The Karnataka high court has stayed the implementation of a controversial legislation that sought to regularize violations of land use and building laws in Bangalore.

H.D. Kumaraswamy. The Sakrama scheme was introduced during his tenure as chief minister

Most large cities in India, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, see several violations of building and land-use laws. In 2006, the Delhi government launched a drive to close down commercial establishments in residential areas. The Karnataka government’s solution to fix this was to regularize such violations for a fee. This is the scheme that has now been stayed by the court.

The scheme has thus far received 4,800 applications. Details of the amount of fees that will have to be paid to regulatrize these buildings are not available. The court will hear the case again on 6 February.

Much like in Delhi and Mumbai, many of the violations in Bangalore were prompted by soaring real estate prices and scarcity of land. Many of the cases in the city, a hub for software and biotechnology, have to do with the use of residential property for commercial purposes. And some cases involve buildings that violate construction laws.

The court stay, which follows public interest litigations filed by two resident associations in Bangalore and Mangalore, has put on hold the applications of the 4,800 individuals and organizations for regulartization under Sakrama.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic agency, was to regularize these properties after the deadline for applications expired.

The scheme allowed for a 50% deviation from laws for residential properties and a 25% deviation for commercial properties. The then ruling Janata Dal (Secular)-Bharatiya Janata Party government had claimed that Sakrama was a one-time offer to legalize violations. BBMP, which has an annual budget of Rs1,216 crore this year, was expecting a one-time windfall of Rs550 crore from Sakrama. The civic agency has sold around 180,000 Sakrama applications costing Rs100 each earning Rs1.8 crore in the bargain.

BBMP claims around 1.4 million properties fall under its jurisdiction. Of these, only 600,000 properties are in authorized layouts and adhere to building laws. The agency hoped to get an exact number of properties that violated the laws and the extent to which they had done so from a Geographic Information System survey which has already been completed in 29 out of more than 100 wards in the city.

When it was launched, Sakrama came in for severe criticism by residents. “Our stand has been that Sakrama is unconstitutional. It rewards the violator and punishes the law-abiding citizen. While it may not be possible to demolish a large number of buildings in the city, the law is not clear as to what will be done with buildings with more than 50% violations nor is there any mention of what punishment officials responsible for allowing the violations will face," said Kathyayini Chamaraj, executive trustee of the Bangalore-based Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City.

A government official, who did not want to be identified, admitted that Sakrama would help land grabbers by legalizing unauthorized housinglayouts. “The other alternative is demolition and in an election year it is impossible." Karnataka is currently ruled by the Central government through what is called President’s rule.

To thwart such criticism, BBMP had declared that half of the proceeds from Sakrama would go for development of parks and open spaces in the city while the rest would be spent on creating infrastructure and civic amenities such as street lighting.

Sakrama was not popular with the violators either. Most vioaltors claimed the penalties imposed are too high. “The scheme has a lot of grey areas," said K.P. Abraham, president of the Residents Welfare Association of Bangalore East, which covers nearly 10,000 households. Abraham asked why small house owners are being made to pay up. “The civic agency’s engineers who permitted this, land developers who sold sites at these unauthorized layouts and major real estate builders who sold these flats are the ultimate beneficiaries," he added.

BBMP’s special commissioner (resource & finance) Sandeep Dash said it was a hard choice for the city to do what it chose to. “The city already has these violations and there are only two ways to tackle them,’’ he added. Demolishing buildings, he said, was not a feasible idea.