Tuesday September 14th was Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) day in Bangalore. Drawn into severe scrutiny by citizens protesting the TDR scheme’s use as compensation for roadwidening, the state government’s Urban Development Department organised a workshop on the controversial scheme. Following that, in the evening Samaya TV, a Kannada 24×7 news channel, organised a live debate on the topic. (See inset box for a brief report on the debate).
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As was the concern of many citizen action groups, the government’s day-long workshop turned out to be a mostly technical session on TDR’s implementation. Bureaucrats from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat made lengthy presentations about the success of TDR in their respective states. But specific problems over TDR that have arisen in Bangalore were pushed for later meetings. This meeting did not take on the angst of the citizens head on.
It was only in the second half of the session that a sense of the divergence of views between government and citizens even arose. Dr B R Manjunath, Convenor of Save Bangalore Committee (SBC), said, "This workshop has been trying to find ways to make TDR attractive to the public. But people will never accept it." He pointed out that around 40,000 properties will be removed and at least two lakh people will be affected. "When 40,000 TDRs come into the market at once, the buyers will dictate terms. You are leaving the affected people at the mercy of stock market fluctuations with just a piece of paper in their hands," he said. He also pointed out newspaper reports to contest the argument that TDR has been successful in other states.
To TDR or not to TDR?
Between 8.30 and 9 pm on Tuesday September 14th, local Kannada news channel Samaya TV held a debate on TDR, close on the heels of the state govenrment’s workshop the same day. The panelists at the debate were: Dr A Ravindra, Advisor (urban affairs) to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Former Mayor P R Ramesh (Congress), and Leo Saldanha, Coordinator (Environment, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives), Environment Support Group (ESG).
Through ESG, Saldanha has protested against the promotion of TDR as the only approach in accessing land for urban infrastructure projects. Ramesh has been involved in filing public interest litigations in the court, the most prominent of them being the recent ‘midnight tender’ case, in which BBMP’s road widening projects are also stuck. Ravindra is the Chairman of the core-committee set up by the state government to look into TDR, and is also a key member of ABIDe, the chief minister’s task force for the city.
Below are excerpts from the TV debate.
Anchor asks Ravindra whether TDR is required or not.
Ravindra: The question is not about whether TDR is needed or not. The question is about land. TDR is a tool to acquire land. If people want, they can take it. Acquiring land is expensive and TDR is a tool.
Anchor asks a question on why the public were not invited (to the state government’s workshop)
Ravindra: I did not have information on who was invited and who wasn’t.
Saldanha: You are part of the committee, how can you not know?
Ravindra: I am not saying I am not part of the committee.
Ramesh: The question is, will TDR work in Bangalore? When people surrender their land, voluntarily, then TDR is given. You need to check the strength of the building. What if the owner builds one floor above, and the building is not strong?
Also, is there a market for TDR? Near the Chief Minister’s house, when road widening was done, cash compensation was given to property owners. So when they wanted this work to get done smoothly and because it was towards the CM’s residence, they gave cash compensation.
TDR won’t work in Bangalore. Market value has to be given.
In today’s workshop, I heard it was conducted in a way that TDR was projected in good light. In Bangalore, TDR will be like a photo frame, hanging on the wall.
Saldanha: Was any vendor (business) invited to this workshop? Will he be allowed inside Hotel Capitol? You (Ravindra) need to take responsibility as part of the committee. This is not a subject to be discussed in air-conditioned rooms in five star hotels. We need to discuss this on the streets of the city because this is about the streets. Why couldn’t this be open? Why couldn’t you hold it in Vidhana Soudha or Vikasa Soudha? Don’t you have a banquet hall there?
(He gave the example of a property owner near Sophia Girls School who hasn’t received a TDR certificate yet). The KTCP Act should be followed. What is being done now is just scaring residents.
Ramesh: This government is only trying to make the people feel scared.
