The denotification of land in Arkavathy Layout in northeast Bangalore led to former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa being prosecuted for corruption. Now, for the past seven months, the BJP has levelled the same charge, for the same residential area, against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the Congress. Siddaramaiah has ordered a judicial probe and said he would retire from politics if any wrongdoing is proved. JOHNSON T A explains.
What is land denotification?
It is the government returning land acquired for public projects to original owners or persons/companies who have the power of attorney. The Karnataka government has power to denotify acquired land in special circumstances.
What is the Arkavathy Layout?
In 2001-02, when S M Krishna was chief minister, the Bangalore Development Authority proposed a low-cost housing area in northeast Bangalore for residents of Karnataka. In February 2004, the state government issued a notification for acquisition of 2,750 acres in Arkavathy Layout to create 28,600 housing sites at an estimated cost of Rs 981.36 crore.
How did the controversy arise?
As soon as the project came on the table, real estate firms bought up land in the area from farmers at low prices and peddled influence in the government to get it released from the Arkavathy project. On the other hand, several aggrieved farmers went to court. In April 2005, the Karnataka High Court quashed the Arkavathy acquisition saying BDA had no power to acquire land. Later that year, a division bench upheld an appeal by the BDA, but asked it to release land to owners in special cases. In May 2010, the Supreme Court cleared the Arkavathy Layout project, permitting denotification under six conditions: if land is within a green belt, totally built up, if charitable, educational and/or religious institutions build, if nurseries have been created, if factories have been set up, and if the land is similar to adjoining land not notified for acquisition. Floodgates were opened for denotification of Arkavathy land.
How did BSY come into the picture?
By 2010, the price of an acre of land acquired by BDA for Arkavathy in 2004 had gone from Rs 16 lakh to around Rs 16 crore. A nexus between politicians of the party in power, real estate businessmen and middlemen allowed profiteering through denotification. Even original landowners, seeing the profit that could be made, let middlemen negotiate denotification. In one instance in 2010, a plot valued around Rs 38.15 crore was denotified by then CM BSY, and sold for Rs 3.37 crore to Besto Infrastructure Bangalore Ltd, a partner firm of Davalagiri Developers, run by Yeddyurappa’s sons and son-in-law.
Are only the BJP and Congress involved in the Arkavathy controversy?
Four governments of three parties — JD(S), BJP and Congress — are accused of dodgy denotification, as a result of which the project has shrunk from 2,750 acres to 1,767 acres. Land was identified for denotification under H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(S), BJP’s BSY and Jagadish Shettar, and current CM Siddaramaiah. Real estate firms have been major beneficiaries.
Who are the losers?
Farmers whose lands were acquired at nominal prices in 2004 by the BDA, as well as residents of Bangalore hoping for affordable housing.
How serious is the problem for Siddaramaiah?
The BJP has been threatening to approach Governor Vajubhai Vala for sanction for Siddaramaiah’s prosecution. But in recent days, in the absence of concrete evidence of quid pro quo or illegalities in the denotification, it has backed off.