How govt helps SEZ trump Bellandur lake

The central Environmental Ministry watchdog office in Bengaluru is so understaffed that they are signing off compliance reports without even inspecting sites. This is one of many reasons this 72-acre realty project is proceeding despite major violations.

In Part I of this series, Citizen Matters blew the lid off the IISc report that revealed the encroachment of a major Rajakaluve by the SEZ project by Manipal ETA Infotech Pvt Ltd. This part will explain the random changes made by the BDA in the status of the project land, resulting in a change of status, from being a ‘valley zone’ to an industrial area.

The site has seen some rapid changes in the last decade. In ‘95, BDA had classified this land as largely residential and park area. In 2005, BDA started revising its master plan. In the draft of the Revised Master Plan (RMP), this land was largely classified as valley zone (green area); some part was reserved for public utilities. The area is part of the K&C (Koramangala & Chalaghatta) valley. The draft RMP was shared with the public, and objections were invited from them.

But the classification was changed again. When the final RMP was published in 2007, there was no valley marked. Instead, much of the land had been marked as ‘sensitive residential’ area. N K Thippeswamy, Joint Director (East) in BDA’s Town Planning section, says that ‘sensitive’ is usually a tag for areas that house drains which connect lakes. Sensitive areas are indicated in the RMP maps using slanted white lines across the area. No explanation is given in RMP about the reason for this change.

Above: This panel has three maps of the site – the first is the CDP ‘95, second is draft of the RMP, and the third is the final RMP-2015. In ‘95 CDP, much of the project area (inside the red circle) is park and residential areas (marked green and yellow). In the draft RMP, this is marked in green and orange. Green indicates valley zone, and orange means public utilities. 

Valley zones are protected, no-development areas. In the last panel – the final RMP – this was changed, so that there could be construction on the land. The colours here are yellow (residential) and pink (public utilities). The slanting lines over the yellow areas is to show that this is a sensitive area. So in the course of three Master Plans, the land classification changed from residential-park to valley-utilities to ‘sensitive residential’-utilities.

So now, much of the original park area is gone. Instead, multi-storeyed buildings are coming up here. But the BDA’s actions cannot be termed ‘illegal.’ The RMP itself says that, if the BDA or the government has already given permission to develop a valley zone, then land classification does not matter. The only restriction is that new permissions cannot be given, once the land is classified as valley.

Here is what the RMP says: “Any land falling within the valley for which permission has been accorded either by the Authority or the government, and then such permission shall be valid irrespective of the land use classification in the RMP 2015.”

Here, land acquisition for the project had started much before the RMP was drafted, so technically, land can be developed. But even now, the RMP also shows a ‘planning recommendation’ to designate the area around Bellandur lake as ‘green area – valley’.

BDA does nothing

There is speculation that BDA’s random changes in land classification may have been to accommodate the already approved project. BDA’s current Town Planning Member B M Tirakana Goudar says, “Only those involved in RMP preparation would know about this. There is no reason recorded for this anywhere.” Former top BDA officers were also unaware of the issue.

This does not mean that sensitive areas can be used in any fashion. In 2008, government had formed a committee to approve development projects in all sensitive zones marked in the RMP. BDA Commissioner heads this committee; other members include officers from BBMP, BDA, BMRDA etc., and two professors from IISc.

Thippeswamy says, “The committee will visit the site and check the feasibility of the project. Developers will be asked to maintain buffer around drains, and to maintain the land in more or less the same way. Parts of the sensitive zone can be made into parks.”

But in the case of Manipal ETA Infotech, existing parks have only given way to mega-buildings. The approved project plan shows that not more than 10% of the site area has been marked for parks and open spaces. It is not clear if the BDA has separate guidelines on how exactly the valley area can be developed.

Watchdog enviro-authority too overloaded to act

The central government’s MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) has its Southern Zone Regional Office in Bangalore. This office is supposed to monitor infrastructure projects that have received environmental approval. Scientists here are supposed to check if builders are complying with norms. They are supposed to visit the sites annually, and also ask the builder to send compliance reports once in every six months.

But no such scrutiny has happened in the case of this project. Manipal ETA Infotech did send a compliance report and its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report in March 2012 to this office, but there has been nothing more.

A top officer here says that there are only four scientists to approve all projects in the four South Indian states, in addition to Goa and Lakshadweep. “We have a target of approving 400 projects annually for the entire zone. But in Karnataka alone, 8,000-10,000 projects are coming up every year now. So often, we can only sign the papers, and are unable to do any field visits,” he says. So much for monitoring compliance.

He said that the department takes action on specific cases if there are complaints, and promised to take action on this project, if citizens or media could give a written complaint.

No sustainable arrangement for water

The EIA repeatedly says that the company will not have to dig bore wells since BWSSB will supply water to the project. It also says that treated water from the BWSSB will be used for construction.

However, once the project is operational, it will need 4.5 MLD (Million Litres per Day) of water. The BWSSB had given the company NOC (No Objection Certificate) for only the two residential apartment blocks in the complex. These two apartments make up only about 1% of the total built-up area of the project. No other water sources are mentioned for the remaining area. Citizen Matters had reported this earlier.

In the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report and other documents, the company has repeatedly said that it will get water from the BWSSB. But until recently, the BWSSB was not even aware of the project.

Citizen Matters has not been able to confirm if treated water is indeed being used now, during construction.

This project, after completion, will lead to a massive traffic jam in the area. The existing 15-meter wide road will not be able to take up the burden of the sea of private vehicles. This will be explained in Part-III of the series.


  1. Guruswamy Basavaiah says:

    Thank you. I was looking for what slanted lines on yellow color mean in RMP-2015. As i have brought a site in BDA approved layout and my site fall in to sensitive area.

    From your post, i under stood nothing to worry. Am i correct ?

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