CAF flashback: What saved your neighbourhood from becoming a messy, commercial hub

As the Citizen's Action Forum turns 10. we look back at their decade of activism that has changed Bengaluru in so many ways. In the first of the series, the tale of the PIL against BDA's Master Plan 2015, which saw the curb on commercial activities on roads less than 40 feet wide.

It was among the first PILs that was filed by the Citizens’ Action Forum and it wasn’t even their first course of action! For a group that is often accused of being trigger-happy with the judiciary, CAF’s petition against the Master Plan 2015 was a last recourse, after they had exhausted all other options.  

When the BDA released the draft of its Master Plan 2015, it proposed rapid commercialisation of largely residential areas in Bangalore, allowing for almost unchecked change of land use. Bangalore had begun to boom by the start of the millennium. The rise of the IT sector, with entrepreneurs leading the way, meant homes were being turned into office spaces to accommodate startups in what were earlier largely residential neighbourhoods. The Master Plan 2015, drafted in 2005, was meant make this easier.

“You must remember this was a time when the officials did not have consultations prior to drafting the Master Plan, as we have had now. We the citizens came in only after the draft was prepared and reacted to it,” remembers Vijayan Menon, one of the former office bearers of CAF. However Menon is also quick to confess that the initiative was largely driven by one locality – Koramangala, because many of them lived there.

“Our objections to the Revised Master Plan 2031 today has a more macro view and looks at city-wide issues. But when we worked on Master Plan 2015, our driving force was to save the neighbourhood. We weren’t worrying about traffic and mobility. Our idea was to stop what they intended to do – which was to turn our residential neighbourhoods into commercial zones without any thought,” he says.

The small group who had an idea of what to expect from the draft Master Plan 2015 because of their interactions with the officials, started ground level campaigns even before the draft was released. “We planned and held multiple public consultations in the area to to figure out what our way forward should be. Sensitising the community to the horror that the proposed Plan would result in was important.” It was an ongoing effort that started at least four months prior to the draft being released in the public domain for objections.

After the draft was released for public objections, they put together a document detailing their objections. It was a first of its kind document filed by a citizens’ group. They were also invited by the PSS Thomas Committee, an independent body examining the objections filed against the plan, to present their arguments. The PSS Thomas Committee report was presented to the Cabinet which went ahead and approved the Master Plan 2015, making it a law.

“Till the time it was ratified, we continued interaction with the officials. But after the Cabinet ratified it, it became a law. There was no other course of action, but to approach the courts,” says Menon.

So now, twenty petitioners including the CAF filed a PIL against the Master Plan 2015 in 2007 against the State Government, BDA, BBMP and BMRDA. CAF contended that while commercial and residential activities need to coexist, commercial activities need to be restricted to specific areas within a neighbourhood.

Legal ruling

The High Court first passed an interim order in 2012, partially accepting the report of a government-appointed (December 2009) committee headed by former Chief Secretary A Ravindra, which stated, “Change of land use has been curtailed for small properties on small roads”. This was a huge shot in the arm for the citizens.

Finally in February 2014, the High Court passed an order that no commercial activities would be allowed on roads less than 40 feet in width: “That no commercial activity of whatsoever nature would be allowed in residential main and residential mixed zones in the three rings, namely Ring No.1, Ring No.2 and Ring No.3, if road width is less than 40 feet.

Furthermore, any plan sanctioned for commercial activities by the BBMP on such roads after 21st January 2012 (after the interim order was passed) would be recalled.

“This judgement was a landmark judgement to safeguard the quality of life in residential neighbourhoods. The effect of this judgement was that it slowed down the commercialisation of the residential areas. Most people say Koramangala has already been run over by commercial establishments, but I can very safely state that but for this judgement, every second building in Koramangala would have been a commercial complex,” says Menon.

Comments:

  1. Dr. A. S. Kodanda Pani says:

    Article by Ms. Manasi Paresh Kumar on illegal commercial activities in residential localities gives correct opinion on saving residential neighborhoods. BBMP is not controlling illegal commercial land uses and unauthorized constructions according to zoning regulations of Master Plan. Right in front of BBMP branch offices illegal land use/building activities goes on and no action is taken by the area engineers about preventing such activities. In areas like; Vasanth Nagar on small sites 10’- 11’ wide 4 to 5 floors are built and commercial activities are located. Are not the area engineers of BBMP observing all these? Without their co-operation, how so many floors can come up on a narrow site. Civic Analysts may see Google map showing buildings in the localities where they want to verify.
    The Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka Dr. G. Parameshwar is doing very good work to control the BBMP but how far he will be able to control illegal land use activities is to be seen. The RMP 2031 will not be finalized till Dr. G. Parameshwar is the Minister in charge of Bengaluru development. Let Mr. Parameshwar take action against officials allowing unauthorized land use and constructions. The citizens will be grateful to him if he succeeds in this matter.
    Dr. A. S. Kodanda Pani,
    Civic Analyst

  2. Raman Muthuswamy says:

    I & my family members live on the Third Cross at the Gavipuram Extn. In the past 5-6 years, most of the single bungalow units/tenements were all converted into the Apt. Complexes with 4-5 flrs and most of them do NOT have even the in-built parking areas and the Owners do park their vehicles on this narrow road. I wonder if the BBMP at all is bothered, before approval, to look into these aspects as this Cross Road’s width is something like 10 to 12 ft., from the Fourth Main, Hanumanth Nagara to the GPE P.O. This Road is a GATE-WAY OR HELL TO HANUMANTH NAGAR with Heavy traffic round-the-clock. To add to the worries of the residents, most of the schools & colleges being located close-by, tiny-tots, kids & college boys & girls walk thru’ this hazardous road; furthermore, there was once upon a time a TV Artistes’ Assn., that was taken over by a Logistics Coy. with trucks & lorries of varied sizes & Tonnages are passing thru’ this road, from 8 AM to 6 PM ! God forbid, only after some precious lives are lost, then only the BBMP & the Police will be awaken, as anything could happen any time !! Dozes of my Emails to the Traffic Police I/C to make this Cross Rd at least “one-way” were all vain .. As is usual with the State Govt., NONE BOTHERED TO EVEN ACK MY EARNEST APPEALS THAT WERE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST. Oh .. Parameswara .. Please DO Save our precious lives .. before we’re forced to depart from this world !!

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