Obtaining khatas is known to be an ordeal in itself. It is not uncommon to hear BBMP officials demanding various sums of money to ‘get the work done’. In the past few weeks several residents in Bengaluru have narrated stories of how much money they doled out to get a khata.
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But there is also a success story amidst them, which has inspired many others in the city to follow suit.
Fifty families residing at Suncity Apartments on Sarjapur Road applied for khatas with the BBMP and obtained the registration document last year. All this without paying a single rupee as bribe. “It was a miracle to everyone that BBMP gave khatas without charging money”, exclaim Ashok Kumar Dubey and Hariprakash Agrawal, members of Suncity Apartment Owners Association (SAOA). Their achievement was also covered in two local newspapers.
The SAOA then went onto to publish their work through a website where they also guide residents in other parts of the city, encouraging them to take the ‘clean’ route while applying for khatas.
In an interview with Citizen Matters, Agrawal (Founder-member, SAOA) and Dubey (Executive committee member, SAOA) narrate their exhaustive khata registration experience and how they got through it by sticking together. They also share tips on how residents can take up such an exercise and avoid handing out bribes to government officials.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
Could you briefly explain the khata registration experience at Suncity apartments?
Hariprakash Agrawal: It started about two years back. Four-five people from Suncity thought they should go through without giving any bribe. They filed their applications. They followed up for about two-three months. They didn’t get any response. Then they filed an RTI application. They got a response saying the khata is ready and will reach them in a week. In their RTI application, they had asked questions like why the delay in getting khata, who are the officials responsible and so on. But they didn’t get responses to all that. They got the khata in a week. Once we had this success story, I put it on Vicharpravah (A website hosted by Agrawal where information on khata registration is available).
Suncity itself has about 1200 flats. About 200 had already paid bribe and got khatas. There were still about 800-900 of us who were yet to get khata. So we thought of following up with MLA (Satish Reddy, MLA, Bommanahalli assembly constituency). We requested him to come to Suncity and we had a good gathering. We asked why there’s a delay in getting khatas. He promised that BBMP officials will conduct a camp at Suncity. A camp was held the following week. About 100 people applied and got an acknowledgement. This happened in February 2009. As an association, we collected all the common documents, photocopied them, we publicised this. So the MLA’s promise worked. But the work we had to do was follow-up.
“We told them (officials) that the more they delay, the more we’ll sit on their head. Ultimately we got the khatas.”
We got acknowledgements but there was no progress. (Ashok Kumar) Dubey did lots of follow-ups. After two-three months we again approached the MLA. We wrote a letter to him with names of all the flat-owners who had applied and told him the applications are still stuck. After some phone calls, we finally got khatas for about 50 flats on August 15th 2009. We invited the MLA and he distributed the khatas which we got without bribe.
It’s so common for people to take the ‘easy’ route where you pay money and get the khata. Why did you decide to take the ‘clean’ route?
Ashok Kumar Dubey: I was in public sector for 22 years. I’ve never taken any bribe. So when this came to our apartment, I decided that I will not pay bribe. Even if I have khata, I’m not going to sell my flat. Khata is required only when you are going to sell your flat. In the mean time, these five residents of our apartment got it without paying bribe. So then hundreds of us joined this. We invited the MLA for a public meeting. He brought all the BBMP officials to look at our grievances. There we raised this problem of having to pay Rs 10,000 to 15,000 for khatas.
See, once we get acknowledgement, it means the process has begun. We went back and forth. Finally we told the BBMP officials that we are inviting the MLA to distribute, you decide if you want to give us the khatas or not. Then the day before this, one of the officials sat till 9 in the night and 50 khatas were ready. There was some documentation problem with the remaining 50 khatas.
It was a miracle to everyone that BBMP gave khatas without charging money. Those 50 khatas are still pending. We haven’t been able to follow-up much.
Speaking from experience, Suncity Apartment Owners Association recommends the following while applying for khata.
• Go in a group. It’s easier to follow-up that way as this is a time-consuming process.
• If you don’t get any response from BBMP after 2-3 months, file an RTI application.
• Approach your local MLA or corporator for assistance. They will put a word to the BBMP officials.
• Approach senior BBMP officials at the zonal level if you counter any problems.
How cooperative were BBMP officials through all of this?
Dubey: We met the Joint Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. They said they’ll get it done. There was this official at the revenue department, she said it’ll take time. I asked her to give me a time – one month, one week – so that I could go back to her after that. She asked me to come after a week. She then sent the papers to the Bellandur BBMP office.
There also we had to coax the officials. It’s not so easy. They are not available most of the time. They say they are outside in a meeting or something. But we just followed-up. We told them that whatever they do we won’t bribe them. We told them that the more they delay, the more we’ll sit on their head. Ultimately we got it.
At any point, did residents at Suncity feel this effort is too tedious and thought it would be easier to just pay and get the khatas?
