Jeanne’s house

Jeanne is a 50-something member of a citizen’s group in Mangalore. As she shows me her street, DSouza Lane, she draws me a picture of how her city has changed and she has got involved in the Citizen’s Forum group.

A series of incidents got me involved in this. A few years ago, I started getting concerned over garbage collection in Mangalore. A few of us started talking about the issue and informally got together to think about how we could do something to improve garbage collection and disposal in the city. Then the first house on my road was sold for development and this large multi-storeyed building of apartments came up. You’ve seen how narrow our road is. DSouza lane is a winding, narrow road with a ditch at either end to allow the heavy monsoon rains to drain away. 2 Maruti cars find it difficult to pass each other; in fact one has to pull over at a broader portion of the road for the other to overtake. Such a narrow road and so many cars from the apartment building clogging the entrance to the main road. What makes it worse is that at the junction of DSouza lane and the main road theres an auto stand on the right and a school on the left hand side. So you can imagine our situation.

Then one of my neighbors down the road rebuilt his house. For this, he broke down and reconstructed his boundary wall. At that time I went to him and asked him to construct his wall 2 feet back so that the road would be wider at that point. Why should I do it and lose my land, he asked. Do it for all of us on the road I said. It would really help. And he did. You can see that the road is wider at this part- 2 cars can easily pass each other. DSouza lane curves to the left and we continue past sprawling bungalows set in gardens overflowing with trees and plants. Our house is just round the corner.

The road curves to the right and theres their house on the left- a large white low-slung building in good condition. We just did it up, she said. You can see the building materials piled up in the corner, we still have some work to finish up. But now look on the right at this monstrosity. This is what makes me really angry. It’s a 15 story building coming up on our road. It looks like theres no work going on, I observed. Yes, she said. That’s because we stopped it. We got a stay order placed on it last Dec and the builder cannot do anything about it. And if you look you’ll see that the boundary wall has been set back. Do you know why the builder did that? That’s because Karnataka has a strange provision in their building bye-laws. It says that the vertical height of a building depends on the width of the road as measured from the centre of the plot. This means that they don’t take the width of the entire stretch of road into account but just the width of the portion of road measured in front of the building gate. This loophole doesn’t exist in other states- We’ll go inside and I’ll show you Goa’s and Maharashtra’s bye-laws. So the builder here is clever. He has taken advantage of this loophole by setting his gate further back from the road so that he can increase the height of the building. 15 floors, on a road this narrow, can you imagine?

We enter their house and its cool and quiet inside. A respite from the blazing hot sun. the building bye-laws are brought and pored over. The provision in question is highlighted in yellow and falls open readily, perhaps indicating that this page is frequently referred to.

I was so angry at the builder. I went and spoke to him. Then I visited govt offices here but nothing came out of that. I have made about 5 trips to Bangalore so far and my husband has made 3. I’ve learnt all sorts of things. She laughs. I visited Vidhana Souda. And the Fire Dept. The Fire Dept was on our side. They have been complaining for years that if theres a fire they wouldn’t be able to enter and reach such big buildings with such a narrow approach road but who listens to them. They were really happy to hear us say the same thing. We’ll support you, they said.

And did you notice the scorched building behind the 15-storey building that’s being developed? There are actually 2 buildings behind this building and DSouza lane is the only approach road for both these as well. The second building actually caught fire last year. It was at night and because the road is so narrow it took the fire engine a long time to put the fire out. The building was semi destroyed and noone lives in it now.

Some of my Bangalore visits were to discuss things with our lawyer. Shes based in Bangalore. And she says we have a strong case. Anyone looking at our road can sympathize with us. But for a PIL you have to do a lot of home work. It doesn’t cost much money but it takes a lot of time and work. We have jointly filed it in the name of the group we formed about 1.5 years ago. Our case is due to come up any day now and we’re waiting.

Its not as if we’re against all builders. In fact I’m related to quite a few of them. But I’m certainly not going to sit quiet when they go against the law. Its nothing for them after all as they’re not going to live in these places. Its us that will suffer, we’re going to be the ones who live here and have to deal with the mess. And there are 1-2 Catholic builders who are doing this- I feel so ashamed to think of my community members doing this. Its all about money these days. That’s the only thing that’s important.

I used to be such a timid person and you should see me now. She laughs. Now I’ve climbed on the tops of buildings and taken pictures of developments. I’ve visited all sorts of government offices, argued with builders and learnt many different types of regulations. When the first few buildings on our road came up we didn’t know the rules, what was against the law and what was not. We didn’t know how to stop them. Now we do.

I hate coming to Bangalore because its so big and crowded and polluted. That’s why we wanted to live in a place like Mangalore. Where its quiet and theres not much development happening. But development has come to Mangalore too and we will likely be like Bangalore one day. In that case we’ll have to run away from here. We’ll sell our house and go somewhere. But we’ll make a provision that the buyer cannot develop our property but he or she will have to live in it. We’ve just done it up and it’s a nice house.

It is a nice house.

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