Recently, I attended a meeting to discuss the organisation of an event in ‘Chotta Maidan’, Shivaji Nagar which is adjacent to both a mosque and a local government school. The land officially belongs to the Bangalore Mahanagara Pallike (city's municipal corporation) and has hosted many meetings and concerts. However, during our discussion, a local resident said that the land in ‘Chotta Maidan’ belongs to the mosque and that he would arrange for permission for us to use it. Though the legal title of this property was with the Bangalore municipality, the mosque was the one that had effective ownership based on local rules and custom.

This story and many others encapsulate the intention of the authors of ‘Of Master Plans, Laws and Illegalities in an Era of Transition’, a report that is a first step into the analysis of the social phenomenon of the city. The Alternative Law Forum (ALF), a Bangalore based legal services non-profit, has authored the report as an input document for the Comprehensive Development Plan of Bangalore city that is currently under review. The CDP is being prepared by SCE Creocean India Pvt. Ltd. for the Bangalore Development Authority.

The ALF report is a critique of the spatial planning that we are used to, with its myriad regulations and zoning by-laws that in cities like Bangalore are more famous in the breach. While the report does not establish a clear link between spatial planning and the widespread illegalities in the city, it certainly questions the practicality of establishing spatially planned cities without considering the evolution of an urban area through the social dynamics of formation of settlements. Added to this is the inability of the State to provide for anywhere close to adequate housing and infrastructure for growing urban spaces.

The report questions the practicality of establishing spatially planned cities without considering the evolution of an urban area through the social dynamics of formation of settlements.
There are ten sections to the report, most of them self-contained. The first section outlines the comprehensive development plan (CDP) for Bangalore and land use within the city with a special note on the proposed IT (Information Technology) corridor. The IT corridor is used to illustrate the conflicts that arise when new industries (like IT and Bio-tech) jostle for space with the older networks of interests and claims in the city.

Quoting the case of K.C.Raju Reddy v. Commissioner BDA, the report suggests how owning a house is a dream for every Bangalorean, but at the same time is an impossible dream as paying a price to an authority does not automatically ensure that you get a plot of land. At the same time, despite a severe shortage of housing, the IT sector in particular has been allotted many hundreds of acres of land which could have been allotted for a range of other needs including housing.

The report makes the point that violations by the poor are often dealt with disproportionately more violence than those by the better off. In this context, the authors suggest that the glare of the law is usually more so 'illegal activities' by the lower classes as they form more visible violations of planning laws. There is also a strong sentiment amongst some quarters of the middle classes to ‘remove slums’ on the grounds that they represent a visual scar on an urban landscape. And yet. these same classes are party to a variety of violations which are dealt with much more leniently. There are many violations in land use undertaken by corporates and middle class households. Examples include the almost regular flouting of normative building bye-laws, the encroachment of pavements and roads for construction of parks and gardens and parking (especially at night time). However, the illegalities of pavement dwellings, slums, hawking and illegal water and sewerage connections are subject to greater scrutiny by the various organs of the state. This in some way causes the creation of an Orwellian state where ‘some illegalities are more illegal than others’.

The second section goes into great detail on the land and planning laws in Karnataka. Starting with the laws regarding the ownership of property in Karnataka, it goes on to other forms of tenure like lease, license and mortgage. It also goes into the laws of formation of revenue layouts, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) Act, and the laws with regard to regularisation of unauthorised constructions. The section winds up with the planning laws including the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Agency (BMRDA).

The third section is a commentary on the various types of land tenure in existence in and around Bangalore. While there is an increasing movement to classify land tenures as ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, the demand pressure on land creates a multiplicity of tenure systems. This then causes further pressure to create regulations for control of land use. Starting with a commentary on the history of Bangalore’s growth, the discussion looks at the growing pace of urbanisation explained by the ever expanding ‘core’ and ‘fringe’ of the city. With the ever increasing growth in Bangalore, the area of the city though less than 0.5% of the entire State has nearly 10% of the population. In such a context, the authors define tenure simply as ‘a diverse facility empowering a person/people/community to state a claim over land or its attachments’. These rights often involve a complex set of rules often with different users with complex tenure forms with each having varying degrees of acceptability within the legal framework.

In the urban context, most tenures are either individual based tenure systems (ILT) or community based tenure systems (CLT). There are in turn three approaches are used to map these tenure systems. The first is the land sub-system, the second the actor based and the third location based. After a brief commentary on the various types of tenures, the report goes on to suggest a complex web of relationships that cause the simultaneous existence of plural tenure forms.

The settlement ‘cycle’ of a pavement dweller is used as an example to show how they are recognised by the system as those with claims in an area. Through various payments (to police, goondas etc) and patronage, pavement dwellers are able to stay in an area despite not possessing any valid legal documents. Over a period of time, squatters are formed where some set up provision shops, eateries and other commercial ventures. Increasing migration causes more pressure on land and simultaneously increases the commercial activites in a slum. At the same time, depending on the role of NGO’s, the bureaucracy and local politicians, the slum transitions to a housing settlement and eventually into a commercial sub-system.

