After Governor H R Bhardwaj refused to sign the Sakrama Bill last month, the B S Yeddyurappa-led state government is now planning to take its chances again by re-sending the bill for the governor’s approval. The bill has been with the state’s Department of Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation (DPAL) for almost a month now after the governor sent it back. But transport minister Ashoka (MLA-Padmanabhanagar) says that the governor’s reason for not approving the bill – the 2007 High Court stay on the implementation of the penalty scheme – is not valid.
The governor’s letter to the DPAL had said that the bill cannot be signed unless the 2007 stay by the High Court is cleared, says G K Bore Gowda, Secretary of the DPAL department. The department has not taken any steps regarding removal of the stay. "We cannot do anything as long as the stay is there. We are waiting for a judgement from the court," Gowda said.
However, when Citizen Matters contacted Minister Ashoka, he said that there was no stay on the bill as such. "I have confirmed with Advocate General Ashok Haranahalli that there is no stay. The poor and the middle class are waiting for the bill to be passed, so we will send it back to the Governor soon, probably within a week itself, stating that there is no stay from the HC." He said that the Congress party is indirectly trying to delay the bill.
Haranahalli confirmed that the HC’s interim order can be overridden if the Governor signs the bill. "Since the court order says that the government can amend the bill, there is no legal hurdle. It is up to the government to decide how to deal with the objections of citizen groups," he said. The governor’s office refused to comment on the issue.
But the legal community itself appears divided. "The matters based on which the court had granted the stay should be clarified by the government first, to get the stay removed. The bill cannot be implemented – even if it is passed in the assembly and signed by the governor – as long as there is a stay," says lawyer Vidya Raja, a Bangalore-based lawyer who practices in the High Court of Karnataka.
- Make the bill a one-time regularization for Bangalore, and specify solutions to stop illegal constructions in future
- Penalize corrupt government officials who had approved illegal constructions
What the Yeddyurappa state government has given
- Decrease in the penalty rates for violations
What the HC said in 2007
- The points raised by the petitioners need thorough consideration
- The bill’s penalty scheme is stayed until further orders as there was no state government to change laws at the time (President’s rule)
While granting a stay on the implementation of the penalty scheme of the Sakrama Bill in December 2007, the HC had also directed the government to file its objections within six weeks. The citizen groups who had filed the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the court had raised two main concerns – first, the bill says that only buildings that were constructed before a certain time frame will be regularised, but does not mention what will be done with buildings that come up after this timeline. Second, government officials, who sanction illegal constructions, are let off the hook completely. But after almost two-and-half-years, the government has not yet responded to the court on these issues, and the stay still stands.
Meanwhile, more and more buildings are being sanctioned by the BBMP’s Town Planning Department. The department sanctioned 10,677 buildings from April 2008 – March 2009, and 13,056 buildings from April 2009 – March 2010. According to realtors, 90-95 per cent of all sanctioned buildings have some irregularity. This implies that even as bill was pending, deviations continue to pile up.
City-based real estate agent Vinayak Harshavardhana says, "Almost all builders indulges in illegal construction and every stakeholder is to blame for this. But there are innocent buyers who get cheated when builders sell apartments with irregularities, and are not able to get khata later."
Meanwhile, the citizen action groups who succeeded in bringing about the 2007 stay order, want things to move ahead. One of the petitioners N S Mukunda of the Citizens Action Forum says, "We want the bill to be implemented as soon as possible, but the objections that we had highlighted in the PIL should be considered. Once the governor signs the bill, there will be a 30-day period during which objections from the public will be taken. Minister R Ashoka has agreed to have meetings with us then."
"If our objections are not taken seriously, we will go back to court. The bill should not end up as a money making venture for the government every few years," Mukunda adds, however.
While the bill was being passed in the assembly on June 15 this year, the citizen groups, concerned that the government had not addressed their original objections, submitted a letter to Governor Bhardwaj highlighting their concerns and the details of the court stay. They believe that this might also have influenced the governor to refuse to sign the bill.
Meanwhile, debates regarding the bill go on. Even though many would agree that Sakrama Bill should be a one-time regularisation plan for the city after which new deviations must not occur wholesale, opinions differ on making the bye-laws work.
Vivek L Halbe, CEO and Head of Srushti Foundation, an architecture consultancy and builder, says that the implementation of building bye-laws itself is problematic. Alternative concepts can be applied in construction to minimize irregularities, but they do not find favour with BBMP officials, he says.
"When a person buys a 30X40 plot at Rs 25 lakh, he wants to utilize every bit of space. For instance, many do not leave 3 feet space on both sides of the house as required by building bye-laws. But if at least three people come together to build a row house, there can be optimal utilization of space as each house owner does not have to sacrifice space individually, but it is difficult to get approval for such plans," Halbe says. ⊕