By: M.S.Yatnatti: Editor and Video Journalist Bengaluru: Builders and buyers of property and land owners need to respect NGT orders as it protects environment and at the same time Builders and buyers of property and land owners need experts advice to solve the impact of NGT order in lawful manner and meet ends of justice .National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 has been enacted to fulfill the long felt need of alternative forum to deliver speedy and inexpensive justice. The philosophy of public interest litigation is echoed in the legislation, a welcome direction for the class of victims who are unable to knock the doors of judiciary. According to research papers The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has emerged as an important player in Indian environmental regulation. It has issued orders on a variety of issues-ranging from pollution to deforestation to waste management. It recently directed the Delhi government to de-register all diesel vehicles more than 10 years old-a decision being opposed by many stakeholders, including the Central Government.
According to reports and experts advice please beware at the time buying property abutting a storm drain , it is somebody else's Villa, somebody else's Apartment, somebody else's Plot, somebody else's House that gets demolished and you are not affected . It is never yours. Next time, it could be yours.You have read enough number of stories in news papers and might have seen in TV Channels about several gut wrenching, stomach churning demolition stories of all kinds of real estate all over Bangalore for either Storm Water Drain Encroachments or Lake Encroachments. Despite all this, with great heroism and bravery, you have gone ahead and blindly invested in all kinds of layouts all over Bangalore without getting anything checked by legal experts for Storm Water Drain Encroachments or Lake Encroachments or buffer zone Encroachment or SWD encroachment?.The issues related about Storm Water Drain Encroachments or Lake Encroachments or buffer zone Encroachment or SWD encroachment?.are the kind that will give cause for demolition of your property/building/house/villa/apartment or rejection of plan sanction/building construction plan approval by BBMP/BDA/BMRDA/BIAAPA/APA or NPA/KPA/MPA/BMICAPA/HPA etc. This means that if you buy a site/plot abutting any of the categories of water bodies, you will be sitting on some dead investment since you will not get any house construction plan approved. Even after demolishing your existing old house/building, you will not get any new plan approval for new construction if the site in question is abutting any of the categories of water bodies. Hence it becomes pertinent on your part to get the property first investigated by legal experts .Be sure that the property you have identified to buy is not too close to a Primary storm water drain? Too close to Secondary storm water drain? Too close to a Tertiary storm water drain? Either way, you will problem when the demolition squad comes to bulldoze your house/villa/apartment. Another way you can get surprise is when the BBMP or BMRDA will not even give you any License or Plan Sanction (Approval) to construct your house/villa, assuming you blindly end up buying a plot/site without consulting with experts on buffer zone problems for Rajakaluve closeness or encroachment or for the fact that the Plot you bought is actually in the buffer zone of a lake.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established in 2010 by the National Green Tribunal Act. It replaced National Environment Appellate Authority. It was set up to handle cases and speed up proceedings of cases related to environmental issues. Experts are busy in research on NGT order's impact on Real Estate industry in Bangalore. In this article I am reporting analysis of many experts and the developments that happened post this order and the impact this order will have on city development, landowners, builders & property buyers.
NGT order at a glance: As per Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) CDP 2015 a setback of 30 meters is required from the boundary of lake i.e. no construction is permitted within this 30 meters buffer zone. For primary drains the buffer zone was 50 meters measured from the centre of the drain.NGT order changed the buffer zone of lake from 50 meters to 75 meters. For primary drains it made the buffer zone of 50 meters from the boundary of drains rather than centre of the drain. The order overruled BDA rules and thus jeopardised interest of several stakeholders. The order is retrorospective in nature & affects all projects whether approved or not approved or commencement certificates issued or not issued as The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Karnataka Urban Development Department (UDD) tendered an unconditional apology to the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal at the time of hearing , and undertook to withdraw with immediate effect, a circular laying out exemptions from the buffer zone ruling of the tribunal.A UDD letter to the BBMP, dated February 16, 2017, interpreting the NGT ruling too has been withdrawn. Citing the UDD communication, the BBMP had issued the circular, dated March 30, 2017, exempting projects which had already received plan approvals from the buffer zone ruling. The department and BBMP submitted affidavits and were represented by additional chief secretary Mahendra Jain and joint commissioner Sarfaraz Khan, respectively.
