A restaurateur receives a call. ”You are running restaurant in a building in violation of the sanctioned building plan. I will not make it an issue if you pay me…,” says a Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) health official on the other end.
The restaurateur ignores the call. Two days later, the officer arrives at the restaurant with a copy of the application filed under the Right to Information Act. The applicant wants details of records on the basis of which the restaurant got trade licence from the BBMP.
“If he (applicant) gets the details through RTI, your violation will be exposed and you may have to close the hotel,” the officer threatens the owner and makes an offer, “If you pay me… I will ask the applicant not to insist on the documents.”
A restaurateur, (name withheld), narrated the above conversation, he had with a health inspector of the BBMP, to Deccan Herald. The officer demanded Rs 5 lakh to ‘settle’ the matter. A section of the staff in Health Department in the Palike are allegedly engaged in making fast bucks by colluding with RTI applicants.
Occupancy Certificate, issued by the Palike, is the major tool for the officers to make money. In 2007, the Palike introduced Suvarna Paravanige, a scheme to get the trade licence renewed easily. The Palike distributed booklets informing the traders about the scheme. Interestingly, the booklet did not say that the traders should produce occupancy certificate to get the licence.
As per the booklet all that needed to show no-objection certificate from neighbours and property tax paid receipts. But when the traders approached the BBMP for licence they were surprised as the staff asked them to produce the occupancy certificate. The special commissioner (administration) of BBMP had issued a circular to the health staff asking not to issue licence in case the applicant does not show the occupancy certificate.
The BBMP grants OC to owners only after a Palike representative certifies that the building has been constructed as per the sanctioned plan and suitable for occupation. Roughly more than 5,000 darshinis are in Bangalore city. Most of them are run in rented buildings and do not have OCs. But they could ‘manage’ to get the trade licence through illegal means.
A restaurateur said, “If the Palike makes it mandatory for all hotels to produce OCs, most of the restaurants will have to be closed as many of them are run in rented buildings and many have violated the building plan. I managed to get the licence even without having an OC. But now the same officer, who allowed me to run the business, is demanding some more money by colluding with habitual RTI applicants. It is the officers who prompt them to apply under RTI and strike a deal with them.”
“We have invested in crores on hotels. If the business is stopped even for a few days it is difficult to bear the loss. A restaurateur has to pay Rs 5 lakh to start a new restaurant on DVG Road. Similar is the case with another restaurateur in Jayanagar,” said a restaurant owner in Gandhi Bazar.
BBMP Commissioner Bharat Lal Meena said he had not received complaints in this regard. “Restaurateurs should have all valid documents to run the business. If anybody files a complaint against officers who are allegedly involved in making money I will definitely take action against them,” he said.