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“BBMP Commissioner, stop the arbitrary witch-hunt against citizens!” This is the plea put forward by some citizens of South Bengaluru. Mukund Kumar, a resident of Bellandur, has come up with the petition, which demands that the BBMP stop targeting citizens who stand up for what is right.
The petition calls the action of the BBMP, of serving a notice to three residents of Koramangala asking them to submit the plan sanction documents for their residences, as a “targeted attack on an individual or individuals by the Government of any civilised society for expression of free speech” which is against the constitution, and needs to be condemned.
The background story to this petition is fascinating. Three residents of Koramangala III Block were surprised when they received a notice from the BBMP on March 7th 2015. The Assistant Executive Engineer of Koramangala had issued separate notices to the trio, instructing them to submit the sanctioned plan and relevant documents of their houses, for verification, within three days from the date of receipt of the letter. It also warned them that the houses will be considered as unauthorised and action will be initiated as per Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act 1976, if they fail to submit the documents on time.
Notices dated March 3, 2015, were issued to Nitin Seshadri, C K Ramanatha and a woman who does not want to be named. These citizens who were taken by surprise after reading the notice, learnt that the information was sought in response to an RTI query filed by another citizen living in the ST Bed area in Koramangala. Nitin Seshadri told Citizen Matters that they went in search of the person who filed the RTI on the same day, to know the intention behind filing the RTI.
“The RTI query and the notice was in response to our fight against ‘154 Breakfast Club,’ an eatery located in Koramangala III Block,” alleged Seshadri. “It is established in a residential zone,” he pointed out. Seshadri and the other two citizens who received the notices found out that the RTI was filed by a relative of Nishyarth Prasad, who is now running the eatery.
Documents show that the Breakfast Club initially had three partners: Pranav Pai, Anil Shetty and Nishyarth Prasad. However, Anil Shetty claims he has resigned from the partnership.
C K Ramanatha is the father of Vishwanath Kashyap, who was among those who protested the opening of Breakfast Club. All the three citizens are active members of Koramangala Residents’ Welfare Association (KRWA).
Curious case of BBMP not having plan sanction documents
The plans of the buildings in question, the residences of Nitin Seshadri and Vishwanath Kashyap, were sanctioned much before the BBMP came into existence. While Nitin Seshadri’s house has a plan sanction given in 1998 by the East Zone of BMP, which existed before BBMP, with minus the 101 villages added later, Vishwanath Kashyap has a plan sanction given in 1976 by the City Improvement Trust Board (CITB). CITB was constituted in 1945 by the State government (CITB) which later was replaced by the /Bangalore Development Authority.
Legally speaking, all the documents should have been transferred to the BBMP when BMP was upgraded and to the BDA when CITB was upgraded. But, practically that has not happened, for various reasons. With the shifting of BMP and CITB offices, formation of zones etc, the documents are retained in the old offices and transferring has not taken place, a BBMP official said.
Sources in BBMP say that BBMP keeps all available documents and records in the record rooms in its sub-divisions. However, old documents are subject to wear and tear, and with BBMP’s record-maintaining mechanism not computerised and safe enough, BBMP cannot guarantee that the documents are always available.
BBMP South Joint Commissioner Hemachandra said that he was not aware of the issue. However, he confirmed that BBMP has the right to issue notice to the citizens asking for building plans as and when required. “Normally BBMP issues notice to the house owner if there is a complaint against particular house or if someone has sought information of the building plan under RTI.”
BBMP breaks BDA RMP rules
Prima facie, it appears that the 154 Breakfast Club was established in contradiction to the Karnataka High Court’s interim order which had prohibited issuing license to commercial establishments in residential areas with effect from December 2012. The case is a testimony to the BBMP’s double standard. On the one hand in every court case BBMP claims to be doing the right thing, but in reality BBMP does not obey court orders and follow the rules and regulations set up by the law and government bodies.
The interim order was issued by the High Court on December 13, 2012, in a case filed by Citizen Action Forum and other citizens’ groups in the city (WP 3676/2008 and WP 43472-43474/2011) against the introduction of ‘mixed land use’ category in the BDA’s master plan that permitted commercial activities in residential areas.
The High Court said in its order dated December 12th, 2012 on the case WP3676/2008:
We direct that the B.B.M.P. shall not permit or grant any change of land use in the following areas i.e., Malleshwaram, Richmond Town, Vasanthanagar, Jayanagar, Vijayanagar, Vishweshwarapura, Rajajinagar and RT Nagar. In addition thereto, the residential areas mentioned and shown in CDP 1995, regardless of whether they are subsequently depicted as residential main or residential mixed are also included. This order shall also apply to other residential areas regardless of the nomenclature used in the Revised Master Plan of 2015.
