The Belagavi session concluded on Friday with two controversial decisions of Assembly Speaker K.B. Koliwad. The much awaited report on lake encroachments in and around Bengaluru and the confirmation of the jail sentence for two tabloid journalists, have brought Koliwad to centre-stage in the state.
Mr Koliwad headed the lake encroachment committee which has stirred a hornet's nest even as the government is gearing up for Assembly elections. As for the decision confirming the jail term for two tabloid journalists, it is sure to lead to more breach of privilege petitions against journalists in the coming days.
In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, Mr Koliwad said the commercial encroachments on lakes and Raja Kaluves must be mercilessly evicted as the owners would have to bear the blame for purchasing properties on lake beds. He also ruled out reviewing his decision confirming the jail sentence for the two journalists saying enough opportunities had been given to them. Here are excerpts from his interview.
In the lake encroachment report, you have recommended eviction of encroachments on lake beds and have also suggested that the government maintain the status quo. Is the report not ambiguous?
There is no contradiction, if encroachments were carried out by government agencies like BDA and BBMP for public purposes, they can be restored. After BDA allotted sites to allottees, they have constructed houses. BDA has acquired land for hospitals, roads and schools, so these establishments cannot be evicted. With regard to private encroachments, multi-storied buildings have come up on lake beds and private encroachers have already sold their properties. Those who have bought properties should realise it was wrong to purchase them in the first place. Those properties have become illegal properties and the burden lies upon the purchasers. I have however recommended to the government to take over such properties and lease them out to the allottees The government should fix a lump sum and hand over the ownership rights to the allottees. However with regard to commercial constructions on lake beds, I have recommended that the government mercilessly evict such properties.
What about action against errant officials who were hand-in-glove with land developers and builders ?
The panel has suggested that the state government prosecute errant officials who colluded with land grabbers and developers. The government must also confiscate their movable and immovable properties. The panel has found that by creating bogus and forged documents, the officials favoured land developers and builders. In many cases, allottees have purchased land in one survey number, but constructed the house in another survey number.
How do you identify errant officials who colluded with land grabbers?
I have suggested to the state government to constitute a judicial commission to find out the errant officers. The committee should be given power to confiscate their properties. I have also suggested that the government hand over the confiscated properties to the lake development committee.
What about encroachments on Raja Kaluve?
As for Raja Kaluves, we have recommended merciless eviction of the encroachments. All of us know what happened to Chennai, when it was flooded. Bengaluru faced the same fate when it received heavy rain recently. In Bengaluru, people moved in a boat from one place to another due to encroachment of a Raja Kaluve.
But the ownership of properties on Raja Kaluves has changed several times. Many owners did not know if the property was on a Raja Kaluve or not.
What we should do for their mistakes? They should think before purchasing such properties. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. If we allow them to continue to stay on Raja Kaluves, Bengaluru will face the same fate of Chennai.
With regard to slum dwellers, we have recommended that the government provide alternative sites without which they should not be evicted.
The present government’s tenure will end in 4-5 months, how can it implement the report?
We have submitted the report to the state government, it could be the incumbent government or the new government which implements it. It is the responsibility of the government to implement the report.
Will you allow a discussion on the report if members ask for it?
Yes, if members seek a discussion, I will allow it. The report is in the public domain now, members have the right to discuss it. But I cannot give answers since I am in the chair.
How practicable is it to implement the report?
There is no impracticable part in the report. Implementation is the duty of the executive, not ours. We have given a genuine and honest report to the government and it is for them to implement it.
You have recommended the constitution of a high level committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary.....
The Chief Secretary should handle all encroachment cases. It is possible for him to take decisions on removing encroachments on lake beds.
Why were you so harsh on two journalists? You have confirmed their conviction for violating members’ privileges by carrying ‘scandalous’ reports in their tabloids?
I have no power to give mercy to them, it was the unanimous decision of the House to adopt the report of the privileges committee and confirm the jail term for them. The journos gave me an application to reconsider the conviction and I placed it before the House, but the House rejected it. I cannot take a decision against the House resolution.
But you denied one more opportunity to the journalists to plead guilty?
They have not sought one more opportunity to plead guilty, if they confessed before me, the House could have considered it. (The two journalists had placed written arguments before the Privileges panel to reconsider its decision long back.)
The state Legislature has set a new precedent by awarding a jail term to journalists.
There is no intention of triggering a confrontation with the media. But there should be co-ordination from both sides. Lack of co-ordination results in confrontation. If 90 percent MLAs are in favour of conviction, what I can do?
Is there a chance of reconsideration?
No, it is a closed chapter, we have already given a chance to the two journalists to submit their argument before the panel.
There was criticism against you about the lavish spending for the diamond jubilee of Viidhana Soudha and the just concluded Belagavi session?
For the diamond jubilee, I asked for Rs 26 crore, but the government released Rs 10 crore. So where is the question of lavish expenses? For the Belagavi session, the government gave us 21 crore. Last time too, the state government had released Rs. 21 crore.
But your spending on the Belagavi session has not served its purpose, members were missing during the ten-day session.
We are concerned, there must be participation of members in the House deliberations. I had even told them to participate in debates on North Karnataka related subjects.
Why cannot you insist that they participate?
I personally requested the members to participate in the session. Members spoke of the problems faced by sugarcane, arecacnut and coconut famers and I had to ask them if only these three types of farmers were present in the state. In fact, the members did not raise isuses pertainiing to Jowar, Ragi, groundnut, cotton, and other produce. I even appealed to the members from north Karnataka to speak about these issues.
This time, members complained of the food and stomach upset. Did you notice it ?
It has come to my notice that members fell sick due to the food but I would like to ask you how many members fell sick? Only 10 to 25 members had problems with the food. If there was a problem with the food, it should have affected all, why were all members not affected? It could be because of the water or food, we cannot blame food alone.
Allegations were made that you replaced the food contractor with someone close to your son? is it true?
Those who opposing me, make such allegations. What I can do about such allegations? They will criticise whatever decision I have taken but I feel we have taken the most appropriate decisions.
There was a sexual harassment complaint against your Secretary? Did you receive any complaint in this regard ?
No, I have not received any complaint against my secretary. I saw reports of the sexual harassment case against my secretary on television but based on TV reports, I cannot take any action against him.
If someone makes a complaint to me in writing, I will take necessary action on it.