Agrawal: See there were all kinds of people. Many people are abroad. They don’t understand the process. And this really takes time. Some people definitely took the route of paying bribes. But there were many who were with the association. We had a bunch of really good senior citizens who did the follow-up. Many of us are professionals and we don’t have time to work on this on a routine basis.
But it’s a matter of pride for us for having done something that’s not so easy. The RTI process also helped. Three-four years back RTI was not known. There are many people today who don’t want to pfif theyay a bribe. But at times the situation itself maybe tricky that you don’t know what to do. People do lose patience.
But right now I see a good vibe, some people have been waiting for one year. But you have to be patient. People are not fussy and that’s good news.
Could you list out some points for other citizens to keep in mind while registering their property?
Agrawal: I suggest that people go in a group because you’ll have to do a lot of following-up. Nothing moves automatically. Everybody is busy. So each person can follow-up every week. That way nobody gets disheartened. You can hold each other together.
Wait for sometime. After two-three months, file an RTI.
Try to approach senior officials like Deputy Commissioner. At times they are helpful. Officials sitting in the same office aren’t very helpful. Go to someone who isn’t sitting in that office.
“If they come to know that you are selling the house, the (bribe) price will go up.”
Dubey: If people decide that they aren’t going to pay any money, even if it is delayed, you will ultimately get the khata. Only when people become impatient, saying they want it immediately, that becomes a problem. If they come to know that you are selling the house, the price will go up. Corruption is universal in India. People have to make up their mind that they will not pay bribe, come what may. Then only things will improve.
I spoke to a BBMP revenue department official who said that the khata registration process is simple. The BBMP has a ‘single window’ system where applications are scrutinised and accepted at a single window. As a citizen who has gone through this process, what are the realities that exist in the system?
Dubey: You submit it to one official. He will accept it and give you a receipt. But when you go and meet him next time, he’ll say it has gone to (zonal) Commissioner’s office for signature. When we go there they say they haven’t received it. When I went to the local BBMP office, one official said, ‘Tell me which are your papers. I’ll give your khata immediately’. But I hadn’t gone there only for my own khata, I wanted all of them. After that he said it’s with the revenue officer.
But what I don’t understand is, in apartment complexes if one flat has been given a khata, all documents are common to all flats except the registration document. So if they are giving khata to one flat, automatically they should give to all flat owners. I can understand it’s different for individual plots.
I told the official that he is losing money. We’ve got 1200 flats. If each flat pays Rs 2,000 (property tax), it comes up to Rs 24 lakhs. BBMP needs money. They always say they are short of funds. We are ready to pay (tax). But these people want bribe.
Have you told higher officials in BBMP about these problems from your experiences?
Dubey: They say, ‘The process is like that’. I have spoken to Deputy Commissioner. They never say no. It’s a question of delaying. They just say it takes time. First they’ll ask for Occupancy Certificate, that certificate, this certificate. There’s no fixed date. These officials need to be hauled up. But it doesn’t happen.
What about owners of independent houses and vacant plots?
Agrawal: The process remains the same.
Dubey: People from HSR Layout approached Sathish Reddy and got it done. They had a function in BDA complex. They got khatas without paying bribe. The residents joined together. Our MLA is very proactive.
Agrawal: You can still use RTI. This route is always open. You just need to get your acknowledgement. See, BBMP should either accept or reject (Khata applications). There is no (need for) holding back. What happens is delay. So people can file an RTI application.
Other apartments have been contacting you since your own success story. How do you guide and assist them?
Agrawal: After our experience, we got lots of queries from surrounding apartments and apartments in Peenya, Whitefield, Kanakapura Road. Phone calls and e-mails kept coming. We try to answer wherever possible. We then decided to hold a meeting in Suncity because so many people had questions. About 20-25 people participated from multiple apartments. This was in October last year. We explained to them about what we did. Many people got interested, they wanted to try it this way (without paying bribe).
Basically there are two ways of trying. One is, a bunch of people can get together, do follow-ups, file RTI applications. Second is, take the help of your MLA or corporator, or even writing to senior officials in BBMP because sometimes they are helpful. People have told me they wrote to (BBMP Commissioner) Meena and the process got started. Basically we are trying to proliferate this information as much as possible. People can apply for khatas in their apartments without paying any bribe. There are success stories.
On vichar pravah website three articles related to khata are put up. The khata article gets about 15 hits per day. Many people have left their comments and followed the procedure we have stated. Some people wrote back saying they got khatas without paying bribe. Some are struggling. Some nearby apartments have visited us. Some have invited me to have a brief discussion. Most of them have gotten to know through the website. People can write to us at admin[at]vicharpravah[dot]com.
What is the kind of time that goes into this entire process? Especially in cases where people are working professionals, they don’t have the time to put in such an effort.
Agrawal: It definitely takes time. People have to give time. There is no substitute. There is no easy way out.
Dubey: Just like for property tax, where they send officials to your house to collect it, let BBMP have a department whose job is to give all these documents to residents. Let them charge an official fee for that. This will help people who don’t have time. BBMP can earn more, officially.