Ravindra: See, I agree that nothing should be forcibly done. It is reported that people are being threatened and forced, that is wrong. In Bangalore, TDR can be used in peripheral areas. The market for TDR in Bangalore is difficult – one because of the Akramas and another because of FAR. But the issue is not just about widening roads, it’s to benefit the people, to make better pavements. We can look at other options like junction improvement, and other alternatives. Ramesh: So what they are saying is, TDR will be used in newly-added areas. They are telling the people to violate laws. Is there no BDA Act to be followed? The Corporation bye-laws will allow G+4. TDR will allow G+5. For G+4, the building will have parking space for ten cars. When he builds another floor, where will he have place for more parking? So vehicles will be parked on the road. So through TDR, you are allowing more violations.
You want to do this so that contractors are safeguarded.
Their plan is short-term, not long-term. If it works in Mangalore, it doesn’t mean it will work in Bangalore.
The day started with members of the NGO Hasiru Usiru speaking to Suresh Kumar, State Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, about not involving the public in the meeting. The minister responded saying that he was aware of the problems and that public consultations will be held. "TDR is only one of the tools for infrastructure development. Today’s meeting is not meant to finalize anything, but only to be clear about procedures. Of the 40 lakh square metres of land to be acquired in the city, only 1.86 lakh square metres has been acquired so far. It will cost more than Rs 10,000 crore if land is acquired. So TDR is a better option, but it should become popular among public first," he said in the inaugural speech.
Dr A Ravindra, Advisor to the Chief Minister on urban affairs and Chairman of the Core Committee that looks into TDR, said that TDR has not been successful in Bangalore as FAR (Floor Area Ratio) for buildings is already high here (unlike cities like Mumbai) and building violations already exist. TDR does not give the public anything they do not already have. Director of Town and Country Planning S B Honnur said that compensation should be based on market price and that government-run TDR banks are necessary to create the market for TDR.
Following this, town planners from other states made their presentations detailing how TDR was made effective in their cities. Ponnuraj, Deputy Commissioner of Dakshin Kannada district, presented the case study of Car Street in Mangalore that was recently widened. He said that the land value has rocketed post-road widening and that there would be gains of Rs 88 crore collectively for land owners and municipality. NGOs dismissed the calculation as "immature and unrealistic".
Sushil Mantri, who spoke representing CREDAI (Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India), said that road widening should be privatized and guidance values should be increased in less populated zones also. Due to paucity of time, Ravindra had to cut short many speakers, asking them to skip some specific slides.
While NGOs were generally unhappy about the proceedings, some participants acknowledged that certain suggestions made by presenters could be useful. Satish Gopal of SBC said, "Though the discussions are one-sided, the cases of other cities are worth studying."
Other objections to road widening came up only during the group discussions at the end of the day. Kathyayini Chamaraj of the NGO CIVIC said that there has to be a committee for Social Impact Assessment of road widening. "The rationale behind road widening, and the related facts and figures should be presented to the public. According to the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy, the affected parties should be rehabilitated by a specially appointed officer. The solution is not road widening, but disincentivising private transport."
Other NGO members talked about cases where the public were forced to sign TDRs by BBMP officials or were threatened by goons. Ravindra said that individual cases could not be discussed in the session. When BBMP officials said that the roads for widening were chosen on the basis on Master Plan 2015, Gopal pointed out that Tannery road and Thimmiah road, which have been marked for road widening, does not appear in the master plan at all.
At this point, Dr Ashwin Mahesh, Urban Strategy Advisor to the state government and member of the Core Committee, said that road widening will be done as a last resort in cases where steps like junction elimination do not work. "People are more open about discussing road widening now. For the first time we are actually having a discussion about it," he said. Ravindra said that public consultations will be done and that a website will be opened for people to put forth their views and suggestions. (Both Ravindra and Mahesh are members of ABIDe, the chief minister’s task force for Bengaluru).
"Our mistake maybe that 200 roads were right away marked for widening without discussions. TDR has not been completely successful anywhere, that’s why we invited officials from other cities to discuss solutions," said Ravindra.
Despite this candid admission by Ravindra, an official from Mangalore Corporation perhaps summarised the gist of the state government’s thinking going into Tuesday’s workshop. In a conversation with Citizen Matters, he said, "The government will acquire your land anyway. So why not accept TDR, which is a better proposal than land acquisition?" ⊕