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Simplifying building plan approval in Bengaluru

As per Bengaluru Development Minister D K Shivakumar’s instructions, officials of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) are busy developing a new system to curb violations in smaller houses built on plots measuring less than 50X60 feet, while reducing red-tapism and corruption in the plan approval process — Automated Plan Approval system.

The proposal is not new. In 2019, the then-BBMP commissioner B H Anilkumar floated the idea of architects uploading the plan and BBMP officials giving approvals after checking it online, without people visiting the BBMP office. The construction can begin without spot inspection, and responsibility for violations will be on the architects.

This proposal is now back on the table. In the current system, spot inspection is mandatory before granting approval, which leads to delays sometimes when officials are busy with other work. It also leads to violations. Today, BBMP limits is full of buildings that violate bylaws.

Rules remain on paper

BBMP has always been aware of the problem. An order dated July 2, 2022, mandated that BBMP assistant engineers mark the building plinth line in the presence of the property owners for approved plans and document it using GPS coordinates and photos. The aim was to figure out the buildings that violated the approved plans.

Officials were asked to inspect the works regularly to ensure the construction was according to the plan. The violators would be asked to stop the work, and the officials who failed to inspect constructions or mark plinth lines would be fined.

Once the construction is over, the BBMP issues the occupancy certificate to the building. Many violations happen after this is issued. Such violations were to be monitored by town-planning engineers or assistant engineers.

Sometimes, buildings are constructed without plan approval. Revenue officials were asked to provide details of unauthorised constructions to BBMP assistant executive engineers who were authorised to take action.

However, in practice, BBMP officials often could not mark plinth lines. As violations continued amid BBMP’s staff crunch, a year later, in July 2023, the BBMP again issued another order making ward engineers responsible for monitoring illegal constructions and reporting them to assistant executive engineers or joint directors.

The order noted that illegal structures continued despite all notifications and attempts to fix responsibility on officials. It also formed zonal-level task forces to demolish unauthorised constructions and set timelines for officers to take action.

‘Architects responsible’

A senior official from BBMP’s town-planning department says it is too early to reveal more about the new system, and clarity will emerge in another two weeks. “The proposed system will help citizens get plan approvals easily and will fix accountability on empanelled architects who upload the plans to ensure the constructions are built according to the approved plan,” he says.

The official agrees that it takes time to fix the system. In the existing system, empanelled architects upload the plans and get them sanctioned. However, the building is built according to a separate working plan — different from the approved plan — according to the preferences of the building owner or architect’s imagination.

In other cases, architects are not involved in the construction at all. Civil contractors take it over, and violations can happen at this stage. This is why the BBMP now wants to fix accountability on architects, not just building owners, in case of violations.

There is also the problem of brokers who “facilitate” the plan approval process. The official says that going to them is unwarranted as the BBMP website has all the details and tutorials on how to get plan approval. “Citizens can upload plan details online, which are inspected, and approvals are given soon. No need to go to any middleman,” he says.

‘Unfair on architects’

“Currently and in the proposed system, architects should upload the plan. But how many architects design individual houses? People don’t come to architects as they feel their fee is high and don’t want to spend on design. They spend only on execution, which civil contractors do,” says Yashaswini Sharma, an architect based in Bengaluru.

Only registered architects should design buildings. Real-time monitoring should be done to track violations. In case of violations, the owners should be held responsible, not the architects, says Yashaswini.

For smaller buildings, the BBMP officials check for master plan bylaws and approve the plan. The problem happens when bylaws are not obeyed. “The point of the bylaw is that there can be a healthy building and clearance around it,” she explains.

She adds that the situation now is that violators are more than non-violators. Applying for retrofitting instead of a new plan is another way to circumvent the approval process.

“The current plan approval process and documents have many good things, but people do not follow them. Schemes like Akrama Sakrama (regularisation of unauthorised constructions) should not exist. Once people know there is an option to regularise it later, they will violate it,” she says.

Why do violations happen?

Shantharam, a BBMP-empanelled engineer, explains the flaws that lead to violations. “If we take a 30X40 site, for example, the setback will be 12 per cent from the roadside, measuring about 5 feet. The other three sides will have an 8 per cent setback, measuring upto 3.25 ft. Thus, in a site measuring 1200 sqft area, one will be able to build a floor of 740 sqft legally. It is difficult to accommodate a two-bed-room-hall-kitchen house in this area. It makes people unhappy as real estate is at a premium in Bengaluru,” he says.

He says the setback should be reduced to about 2.5 feet on each side of the building, which will reduce the number of violations.

The city is growing vertically. Therefore, the floor area ratio (FAR) given to properties can be increased so that people can build more in less space. In a 1200 sqft space, at the rate of the current FAR of 1.75, one can build only 2,100 sqft. This is less. If the FAR can be raised to 2-2.5, it will help people get more value out of the land, he says.

‘Good idea with many possibilities’

Deepak Punam, an architect, says that the proposed system of automated plan sanction is a good move which will increase transparency, helping both the government and the property owners.

“Property owners can apply online without any visit to BBMP because the new system will not have multiple approval officers, like in Sakala, ‘self-conversion of agriculture land’ and Kaveri 2 schemes,” he says.

Implementation of the system is critical; if the application procedure through the app or website is too technical, then interference of agents will happen, he says.

“In the current manual plan sanction system, sites measuring less than 30X40 do not need any plans. Including them in the new system would be a bit challenging. However, I feel all properties, irrespective of measurement, must be included,” he adds.

In case multiple owners fight legally over a particular property, currently, the interested parties inform BBMP to stop plan approval. “If this is not addressed in the new system, it would create more legal challenges,” he explains.

“The new system should be able to track deviation by adding real-time and GPS-enabled photos of the property during application. If an old building needs to be demolished, the quantity of construction and demolition waste can be calculated, and disposal can be tracked,” he says.

Building owners declare a lesser area of property to reduce property tax. Once the building is completed, for issuing of occupancy certificate, uploading of real-time and GPS-enabled photos should be mandated, which can help track extra constructions and declared area could be crosschecked, he adds.

If the plan is not approved, a digital track of the application can be used by owners to take legal steps. According to him, using residential buildings for commercial activities can also be tracked with digitisation.

Deepak says the idea has many other benefits too. The data can be shared with Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited and others to avoid sharing wrong information with these departments while getting service. Implementation of rainwater harvesting etc, can easily be tracked.

A system to review constructions every two years can help track extra floor constructions. He adds that existing buildings with offline plan sanction can also be brought under scanner using real-time and GPS-enabled photos.

(Published 27 October 2023, 20:45 IST)

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