Though not stated in the report, an excellent example of this phenomenon could be the evolution of Dharavi into one of the leading commercial centres even within Mumbai. One limitation of this report has been the very limited use of examples in Bangalore to elucidate the transition from one form of settlement into another gradually gaining legitimacy in the process.

The informative appendix and goes into several related litigations on this scenario. Beginning with the Francis Coralie judgement on quality of life, court rulings have highlighted that the right to life means the right to live with dignity. This includes the ‘right to food, water, clothing, environment, education, medical care and shelter.’ It then comes back to the Olga Tellis case where the Supreme Court ruled that the eviction of people from the slum lead to the deprivation of their livelihood and consequently to the deprivation of life. The report highlights that this is not just a judicial interpretation in India but has wider support through international conventions, laws and treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of the child (to which every country except the United States is a signatory).

The fourth major section is on Revenue Layouts which are ‘quasi-legal’ layouts formed on agricultural land. Most of these layouts are formed through approvals from various authorities like the local city municipal council, the village panchayat or other local governments. The report highlights how these ‘illegal’ or quasi- legal settlements are common across the world citing examples from South Africa to Turkey and Mexico to Vietnam. At the same time, it makes it abundantly clear that the formal housing mechanism has been highly deficient in providing housing solutions to the people of Bangalore. It is this lacuna that revenue layouts have begun addressing, by servicing the lower- and middle class housing needs. Both the BDA and the Karnataka Housing Board (KHB) have together been able to provide about 10% of the total number of sites that are needed for housing in Bangalore.

The BDA, which has gained in standing recently thanks to the number of infrastructure works like flyovers, comes in for criticism in the report. In addition to approvals from the CMCs, revenue layouts require approvals from the Bangalore Development Authority, which subjects such development to the comprehensive development plan (CDP) for the city. Such approvals are not obtained due to the difficulty of obtaining them, and also the rigidity of the comprehensive development plan (CDP). The authors fault the BDA for restricting suburban municipalities (CMCs) from issuing khatas and collecting betterment charges and assert that the Authority has ‘exceeded its jurisdiction to infringe on the powers and functions of the local bodies of governance’.

The authors instead propose decentralised creation of housing availability and the setting of standards that have to be met in revenue layouts that take local conditions into account. Local governments for example would be responsible for local land and planning laws with the BDA only providing an over-riding framework (like percentage of land use for open spaces, community centres, parks etc). The regulation of individual buildings will be a function of local needs and not an architectural standard which is increasingly and flagrantly flouted by all sections of society.

Next there is some discussion on the Land Acquistion Act (LAA) and in that light, the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Act. Outlining the legal history of land acquisition, the section lists and then questions actively the principle of eminent domain and public purpose on which grounds land is acquired. Though the report does not go into figures of the quantum of compensation, it does suggest that the recent acquisition of property around Bellandur has met with much resistance because of the very small compensation paid. This is an area where land is sold at over Rs. 450 per square foot. The report highlights how in the case of Sri Ramtanu Co-operative Housing Society Ltd. v. State of Maharashtra, industrial development was classified as public purpose. But basic human housing have not been considered as ‘public purpose’ with the same framework.

The attention is then on the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), highlighting how the land acquisition process itself has come under increasing influence by big corporates. The final portions of the report are on the IT corridor and the process of formation of the corridor through land acquisition. The appendix has information on cases currently being heard in the state for the large scale acquisition of land for the proposed IT corridor. In one interesting case, the petitioners, local professionals (engineers), were in the process of setting up an IT company for which they wanted to use their land. But the KIADB acquired their land in order to pass it on to outsiders for setting up IT projects. According to the case information, the outsiders had no experience in the IT sector, as well.

The report also reviews the implications of the 73rd and 74th amendment for planning in the country, as well as the Right to Information Act. The appendix section is excellent with summaries of many cases highlighted and the context of housing and urban needs.

The ALF report is interesting reading for anyone who wants to hear a different point of view on the linear planning process. For stakeholders in urban planning and law, it may be a first step at a discussion on the planning process in any metropolis.
The report would be far more valuable if it explicitly stated planning as an evolutionary process in developing countries, and contrasted this with developed countries whose planning needs are different. At the same time, it would have been more complete if it raised a critique on the slogan of ‘Let us make Bangalore another Singapore’. On whether making Bangalore another Singapore is in the first place desirable and in the second place practical within the political dynamic of Indian democracy. Otherwise, this report is interesting reading for anyone who wants to hear a different point of view on the linear planning process (non-resident Indians living abroad may be familiar with this). Also, for stakeholders in urban planning and law, the ALF report is a possible first step at a discussion on the planning process in any metropolis. Like the land adjacent the mosque, it throws the reality back at you that despite the numerous attempts to delineate legal and illegal spaces, the current political system makes it virtually impossible to create a clinically planned city.