After this, the BDA submitted an affidavit to the High Court on February 19th, 2014, where it was assured that “no commercial activity of whatsoever nature shall 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.”
In addition, the affidavit also added that “only ancillary usages mentioned in the resolution shall be permitted in residential main and residential mixed zones in Ring No.1 and Ring No.2 up to 20% of the built up area or 50 Sq.Mtrs. whichever is lower provided the width of the road is above 40 feet.”
Ancillary use permits setting up of only essential services such as milk booth, barbers’ shop, vegetable shop etc, in an area less than 50 sq m, or 538 sq ft. Koramangala falls under Ring 2, that is, developed urban areas surrounding the core area. Hence, according to rules, Koramangala 3rd block can have shops measuring less than 50 sq m (538 sq ft). The area given to Breakfast Club in Koramangala 3rd block, falls under Ring 2. The area leased by the eatery is 1900 sq ft total, while the ground floor is 900 sq ft, the terrace area has also been leased out, which is 1000 sq ft, according to the lease deed. Hence the controversy.
Commercial operations in mixed residential areas illegal
The Urban Development Department published the amendments to the master plan on December 11, 2014. This notification made the regulations applicable for Ring 3 also applicable for Ring 2. Among other issues, the amended rule particularly said: “In Ring 2, if the plot size is more than 1000 sq m (10,763 sq ft) having a frontage of 10 m or more and the abutting road is more than 18 m width, then ancillary uses can be considered as main use.”
However, the plot where 154 Breakfast Club operates is a 60X40 site, measuring 2400 sq ft, or 226 sq m, which is less than the 1000 sq m mandated by Urban Development Department’s own notification. Thus in all respects, the case of Breakfast Club appears to be not falling under permissible limits.
The licence for the Breakfast Club issued to the applicant under ‘bakery and beverages’ category mentions that it could be cancelled in case of any court order, or complaint from the neighbours or if the applicant breaches the license terms and conditions. It also mentions about the opposition to the Breakfast Club by the 3rd block Resident Welfare Association and neighbours.
While small shops such as milk booth, vegetables shop, barber’s shops can occupy upto 20 per cent of the built-up area in the mixed residential zone with road width above 40 ft, an eatery of this size is clearly not allowed.
Though there are other commercial operations on the same road, according to Seshadri, the licences were either reportedly issued before the High Court’s December 2012 stay on any such licences, or were operating within permissible limits. Seshadri said that there are many such violations in Koramangala 4th block, which people have chosen not to question.
“The moment we raised our voice, the promoters of the Breakfast Club questioned us on why we were silent on other commercial establishment in the same locality. Yes, there are commercial establishments on the other side of the road flouting Zonal Regulations, but they were established prior to 2012. No new illegal establishments have come up on the same road after 2012,” he said.
Mohandas Pai denies illegality
People who protested against the Breakfast Club allege that the BBMP Commissioner has shown personal interest in issuing license to Breakfast Club, as one of the business partners is the son of well-known Bangalorean, BPAC Vice-president T V Mohandas Pai.
Documents available with Citizen Matters show that the Health Inspector of BTM Layout ward, Bhagyalakshmi approved health license to Breakfast Club “as per the recommendation of the BBMP Commissioner.” However, she declined to comment on the issue. The BBMP Commissioner too was not available for comments. Generally BBMP Commissioner does not intervene in granting of trade licence, but he can intervene when he is required to.
Responding to an email query from Citizen Matters, BPAC Vice President T V Mohandas Pai refuted the allegation that Breakfast Club has been established violating the High Court’s interim order. “This does not come under the High Court order,” he said.
Pai also rejected rumours that the trade license was obtained from the BBMP through pressure tactics. “Any application has to be approved within 30 days,” he said, adding that the entrepreneurs applied for the license and waited for 40 days to get it.
Nishyarth Prasad who runs the Breakfast Club confirmed Pai’s claim. “We obtained trade license for the project after waiting for 40 days. As there was delay in getting the license, I approached the BBMP Commissioner to get the license sanctioned. No pressure tactic was used to get the license,” he said.
He added that the Breakfast Club is using just around 600 sq ft, though the leased space is 1900 sq ft. He said the decision to do so was taken after seeing the amended BDA rules.
