Tribunal approves of BMTF

CAT said that the charges against Sharma were trumped up and also instructed government to assist BMTF in its work. It also directed the task force to issue weekly statements on its investigations to public.

After a long tussle with the state government, Rajvir P Sharma of BMTF (Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force) won, when his transfer order was revoked last week. State government had ordered his transfer on August 14th, after he chargesheeted many BBMP officers.

Rajvir P Sharma won the case in CAT on September 7th. Pic Sankar C G

Sharma had filed a case asking for his transfer to be revoked, at the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), a court that looks into service disputes of government officials. On September 7th, CAT ordered in favour of Sharma, saying that he could complete his tenure of two years, which could also be extended. Sharma, who had joined as BMTF Head on January 1st this year, will continue in his position at least until December 2013.

CAT ordered that government’s argument that Sharma had illegally constructed a building, was trumped up and petty. It also rapped the government, which had argued that Sharma was taking personal revenge against senior authorities. CAT additionally issued a set of directions, asking the government to assist BMTF in its work. This includes setting up a prosecuting team for BMTF.

Sharma is extremely happy about the order. Speaking to Citizen Matters, he says, “I am feeling what one would feel after winning a competition – the exhilaration of victory, and of defeating the incompetent opponent. The verdict has major implications in public interest as well.”

Sharma’s arguments at CAT

Sharma’s argument was that the minimum tenure of senior police officers is fixed, as per the Supreme Court order in Prakash Singh vs Union of India in 2006. As per this order, the minimum tenure of senior police officers in charge of police stations, is two years.

But further hearings led to arguments on the powers of BMTF itself, and on what extent it could take action against government officers. Sharma’s arguments led to to the bench recognising BMTF’s powers, and giving it the go-ahead for strict action, especially against government officers. The order was passed by Judicial Member Dr K B Suresh.

Sharma had based his arguments on various government orders and notifications that gave BMTF its powers. BBMP engineers had been demanding that BMTF be brought under BBMP, as per the KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporation) Act. Based on this, UDD had also asked the BBMP Commissioner his views on this.

In the Tribunal, Sharma presented the 1996 order of Urban Development Department (UDD), which gave BMTF jurisdiction on areas not just under BBMP, but also under BDA, BWSSB, CMCs and Karnataka Slum Clearance Board. As per the Acts of these agencies, land grabbers could be jailed up to three years, and fined up to Rs 5000. BMTF was formed to prevent land grabbing, and investigate and prosecute offenders.

Sharma also showed another notification in the same year issued by Home Department, saying that BMTF was formed under the central Act of CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code). Though BMTF would function under UDD, it was formed by Home Department as a police station separate from BBMP.

Pointing this out, Sharma said that a police station could not function under a Municipal Corporation. There were no provisions in KMC Act that allows corporations to run a police station. Corporations can only form their own security force, and BMTF was not a security force. Moreover, CrPC – under which BMTF was formed – is a central government Act, and the state government could not pass orders to override it, Sharma said.

Sharma also presented other orders from the state government after ‘96, by which BMTF’s powers were increased. Other areas of Bangalore were added under BMTF’s jurisdiction over the years. As of now, BMTF has jurisdiction over entire BMRDA area. Areas under BMRDA (Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority) includes entire Bangalore urban and rural districts, and part of Kolar district. It also has power over areas under BMIC (Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor) Local Planning Authority.

BMTF’s powers were also increased through these orders – it could take action against government officers who colluded with land grabbers, and also take help from police. It could take action under 12 Acts including the IPC and Karnataka Police Act.

However, in 16 years since its formation, BMTF had booked only 32 cases overall, and had functioned mainly as a security force for BBMP and other agencies. But since Sharma’s joining BMTF in January this year, around 180 cases – worth around Rs 1500 cr – were booked by the Force.

In August, BBMP employees demanded that Sharma be removed from the position, and that BMTF be brought under BBMP’s jurisdiction. The grouse against Sharma was that he had exceeded his jurisdiction in acting against BBMP officers; moreover, that he himself had constructed an illegal building in Bidarahalli hobli.

Case against Sharma trumped up: CAT

The CAT looked in detail, into state government’s argument that Sharma had constructed an illegal building in Doddagubbi village in Bidarahalli. Government had alleged that the building comes under BDA limits, but Sharma had not taken sanctions from BDA.

But in the Tribunal, government could not prove that the village came under BDA limits. The Master Plan maps that it had presented – of both 1995 and 2005 – showed different ‘Gubbis’, but ‘Doddagubbi’ was not marked in those.

Sharma, on his part, showed two gazetted notifications of 1984, which said that it was the village ‘Gubbi’ that came under BDA. BDA authorities responded that the same ‘Gubbi’ was later renamed ‘Doddagubbi’, but that no notification was issued specifically on this. Sharma said that he was unaware of the name change, and had believed that Doddagubbi was not part of BDA.

He had got building sanctions from Doddagubbi panchayat Chairman, who has been issuing sanctions in the area for long. State government also knew about this, since Sharma had submitted his documents – as required by service rules – for the approval of state’s Chief Secretary in 2010. The bench also found that Sharma’s house was constructed without flouting norms, and could have gotten BDA sanction anyway. There was no intention of crime on his part, it said.

Government said in the Tribunal that Sharma’s transfer was only a normal administrative process. It said that his illegal building was discussed in a BBMP Council session in March itself, and had nothing to do with the strike and pressure from BBMP employees and higher-ups later. Government had obtained a report from BDA saying that Sharma’s property was within BDA limits and needed BDA sanction. However, when the bench asked the BDA officer present, about other properties sanctioned in the village, he had no answer.

Government argued that the allegation against Sharma was serious and an impartial enquiry was needed, hence his transfer order. The order was not meant to please anyone, but Sharma was transferred because he had no ‘moral authority’, government said. But CAT dismissed this, saying that government could not prove its own allegation, and that the alleged offence was too minor anyway.

Justice Suresh also said that he had gone around Bangalore to find that building violations were appalling. Many of these were happening as BBMP engineers were forcing house owners to pay bribes, and then allowing violations. He said that BMTF’s most important power was to punish corrupt officers, and that government should extend its manpower to it. Government should also arrange for replacement of all officers who may go into pre-trial custody.

It also directed BMTF to issue weekly statements on its investigations to public. Though Sharma had not asked for appointment of prosecutors in BMTF, CAT ordered government to arrange for this in public interest.

Sharma says to Citizen Matters, “We had earlier asked government to appoint a special prosecutor in BMTF because of the special nature of the cases we file. I don’t know how far state government will support us based on the order. But from our side, performance will be 100 or even 200%.”

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