Telangana: Online layout rule bent for offline bribe-taking

Agriculture land is being used for real estate ventures sans approval.

Hyderabad: Upgrading of municipalities to district headquarters has spurred the growth of illegal layouts and buildings in urban areas.

The Telangana government started the online building approval system in 2017 to check corruption in the layout and building approval process. Approvals were supposed to be given within 30 days initially, which has now been reduced to 21 days. But no municipality in the state is meeting this deadline.

There are 73 municipalities in the state at present. An analysis of the implementation of the online approval system during the past one year revealed that in 50 per cent of the municipalities, the approval process takes 40 to 60 days, while in 25 per cent of municipalities, it is up to 65 days, and for the rest, above 65 days.

Corrupt officials and staff have redefined the online approval system to mean that only applications need to be submitted ‘online,’ but approvals will be given ‘offline’ accompanied by bribes.

The new district headquarters has spurred a realty boom in surrounding villages and large numbers of illegal layouts and buildings are coming up in urban areas to cash in on the demand.

Agriculture land is being used for real estate ventures without obtaining the necessary permission from the directorate of town and country planning. Ironically, the online initiative that was supposed to reduce interface between officials and applicants and thus check corruption, has proved otherwise.

Soon after the online application is filed by attaching relevant documents, officials put it on hold for weeks together on the grounds that there are ‘deficiencies’ in the application. This forces applicants back to meeting officials to get the application approved, which defeats the very purpose of the online approval system. Moreover, the online network has generated another monster at all municipal offices- the ‘broker system’.

Trying to meet an official directly to get the necessary permissions is bound to fail. But approaching him/her through a broker assures a success rate of 100 per cent.

That is what the recent ACB raids on town planning officials revealed. If applicants are willing to pay bribes ranging from 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh or more depending on the value of the construction work, the permissions will come through within a few days; if not, the applications will remain pending for months.

The corruption has grown to such proportions that minister for municipal administration, KTR, himself acknowledged its existence at the recent national conference of town planning officials.

Mr Rama Rao said, “Town planning department has become synonymous with corruption. It has completely diluted the online approval system. It has failed to check illegal layouts and buildings. We need to bring a new Act to check this menace."

Mr Rao disclosed plans for new legislation that will give ownership of the illegal building to government. For example, if permission is given for a five storey building and the builder constructs seven storeys, the additional floors and plinth area will automatically get transferred to the government.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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