Bangalore is losing prime public land to a builder with a track record of contract deviation. The crisis at the EWS Quarters site in Koramangala shows yet again how politicians and officials readily sacrifice citizens’ interests to favour themselves and their friends
You could see it as a dark joke. Or as a poignant drama in which the rich and the powerful, hungry for profits, drive out thousands of poor people from their ramshackle dwellings. It is all this, and more.
Death has gone visiting at the EWS Quarters, built by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike in Ejipura, adjoining Koramangala, many times. In 2004, one of the 42 blocks collapsed, killing three residents. When the monsoons arrived in 2007- 08, another block collapsed, claiming three people, including a child. The latest casualty is a woman who reportedly died of shock after the eviction on Wednesday.
In the last 10 years, BBMP could have built new houses for the poor on the same expanse, but it dragged its feet, with the sole intention of evicting residents and handing over the land to a private developer. The company that has benefited from the BBMP’s delay tactics is Maverick Holdings and Investment Pvt Ltd, the same company that built the Garuda Mall in the upmarket MG Road-Brigade Road area.
Everyone who matters in the BBMP, the police department and the Vidhana Soudha knows Maverick Holdings has hoodwinked the government by grabbing four acres, which it got for free to build a public car park, to build Garuda Mall.
While at it, Maverick broke a few building bylaws, evaded stamp duty, and faced a Lokayukta inquiry. A more upright administration would have blacklisted them from future projects. But, even as citizens watched in disbelief, the BBMP has again entrusted 15 acres of prime land in Koramangala to this company with an untrustworthy track record.
The Garuda Mall story
In 2000, when the SM Krishna government convened its Global Investor Summit, the concept of public-private partnership (PPP) was mooted in the infrastructure sector. The BBMP invited tenders to build a multi-level public car park on a four-acre plot. The land, in the heart of the city, was being used as a lorry workshop by the municipal corporation.
The BBMP gave the land to Maverick for free, on the grounds that they were participating in a public infrastructure project. The developer was to build a car park and collect user fees for 30 years to recover their investment. Amidst reports of manipulation in bidding, Maverick won the contract and promised to build the car park according to the contractual terms.
But from 2000 to 2004, BBMP modified the terms of contract at the behest of Maverick, permitting them to create commercial space alongside the car park, and also to build a multiplex (now functional) and a business class hotel (yet to come up). In December 2004, the then Chief Minister N Dharam Singh inaugurated a swanky mall, which The Week magazine ranked as No 1 in the country. The public purpose behind the project had been completely defeated. It had now become a fully commercial project.
In effect, the citizens of Bangalore lost prime land to a builder, while parking continued to be a problem. During the construction, Maverick also encroached on 3,465 sq ft of public land. When the BBMP council raised the issue, Maverick said it would pay a penalty and regularise the deviations when the Akrama Sakrama scheme came into force. The scheme, which seeks to collect fines and legitimise violations, has encouraged large-scale deviations and turned urban planning into a farce.
Maverick and the BBMP signed their joint venture agreement on a Rs 200 stamp paper, while the stamp duty they owed the government exceeded Rs 1 crore. The Inspector-General of Registrations impounded the document in 2008
The EWS Quarters story
One of the mandates for the BBMP is to provide housing for the urban poor. In 1992, the BBMP said it would build flats for the economically weaker sections. It borrowed money from HUDCO, identified 15 acres it owned opposite the National Games Village in Koramangala, and drew up a plan. Forty-two blocks with 36 flats in each were built and went into the hands of beneficiaries identified by the BBMP. The police department, for whom it was first offered,turned it down, saying the construction was substandard. The final buyers paid a subsidised price, and the municipal authorities facilitated soft loans.
But within a year, the buildings developed cracks and looked run-down. The BBMP paid Rs 5,000 to each flat owner towards repairs. After a year, part of a block collapsed and the government constituted an expert committee to look into the quality of construction. The committee reported that the quality was dismal, and the blocks might collapse any moment. Clearly, people were risking life and limb by staying there. A callous BBMP did not initiate any action against engineers and contractors responsible for the poor quality of the construction.
Instead, incredibly, the BBMP decided to demolish all the blocks and build new flats. The government objected, asking how the new blocks would be funded. In reply, the BBMP said it would adopt the PPP route! The BBMP was entitled to recover the full cost from the contractor in addition to a penalty. It was dutybound to punish the engineer who allowed the contractor to get away with sub-standard work. But no, the BBMP was in a hurry to strike a deal with the private sector.
Maverick makes an entry
In 2004, the BBMP invited bids for the reconstruction of the EWS Quarters. The developer was to build single-room flats for the poor on five acres. To recover his costs, he would be allowed to build a mall in rest of the land, stretching to about 10 acres.
More than 30 bidders participated in the tender process, and three were shortlisted— Maverick Holdings, Akruthi Builders and IDEB. The Mumbai-based Akruthi Builders was the preferred bidder, according to an evaluation made by the Infrastructure Development Corporation of Karnataka (IDeCK). The BBMP opened the bids, but allowed Maverick to make a handwritten alteration to claim it was better than Akruthi. A dispute arose, and the BBMP referred the bids to three consultants. Maverick was favoured by two.
Eventually, in October 2006, the BBMP council passed a resolution favouring Maverick. Akruthi Builders challenged it in the Karnataka High Court, which stayed the project. In 2008, during President’s rule, the Karnataka government appealed to the High Court, promising it would act fairly if the court vacated the stay. The court obliged. Subsequently, the project was cancelled by the Governor’s executive committee.
Akruthi Builders continued to contest the case. After two years of litigation, the High Court ruled in favour of Maverick not after hearing the case, but on technical grounds. By then, BS Yeddyurappa had become the chief minister, and his first cabinet meeting approved the project in favour of Maverick.
Akruthi Builders filed a writ appeal only to withdraw it a few days later.
Who is Maverick?
Maverick Holdings and Investments Pvt Ltd is a company headed by former Karnataka Director-General of Police B N Garudachar. His son Uday Garudachar is its Managing Director. Other directors include family. Its office is on KR Road in Basavangudi.
The loose ends
- The BBMP has entered into a joint venture with Maverick without the consent of the owners of the flats
- The BBMP has not penalised or recovered costs from the contractors who first built sub-standard quarters.
- The municipal authorities have not explored the possibility of building flats on their own.
- The BBMP has not taken into account the poor track record of Maverick while awarding the project.
I sympathise with the poor families. We are aware of what Mavreick Holdings has done in the case of Garuda Mall. The EWS project has seen a six-year legal battle. It may be difficult to change or cancel the deal as many governments have approved it. I appeal to Bangalore citizens to give us suggestions on what we can do in this matter.
D Venkatesha Murthy, Mayor
We are simply following a High Court order, which asks us to vacate the land so that Maverick Holdings can start construction. As far as their track record on Garuda Mall is concerned, we cannot comment. Both the government and the High Court have allowed them to participate in the EWS Quarters joint venture.
H Siddaiah, BBMP Commissioner
- IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Demolition of EWS quarters and the Eviction of Residents (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- More houses razed at Ejipura in Bangalore #slum demolitions (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- #Bangalore 50-60 women beaten, arrested at EWS Colony this morning, protesting demolition by BBMP #Vaw (kractivist.wordpress.com)