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Stir over Sakrama

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Agreed. Violators have rights. Right to protest government action, to appeal against penalty for their violations. Several residents associations in Bangalore have moved the court, seeking a stay on the Karnataka Sakrama scheme; which gives house-owners time till Dec.15 to 1) admit violation of municipal laws in their buildings; and 2) seek regularization on payment of penalty.

Widespread stir, public interest litigation, and a wait-and-watch attitude adopted by most house-owners raise a question mark on enforceablity of the scheme in its current form. Out of 2.1 lakh application forms sold in the state no more than 4,100 are reported have been have been filled and submitted to the authorities rill date. Deadline for filing applications expire on December 14.

Such large-scale non-compliance may well force the authorities to 1) extend deadline; and 2) re-work the scheme to make it more widely acceptable.

The government came up with the Sakrama scheme to cope with building laws violations in Bangalore, Mysore and other towns in the state. Property owners have, over the years, become accustomed to flouting building regulations with impunity, presumably, with ‘currency persuasion’ at the right quarters in babudom. Officials, whose job it is to ask questions and enforce building laws, would have us believe that building violations could not be addressed by the authorities due to “staff shortage and pressure of other work”. A likely story!

Now that the government seeks to restore a semblance of respect for its building laws, protesters are crying ‘foul’, calling for action against ‘guilty’ officials who had led builders up the garden path. Wonder how many house-owners would follow up their charge against officials with complaints in writing. No one is suggesting that officials should go unpunished. Snag is in pinning down the guilty. It’s like a TV chef listing out recipe for rabbit stew – ‘First, catch a rabbit….’

Meanwhile, Mr B K Chandrashekar, chairman of the Karnataka legislative council, has weighed in to back the Bangalore house-owners’ cause. He has met the urban development department and the Bangalore municipal officials; plans to meet the governor and also talk to the Union Urban development minister. Such is the clout enjoyed by the Bangalore’s house-owning population.

The halla raised over the Sakrama scheme doesn’t make it a public-interest issue, like a hike in power tariff or a stiff raise in bus fare. Sakrama adresses and impacts an urban group, house-owners. A majority (as high as 80 percent) in the property-owning segment of a city’s population may well be guilty of violation of the city building laws. But this doesn’t make it a public cause, considering that Sakrama is of little relevance to those who have no landed property; and the law-abiding house-owners.

Building law violators may have reason to feel that the rules governing regularization are stringent and the levy payable is ‘heavy’. But then some banks and financial institutions have, thoughtfully, offered credit to meet penalty payment. The regularization levy, to be effective, ought to be punitive enough to deter others in future. Building law violations would no longer make economic sense. Besides, wouldn’t giving in to public pressure for a reduced penalty make the small, but significant, minority of law-abiding house-owners feel let down? Wouldn’t they feel an ultimate loser, for having gone by the book when they built their houses ?

Mr Chandrashekar is reported to have sought rules relaxation in respect of ‘genuine’ residential sites and of buildings owned by lower middle-class and poorer sections. His suggestion is reasonable, and persuasive, if we ignore the point that everyone is, and must be seen to be, equal in the eyes of the law comment guidelines

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