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Voluntary disclosure scheme mooted
Building bylaws violations in Punjab towns
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 28
In Punjab, the violation of buildings bylaws has become a rule rather than an exception. This is evident from the fact that in just four municipal corporations Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Patiala as many as 13,000 notices served on such violators are pending clearance. And even of these 13,000 notices, more than 50 per cent are for "major violations" where the only remedy is demolition.

If the state were to resort to demolitions, it would lead to a serious law and order problem as the violations cover commercial, industrial, residential and institutional buildings. It would also raise a public hue and cry.

In view of the prevailing situation, which also breeds rampant corruption as violations take place with the connivance and collusion of the officials concerned, Punjab has, ostensibly, found a way out of the catch-22 situation. It is, perhaps, the first state to have evolved a voluntary disclosure scheme of building bylaws violations within municipal limits and settlements. This has been done following instructions from Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh whom a large number of deputations had met seeking a ''one-time settlement'' chance to voluntarily disclose violations with a particular cut-off date. The scheme envisages two-fold benefits. One, an end to corruption on the part of the enforcement staff and two, to curb the tendency of the builders to violate the building bylaws. There have been numerous complaints against officials for following a pick-and-choose policy using their discretion and making money.

In this backdrop, the Department of Local Government has now framed a policy on one-time voluntary disclosure of building bylaws violations that has been approved by the Cabinet sub-committee headed by the minister in charge, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh. The other members are Mr Lal Singh, Mr Raghunath Sahai Puri (both ministers), Chief Secretary Y.S. Ratra, Principal Secretary (Finance) K.R. Lakhanpal and Secretary (Local Government) Sarvesh Kaushal.

The new policy recommendations will now be placed before the Council of Ministers for approval. The policy will be applicable on the cases where violations have been made after the adoption of the Building Bylaws Act, 1997.

The Cabinet sub-committee has framed its recommendations on the pattern of a one-time settlement of allowing citizens to make voluntary disclosures in respect of their black money in the early 1990s. The policy will cover all ''unauthorised colonies, constructions, building violations etc.'' At the same time, the committee has recommended that the officers/officials/architects/builders/others of the municipalities concerned, who may be abettors in such violations must also not go scot free. For this an officers' committee, headed by the Secretary, Local Government, has been constituted to propose action against the specific erring officers/officials/others within 30 days of the acceptance of the recommendations by the Council of Ministers.

While framing the policy recommendations, the committee also took into consideration the public interest litigations in the high court and other writs that have been decided. Therefore, the committee has relaxed the relevant Building Bylaws Act, 1997, to enable the introduction of a one-time settlement scheme.

On the 'schedule of rates of compromise' of committed violations, the Cabinet sub-committee found the draft policy of the department on the ''high side'' and decided to tone it down. Accordingly, the following 'schedule of compromise' has been recommended for approval by the Council of Ministers:

The policy recommendations are explicit that in future to ensure enforcement of building regulations in letter and in spirit and to protect further damage to urban environment for any type of violations, the officers/officials/architects/builders/others concerned should be held responsible, as ''conspirators, abettors and offenders'' and there shall be ''no regularisation'' of any type of violations.

The composition fee recovered under the policy should be used for construction of parking lots/multi-storeyed parking and upgradation of other infrastructure.
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