and Maverick five years ago. He replies, first, soon after the agreement was signed, his company applied for development plan with the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA).
“The plan did not get approved immediately. There was a BDA zonal classification case pending before the High Court, hence I had to wait to get an order from the HC to clear my path. I got the HC order in 2013. After I got the development plan approval, I went to the City Corporation Commissioner requesting to evict the families so that I can start the land levelling work. But then there were lot of issues related to eviction. I was portrayed as a villain. While passing the judgment, the Court directed me to pay compensation of Rs 30,000 to original allottees who lost their houses during eviction,” he explains.
To how many families did Garudachar pay the compensation of Rs 30,000? He claims to have paid the amount to nearly 1,000 families. It was apparently to help the families to make alternative housing arrangements till the new EWS quarters is ready to be occupied. And it has been over five years since the families were evicted from their homes.
A solution for the resident tenants
Having received enough brickbats, Garudachar says he decided to find a solution to the eviction issue. Considering that a large number of families were living as tenants in EWS quarters during the time of eviction (original allottees had rented out those houses which were in dilapidated condition), and they had been thrown onto the streets, the builder then approached two cabinet ministers of his acquaintance.
“I requested the ministers to allot five acres of land to rehabilitate the evicted families. Those families were not original allottees, but unauthorised dwellers. The ministers initially refused, but later agreed to give the land,” he narrates.
At this point he showers praise on those two ministers and calls them “benevolent” for showing concern towards the poor families. Five acres of land was allotted in Sulikunte on Sarjapur road to develop 900 houses for the unauthorised dwellers. This housing project was taken up by the Karnataka Slum Development Board under Rajiv Awas Yojana. “Even 10 per cent of beneficiary contribution for the housing was waived off,” he says.
And who was to build these houses? It was again Maverick! Garudachar procured the contract for this Rs 60 crore worth project too. I ask him how did he succeed to secure tender for this housing project and he replies nonchalantly: “We bid. We were the lowest to bid and so we got the tender. No big deal. Even otherwise we are into housing.”
There is a sense of pride on his face when he talks about Sulikunte housing project which has been completed. “We weren’t able to start the work on Sulikunte project straight away. There was a court case on this project too. But gradually everything got cleared and the construction commenced in 2016. You will be surprised! The houses were ready within a year,” he tells me.
He uses an adjective to describe the Sulikunte housing quarters. He calls those low budget houses “extraordinary.” “Twenty houses (each) are built in 45 blocks. We have also built a community centre, a school, a market, a temple, a church and a mosque. The houses are so strong and of good quality. Even a bulldozer can not demolish them. Those 900 unauthorised allottees will get good houses to live in purely because of my effort,” he boasts.
When I ask if the houses are ready to be occupied, he says, the work was completed two months ago and he is waiting to hand over the houses to the allottees. “I just want to give away the houses and get out of it.”
That is how the building giant overcame one of the main hurdles in the process of constructing EWS quarters in Ejipura.
Back to the main project. Following the High Court judgement on Ejipura EWS, Maverick applied for Development Plan to the BDA and got it approved in 2014. Then it was time to get the project plan sanction from BBMP.
Explaining the proposed project plan Garudachar says according to the agreement and the HC judgment, of the 15.64 acres of BBMP land available in Ejipura, Maverick is supposed to construct EWS quarters in 8 acres free of cost, and the remaining 7.64 acres is to be used as commercial space shared between Maverick and the BBMP.
As many as 1,512 houses for EWS families is to be constructed in 26 blocks (G+12 floors) with two elevators in each block. The builder says according to the current project plan, the eight acre land shared between Maverick and the BBMP will comprise of shopping area, office space and also residential, and the project cost is estimated at Rs 870 crore (excluding GST calculation).
When plan sanction gets delayed
He is visibly upset when I ask him why there was a delay in getting the project plan approval from the City Corporation. He bursts out: “the City Corporation unnecessarily postponed the process of plan sanction. The government shouldn’t have taken up PPP project if they could not felicitate the smooth functioning of it. I invest my hard-earned money in anticipation of some profit. How can you hinder my project?”
Was it because of him not obtaining No Objection Certificates from the Fire Department, Airport Authority and the KSPCB, I ask. “I have got all of it now,” he maintains. I nag him again. So why the delay.