To a query on filing of RTI by his cousin seeking information about building plans of the three residents, he said everyone was free to obtain information under RTI. In yet another clarification sent by email, Pranav Pai, one of the partners in the Breakfast Club, said: “We did not file this RTI. We see no sense in going after individuals, and naming names in public. But the Association members have constantly clamoured to put our names in the media – something we think is downright disrespectful. This is why another well-‐wisher of the café, NOT on our insistence or directive, filed an RTI.”
BPAC faces criticism
Amidst all the hue and cry, residents of this area have now questioned the integrity of BPAC, the Bangalore Political Action Committee, of which Mohandas Pai is Vice-president. BPAC is a non-profit organisation that campaigns for better political leadership. BPAC also undertakes various social campaigns, clean-up drives being one among the activities. Their B.CLIP Civic Leadership programme provides rigorous training for wannabe corporators and those want to involve themselves in public service.
Around 20 residents staged a peaceful protest outside Koramangala Club on March 9th 2015, which they said was a protest against the “hypocrisy of BPAC”. The protest was staged at the same venue where BPAC members along with Rotary members, had organised a clean up drive. The residents were holding placards that read “Clean BPAC first and Bengaluru next”. They questioned BPAC’s silence over the alleged illegal activity carried out by its own members and by the son of its vice-president.
“It is unfortunate that a forum like BPAC which works for transparency and bringing in good governance, is tight-lipped over the entire episode. Why are its office-bearers unwilling to come out open with their stand on the issue?” asked Vishwanath Kashyap, son of C K Ramanath, one of the residents who received notice from the BBMP.
“The BBMP has issued us the notice in an attempt to demoralise our fight. This is the maximum they could do to find fault. However, our house plans are clear and we are not worried about the notice,” he added.
When asked if the recipients of the notice will submit the documents to the BBMP, he said they would take legal opinion and then decide.
We are not involved: BPAC
Citizen Matters spoke to BPAC Chief Executive Officer Revathy Ashok. She was categorical that the issue did not have anything to do with B-PAC itself. “It is none of our business to intervene in a personal fight. I trust my people and I am confident that they are doing good work”, she said.
BPAC member Anil Shetty who, according to the documents, was one of the partners of Breakfast Club initially clarified that he was no more a part of the project. “Our initial plan was different, I was in the team when they started the project, but as the project changed its course, I dissociated from the project. I have no investments in the project and I have resigned from the Board of Directors,” he said.
Did BBMP move to ‘cancel’ the license? Matter enters the city courts
Meanwhile, Nishyarth Prasad told Citizen Matters that 15 days after obtaining license, the BBMP sent a show-cause notice asking why the trade license of the eatery cannot be cancelled. Contrary to Prasad’s claim, Nitin Seshadri says that the BBMP had issued order cancelling the trade license of Breakfast Club.
However, it is not clear if the Breakfast Club indeed received a notice or an order, as both the parties are yet to share the copy of the same with Citizen Matters. BBMP Health Officer Dr Bhagyalakshmi too declined to comment.
However, matters took a new turn, and entered the courts. In response to the notice, “We approached the city civil court and the court ordered a status quo,” said Prasad. The court order summary served to the defendant, a copy of which is with Citizen Matters, reads: “The defendants are directed to maintain the status quo till the disposal of the case.” This means the eatery can continue to operate till the case is disposed of.
Breakfast Club takes to social media
154 Breakfast Club has opened an exclusive facebook page for the purpose of countering the allegations and contentions of people who protested against the licence for this eatery. Named Third Blocked: Relaunch Koramangala, the page is updated now and then, with counter arguments to the allegations and news reports in a very witty way.
Among other things, the page also denies any involvement of any family members of the three entrepreneurs in the issue. However, at the time this article was published, it did not address the issue of the area of the plot and its proportion to the area occupied by the Breakfast Club, and the legality involved, which is where the controversy lies.
- The terrace area leased out was initially mentioned as 1100 sq ft, which was later corrected to 1000 sq ft.
- The Breakfast Club was referred to as ‘the Club’ in many places. It was later substituted with appropriate words, to avoid misunderstanding.
- The article has been updated with the quotes of the Breakfast Club partners on the RTI, where they deny involvement in filing any RTI.
Full disclosure: Mohandas Pai is an investor in Oorvani Media Pvt Ltd, that publishes Citizen Matters. Oorvani Foundation’s 2013 election-related reporting has been partly sponsored by B-PAC.