It was among the first PILs that was filed by the Citizens’ Action Forum and it wasn’t even their first course of action! For a group that is often accused of being trigger-happy with the judiciary, CAF’s petition against the Master Plan 2015 was a last recourse, after they had exhausted all other options.
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When the BDA released the draft of its Master Plan 2015, it proposed rapid commercialisation of largely residential areas in Bangalore, allowing for almost unchecked change of land use. Bangalore had begun to boom by the start of the millennium. The rise of the IT sector, with entrepreneurs leading the way, meant homes were being turned into office spaces to accommodate startups in what were earlier largely residential neighbourhoods. The Master Plan 2015, drafted in 2005, was meant make this easier.
“You must remember this was a time when the officials did not have consultations prior to drafting the Master Plan, as we have had now. We the citizens came in only after the draft was prepared and reacted to it,” remembers Vijayan Menon, one of the former office bearers of CAF. However Menon is also quick to confess that the initiative was largely driven by one locality – Koramangala, because many of them lived there.
“Our objections to the Revised Master Plan 2031 today has a more macro view and looks at city-wide issues. But when we worked on Master Plan 2015, our driving force was to save the neighbourhood. We weren’t worrying about traffic and mobility. Our idea was to stop what they intended to do – which was to turn our residential neighbourhoods into commercial zones without any thought,” he says.
The small group who had an idea of what to expect from the draft Master Plan 2015 because of their interactions with the officials, started ground level campaigns even before the draft was released. “We planned and held multiple public consultations in the area to to figure out what our way forward should be. Sensitising the community to the horror that the proposed Plan would result in was important.” It was an ongoing effort that started at least four months prior to the draft being released in the public domain for objections.
After the draft was released for public objections, they put together a document detailing their objections. It was a first of its kind document filed by a citizens’ group. They were also invited by the PSS Thomas Committee, an independent body examining the objections filed against the plan, to present their arguments. The PSS Thomas Committee report was presented to the Cabinet which went ahead and approved the Master Plan 2015, making it a law.
“Till the time it was ratified, we continued interaction with the officials. But after the Cabinet ratified it, it became a law. There was no other course of action, but to approach the courts,” says Menon.
So now, twenty petitioners including the CAF filed a PIL against the Master Plan 2015 in 2007 against the State Government, BDA, BBMP and BMRDA. CAF contended that while commercial and residential activities need to coexist, commercial activities need to be restricted to specific areas within a neighbourhood.
The High Court first passed an interim order in 2012, partially accepting the report of a government-appointed (December 2009) committee headed by former Chief Secretary A Ravindra, which stated, “Change of land use has been curtailed for small properties on small roads”. This was a huge shot in the arm for the citizens.
Finally in February 2014, the High Court passed an order that no commercial activities would be allowed on roads less than 40 feet in width: “That no commercial activity of whatsoever nature would be allowed in residential main and residential mixed zones in the three rings, namely Ring No.1, Ring No.2 and Ring No.3, if road width is less than 40 feet.”
Furthermore, any plan sanctioned for commercial activities by the BBMP on such roads after 21st January 2012 (after the interim order was passed) would be recalled.
“This judgement was a landmark judgement to safeguard the quality of life in residential neighbourhoods. The effect of this judgement was that it slowed down the commercialisation of the residential areas. Most people say Koramangala has already been run over by commercial establishments, but I can very safely state that but for this judgement, every second building in Koramangala would have been a commercial complex,” says Menon.