He tells, first there was an issue related to the primary storm water drain that flows adjacent to the project area. “See, there was a primary SWD flowing close to the project area and several houses are already built on the edge of the drain. We left some buffer zone for the construction. Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order bringing 50 metres buffer zone rule for primary SWD,” he explains.
I question him, is the NGT order applicable to his project? He replies in the negative. “It’s not applicable to Ejipura project, I am not going to follow it,” he confidently says. The reason why he believes it’s not applicable to EWS project is, the BDA sanctioned the development plan to his project much before the NGT order was passed. “There are already houses built next to the existing Primary SWD. Are they going to remove all of it?” he asks.
Meanwhile, he declares that he is going to file a petition in the Supreme Court against the NGT order. In fact, the builders fraternity has already moved to the SC questioning the NGT verdict, and Garudachar says he will join their fight. He appeared nonchalant about the buffer zone issue.
Never ending court battle
Then comes yet another court battle. Last year, following the delay in commencing the project work, a bunch of original allottees filed a contempt petition in the High Court demanding for their houses to be constructed at the earliest. When this case was heard, the BBMP demanded that Maverick pay a plan sanction fee of Rs 7.5 crore to grant the plan approval.
This upset the builder. Recently the Court too ordered Garudachar to cough up 50 per cent of the plan sanction fee to start the work, which he agreed to. He has deposited Rs 3.5 crore to the BBMP. Despite having paid half the fee, he continues to object to the demand raised by the City Corporation.
“That land belongs to the BBMP and to the allottees who have paid instalments before the quarters were demolished. I am just a contractor as on today. Then in what way can you ask me to pay this fee? Land is yours, why should I pay you?” he questions.
And then he tells he would have paid Rs 1 crore as plan sanction fee for a “small portion of land” (3.82 acre) that will eventually become his. “But for that to happen they should transfer the land to me.” If that is the case, I ask him, why did he agree to pay Rs 3.5 crore at all?
“I have paid under duress, as a mark of protest,” pat comes the reply.
With the payment of fee in June 2017 in accordance with the court order, another impediment to the project is cleared. Accordingly, the BBMP was supposed to sanction project plan to Garuda within two weeks of him paying the fee.
New issue of storm water drain
On the day I was at the office of Uday Garudachar, he says, the BBMP has raised a new issue even as it was about to give the plan sanction. When I probe him further on this he says “the village map thing has popped up from nowhere.”
According to the village map, a small storm water drain (pillugaluve) exists in the project area and the BBMP expects him to get the issue sorted before sanctioning the plan approval. But Garudachar terms this SWD as “imaginary.” “I have leveled the land in the project location and did not find any trace of SWD. It was diverted or closed long back. Why raise the issue now? We are going to contest this in the court,” he remarks.
I question him again. “What if the government sometime in future decides to clear storm water drain encroachments and considers Ejipura EWS as built on encroached SWD?”
Garudachar seems unperturbed, for he is confident of taking shelter under the government and the court orders. “We have the government order and we are doing the project under the sanction of the court. Besides, it’s a rehabilitation project. I have nothing much to gain from it,” he states.
To prove his point, he takes me to his conference room where the project plan and the village map are spread across the table. His team is busy scrutinising things. Garudachar points at the map and shows, “See, the village map says a drain existed here. But in reality it doesn’t exist. It’s fictitious,” he reiterates.
“We will get the plan sanction. The court has asked the BBMP to grant us the approval and start the work without delay,” he adds.
After hearing the long tale about legal fights, I am about to wrap up the conversation. I pose him one last question: “What is the take away? Do you think it is all worth the effort?”
The businessman in him replies: “There will be occupational hazards. But to me, it’s a thrill; it’s madness.”
He ponders for a moment and then continues, “The project expense is around Rs 870 crore. When will I recover this?”
I quiz him how will he recover. What plans he has in his mind. He does not disclose his full scheme of things, but indicates that this project means some serious business to him. “People do say, oh! this fellow has looted the government land, but you know the difficulties, right? When I first expressed my interest in this project, the place was like a dirty cow shed with filth and litter all around. Do you know the extent of effort I have put in to clear the land, and the obstacles that we faced? If not me, some other developer would have got the contract,” he smirks.
I ask him again, what is the takeaway, to which he grins, “I will have the last laugh five-six years from now. You know everybody does business for profit.”
The second part in the series will throw light on the chain of events that led to the project, litigations and the status of the project as on today.