''We will continue with the demolition drive for the next four months."
Muniyamma from Doddabommasandra, Bengaluru shuts her eyes as the JCB shakes her home with its giant hands. The building is then shrouded in a veil of dust before being crumbled down, as if hit by a massive earth quake.
''My daughter and I have no place to sleep tonight,'' rues Muniyamma sitting amidst her belongings, dumped near the debris of her home.
The 50-year-old working as a sweeper in a factory has had a hard time making both ends meet after her husband fractured his leg and stopped going to work. ''We are back to square one now,'' says Muniyamma, tears rolling down her cheeks.
As Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike's (BBMP) demolition drive has entered its sixth day, several families have been rendered homeless. Even the Pathankot martyr Colonel Niranjan Kumar’s house has been included in the BBMP’s demolition list.
''We have taken action against 103 properties which have encroached on lake beds or storm water drains. Of these, 60 were illegal constructions and the remaining vacant sites. The buildings have been demolished, fully or partially,'' says N. Manjunath Prasad, Commissioner, BBMP.
''We will continue with the demolition drive for the next four months, '' he adds.
The government and the BBMP were forced to take action against the encroachments following the monsoon mess. ''The average annual rainfall in the city in the last 50 years is 900-930 mm. But this year there was a rainfall of 270 mm in some areas of Bengaluru, in a span of just one week and it caused flooding. As we looked into it, we realized it was caused by encroachments on lakes and storm water drains,'' says Manjunath.
''Of the 385 lakes the city had, 175 have vanished. 41 layouts have come up on lakes. The lakes in Bengaluru are connected by drains. As there were encroachments on the drains too, the lake water entered into township layouts. We found around 1923 encroachments on storm water drains,’’ he says.
Prasad has no qualms in admitting that the BBMP itself is responsible for the issue to a great extent.
“Unless the officials had connived with the builders, these things would not have happened. They manipulated the records and sanctioned buildings indiscriminately. We have filed criminal cases against 20 officers, suspended them from service and a vigilance enquiry has been ordered into the irregularities,’’ he says.
Advocate Santosh B.M. was heartbroken when we met him at his home in Doddabommasandra. S.B Bakery owned by his father was demolished by the BBMP two days ago.
“The demolition drive has violated the principles of natural justice. We were in line with the village map,’’ he says. Santosh alleges that no notice was given to them before the demolition. “Moreover, there are errors in the survey report,’’ says Santosh, adding that he is planning to take legal recourse.
Nitin Sheshadri from Koramangala, who describes himself as a concerned citizen, says that the demolition drive should target the large builders as well. “They are the worst culprits,’’ he says. “It is very sad and disturbing that the poor, who may be unable to defend themselves legally, are being evicted. But there is no other viable way to deal with it,’’ says Sheshadri. He suggests the BBMP upload a digitised land map on its website, showing the locations of all lakes and drains so that everyone will have an understanding as to whether their property is legal or not.
For Meera Nair, a freelance content writer based in Bengaluru, encroachments on lakes had always been a matter of concern. “Active citizens had tipped off BBMP officials right when several of these builders started work, yet there was no action till things came to such a crisis. Even now as we speak, there is land filling going on in buffer zones of lakes and though authorities have been informed, they will take their own sweet time. How much of a shadow government can citizens run?” she asks.