After a two-year-long struggle against corrupt BBMP officials and a hostile Resident Welfare Association, residents of Sachidananda Nagar layout in Bengaluru are finally about to receive their khatas – without paying any bribe. Today, BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah issued a letter to the BBMP Additional Director (Rajarajeshwari zone) K M Ramachandrappa to issue khatas to the nearly 800 residents. The letter says that the decision was made after considering the Gandhigiri protests held by residents and a directive from the Lokayukta last week.
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The battle for khatas started in 2001 for the residents of Sachidanandanagar, a layout in Rajarajeshwari nagar located in the southwestern fringe of the city. In a letter dated October 27, Lokayukta directed the BBMP Commissioner to issue khatas to all the residents. The letter says that the Supreme Court decision was final and non-compliance would amount to contempt of court. The original ruling came from a civil court in 2005, which the High Court and Supreme Court upheld later. The Lokayukta letter also says that the BBMP officials have not acted fairly and have discriminated among residents.
BBMP had been refusing to issue khatas
The layout was formed by VHBC (Vishwa Bharathi Housing Board Corporation) in 1990 in survey nos. 212 to 242/2. Pattanagere village panchayat and later Pattanagere CMC approved the layout plan. Many site owners were also given khatas by the CMC. In 2001, the Divisional Commissioner directed the CMC to not issue khatas any further.
Dr Shankar Prasad who is leading the struggle obtain Khatas says, "CMC’s argument was that Krishna Bhat, the original owner of the layout, was not an agriculturist, and hence did not have the authority to convert the agricultural land into a residential layout. This argument was disproved in court." Dr Prasad is a member of Loksatta party and had contested the last BBMP elections from Ward 160 (Rajarajeshwari Nagar). The VHBC Society filed a case with the Additional City Civil and Sessions Court against this.
The court’s order in April 2005 nullified the Divisional Commissioner’s communication and directed the CMC to register khatas to all site owners. In 2006, BBMP filed an appeal in the High Court challenging this order, but the court dismissed it. It again filed an SLP (Special Leave Petition) against the order this year in Supreme Court; the SC again upheld the lower court’s order on April 16.
Even with a clear court order, the BBMP refused to issue khatas.
Trouble within the layout RWA
In early 2008, soon after its formation, the RWA of the layout started meeting with BBMP officials to discuss khata provision for residents. RWA President Manjunath informed residents that the land was government-owned and that the residents may have to vacate the land.
1990s – The layout was formed by VHBC Society
2001 – VHBC approached the civil court against CMC’s decision to not issue khatas
April 2005 – Civil court rules that khata should be issued to all residents
August 2005 – CMC appeals to High Court against the order
November 2006 – High Court dismisses CMC’s appeal
Early 2008 – RWA starts collecting bribes from some residents
April 2010 – The Supreme Court dismissed BBMP’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) CC 5582/2010 on April 16, 2010, on grounds of delay and lack of merit
July 2010 – RWA stops water supply to houses of some residents who did not pay bribes
August 2010 – Three residents complain to the Registrar of Co-operative Societies about RWA’s harassment
September 2010 – RWA justifies its position and says that the complaints are politically motivated. Residents hold a gandhigiri mode protest at BBMP Commissioner’s office
October 2010 – Lokayukta orders BBMP Commissioner to issue khatas as per Supreme Court order
November 8th, 2010 – BBMP Commissioner Siddiah orders issual of khatas to residents
The residents had no clue about the court orders. In a meeting of around 150 residents in early 2008, the RWA announced that all residents should pay Rs 35 per square feet of the area of their respective houses; which comes to Rs 50,000-1,00,000 per house. Around 140 residents are said to have paid the bribes.
Dr Prasad, was also part of that meeting, he says "They said that the money would be given to the Rajarajeshwari Nagar MLA M Srinivas. They also made a video recording of the entire proceeding, during which they made many residents to promise that they will pay the money. When I demanded a written record of this agreement, the association declined."
Many residents paid the bribe only for fear of safety. Somshekhar, who had paid Rs 48,000 to the association, says, "I was against giving bribes, but Manjunath personally threatened me. I travel out of town often and was worried about the safety of my wife and child. I am supposed to pay another Rs 10,000, and the RWA is demanding that now." He has not received the khata yet. The RWA gives receipts for the money paid, which are taken back once the residents get the khata. A scanned copy of Somshekhar’s payment receipt is with Citizen Matters.
When Citizen Matters contacted Manjunath, he said that no resident in the layout has got khatas and did not comment further. However 80 people of the said 140 who paid the bribe have received the Khatas.
Residents claim that the RWA’s tactics included physical threat and disconnection of water supply. B J Siddegowda, one of the residents, says, "RWA President Manjunath and some others came to my house and demanded money for khata. They threatened to disconnect water supply and sanitary lines if I did not comply. Water supply to my house has been stopped since July 14."
Around 60 residents, who had paid the money, but have not got khatas are also upset. Gopalkrishna had paid Rs 11,000 for khata, and is supposed pay Rs 69,000 more, but he has no plans to do that. "Initially we did not investigate the claims of the RWA and were worried about our property," he says.
RTI, Lokayukta and Gandhigiri
The 120 residents who did not want to pay bribes, initiated RTI enquiries. It is then that they found out about the court orders. They have been speaking to the BBMP, Lokayukta and Urban Development Department since then. They filed a Lokayukta case against Veda Murthy, the then Additional Commissioner (Rajarajeshwari nagar), who had refused to issue khatas.
In its order in March 2010, Lokayukta wrote to Veda Murthy, saying that the order of the civil and sessions court is valid and that appropriate action should be taken. It also reprimanded him for giving the false information – Murthy had misled Lokayukta by giving wrong case numbers of the SLP that BBMP had filed in Supreme Court.
In May, new Additional Commissioner K M Ramachandrappa took charge. He agreed to implement the order, and issued khata to around 80 residents in July. "These 80 residents had paid the bribe. After this, he started accepting khata applications from 120 residents who had not paid the bribe," says Dr Prasad. But soon after, Ramachandrappa wrote to Lokayukta saying that the khatas cannot be issued as he had received letters from the MLA and Assistant Commissioner (Bangalore South) stating that the land belonged to the government. A copy of the MLA’s letter is with Citizen Matters. When contacted, the MLA denied writing the letter. "I am not aware of this issue at all. You should contact the concerned BBMP office," he said.
In August, Ramachandrappa issued khatas to a few applicants, who were leading the protest and requested closure of the Lokayukta case, but these residents refused to accept the khatas. They demanded that all owners should be given khatas.
After several meetings with the BBMP, the 120 residents held a peaceful protest on September 16 at the BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah’s office, presenting roses, in gandhigiri style, to the Commissioner. Siddaiah promised that the matter will be studied and a decision on issuing khatas will be communicated to the residents within two days.
Today nearly two months after the peaceful protest, Residents have been told that they will receive their khatas, without any bribe. Dr Prasad, who led the protests, says, "We are satisfied with the order. All 120 us who had actively participated in the protests are planning to collect our khatas from BBMP on the same day." Siddaiah said that he has ordered Ramachandrappa to issue khatas within a day itself. "Why should there be any delay in giving khatas?" he added. ⊕