Castigating the BBMP for tweaking its order on the buffer zone around lakes, the NGT had on Tuesday directed that any such attempts in future would be subjected to contempt proceedings. The tribunal also deterred the officials from interfering with the NGT judgment in future, and from using impertinent language with regard to it.On March 30, 2017, nearly a year after NGT ordered increasing the no-build buffer zone around lakes in Bengaluru from 30metres to 75metres, BBMP issued a fresh circular reinterpreting the order. The circular had stated that the new buffer zone of 75metres for lakes and wetlands won't apply for building constructions in layouts which have sanction from the planning authority, before the order was issued on May 4, 2016.The green bench also noted that the intention behind the BBMP circular and legal opinion approved in the UDD letter dated February 16, was clearly to frustrate the NGT judgment. It observed that the language used in the letter and comments given on the judgment dated May 4, 2016, are unacceptable. "The opinions expressed in the BBMP circular and UDD letter are completely contrary to the tribunal's judgment. We wish the government on its own should take some action to show they have some respect for law," the green bench noted.The tribunal told the UDD that it should know the law correctly and that NGT is not a quasi-judicial body. The NGT has been described as a civil court in the NGT Act, it pointed out. The circular issue was brought to the notice of the principal bench in New Delhi on Tuesday, by intervener Namma Bengaluru Foundation, when it was hearing the Bellandur Lake case. The bench took exception to the circular and the UDD letter, and ordered all officials connected to them to appear before it on Wednesday.
Reactions reportedly to the NGT order:When this order came out people including city developers thought this was specific to a particular project of Mantri Developers. So there was no industry specific reaction to this order. However within a week of this NGT order the Government of Karnataka passed a circular stating that they are going to abide by this NGT order which sent shock waves across the industry. The circular clearly indicated that BDA / BBMP will not give approvals to any project abutting lake & drains that do not conform with new requirements of buffer zone as per the NGT order. Suddenly the industry realized the seriousness of impact of this order & subsequent circular by the govt. As per estimate over 150 projects are adversely impacted by this NGT order in Bangalore amounting to around Rs. 30,000 Cr of inventory!
Builders Property buyers Landowners are impacted by this order & How?
A. Builders:Obviously the worst affected are the builders. Imagine you abide by the local building laws, buy land, pay for initial expenses & submit the plans for sanction. But BDA refuses to give you approvals citing NGT order. A number of builders bought land abutting lakes to get the "prime" factor. Builders are not at fault as they abided by 30 meters setback norms. Who is going to compensate the builders for the losses? Many builders borrowed expensive money from NBFCs and Private Equity Funds to buy the land. What about the fate of those financial institutions who may not be able to recover their investments? More litigations?
B. Property buyers: Expertspity buyers who bought properties in projects affected by NGT order. Though ongoing approved projects are safe, people who bought in Pre-Launch would be affected by this order. They have the right to cancel their bookings but refunds might be delayed as the builders can say they are not at fault or are contesting the matter in the court. Such orders create confusion in the minds of property buyers. How will a property buyer know whether the project won't get adversely impacted from some other order in future? I have already started observing the growing preference among buyers for ready to move in projects. Investors will also stay away from the market putting more stress on the sector.
C. Landowners:Imagine you were a proud owner of a lake facing property worth several crores. Suddenly NGT order makes this value ZERO as no project can come up on this land. What if somebody had invested his life savings & bought a plot in a layout approved by BDA which now falls within 75 meters buffer zone? Suddenly he or she can't build his or her dream house on it. Who will compensate such landowners? What about the fundamental rights of these landowners? Ideally the government should buy the land from landowners to create the buffer zone. It would be win-win for them.
D. City Development: Million dollar question is who is going to protect the buffer zone in future? What about subsequent illegal slum development on this buffer zone? If you travel across Bangalore you will see rampant encroachments by slum dwellers on several lakes. You can't even clear these illegal settlements by going to courts. Other big issue is the ongoing and planned work on Sewage Treatment Plants on several lakes. What happens to them? Govt has already cancelled allotment of lands given to private agencies for building STP which now falls within the new buffer zone. While the NGT order was passed to "protect" the lakes the ambiguity over the fate of these STPs will delay the work and pollution & destruction of lakes will continue unabated.
Current Status:Supreme Court has rejected the representation made by Bangalore chapter of CREDAI to quash this NGT order and asked affected builders to approach the court individually. It will hear their cases on individual basis and pass judgment accordingly. Bangalore now has a "NGT aggrieved Builders Group" which is meeting regularly to strategize their fight in Supreme Court.
The members of the Tribunal are a mix of persons with a legal/judicial background and those with knowledge and expertise in environmental issues or with administrative experience. There is a principal bench of the Tribunal in New Delhi and four regional benches in Bhopal, Kolkata, Pune and Chennai. These are 'co-equal benches' i.e. the principal bench is not 'higher' in a judicial hierarchy than the other benches. Each bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction. For instance, cases arising from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, and Lakshadweep have to be filed in the Southern bench in Chennai. Occasionally 'circuit benches' are also constituted. These are specially constituted benches, which visit a particular city for a few days to hear cases relating to that state.