Bengaluru This Week

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N A Haris, Congress MLA from Shanthinagar, is contesting once more from his constituency. Like all other contestants, Haris, 46, too is busy trying to woo the voters by holding padyatras to various areas in his constituency.

Haris was in news recently for his role in the eviction of about 1000 families from Ejipura EWS (Economically Weaker Section) quarters. Citizen Matters caught up with him during two of his evening padayatras - to Vivek Nagar and Vinayaknagar. In this exclusive interview, he talks about his plans for Shanthinagar, his views on Ejipura evictions and more.

Pic: facebook.com/mlaharis

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the focus areas for you in this election?

I'm focusing on basic issues like water, sanitation, road and street lights. Lot of work is already done. Some areas have drinking water issues, as water supply lines have low pressure.

I am planning a duct system in roads so that road cutting does not have to be done often. Whenever new lines for water, phone, cable etc. are laid, roads are cut open. In the duct system, all lines will be laid in the duct; workmen can see and modify the lines. We need a blueprint of cables for Bangalore, especially Shantinagar, to know what is happening. Shantinagar is an old part of the city developed by the British. Old lines are running here.

Wouldn't the duct system be very cost-intensive? Has this been discussed with government departments already?

Shantinagar has a lot of potential. This constituency gives the highest revenue to the BBMP, so the BBMP should invest more here. I have not discussed this with the BBMP. Let our government come first; then we will take it up.

Any plans to deal with water scarcity?

I have enabled water purifying systems and bore well connections in some areas. Hundred percent is not done, but it will be done. There is no problem in 80% areas now. Currently the sources are borewells and Cauvery. Rain Water Harvesting was started, but there is no rain.

Currently Cauvery water is going from Johnson Market (in Shantinagar constituency) to Marathahalli. Once Marathahalli gets Cauvery Stage 4 Phase 2 water, we won't need to send water there. The water from Marathahalli can be given to C V Raman Nagar also. Then water that is currently going to C V Raman Nagar may come here.

Among MLAs, you have asked lot of questions in the assembly. Which issues did you take up and which projects did you push for?

I have not left out any issue. In the case of infrastructure, the BBMP does not give proper funds to Shantinagar - the investment here is less compared to that of other constituencies. Footpath is not there in some areas.

In assembly, I raised the issue of ration cards and BPL cards not being given to many people. Applications were rejected on the basis that the applicant owns colour TV etc. After I raised this, they started issuing cards, but even that is not being done correctly.

The BMTC bus stand in Domlur was constructed because of my intervention. The ESI Dental Hospital and Convention Centre at Domlur was initiated by Mallikarjun Kharge, and I was involved in it. The government has sanctioned five acres of land for Ejipura EWS residents at Sulikunte, and tender has been called. 1512 houses are coming up in EWS quarters site. I got these works started in two months' time. There was no option as there was a court order on this. I got it done personally along with the minister.

I also solved the issue in Maya Bazaar. The land was allotted to military, but was not acquired. It was a declared slum and people were living there. Military wanted the land, but I intervened and got a government order that military cannot interfere with that land, and that they will be given separate land. Also, have you seen Shantinagar graveyard now? It has been improvised.

There has been criticism about the way the Ejipura EWS residents were evicted - without notices and without any rehabilitation plan. Your comment.

The eviction was based on a court order. Some 900-1000 unauthorised tenants are getting new houses now in Sulikunte.

Citizen Matters had reported earlier, that after eviction, many residents struggled to find new houses. Click here to read more.

Many of them are still on the street, outside the EWS site, as the Sulikunte project will take time to complete.

(Stops the padayatra and asks his supporters to be quiet) Hardly 5-10 people are on the street now. There will be people in the morning, but at night there will be no one. You go now and see. If you have come for this, I am not interested in talking. (turns away and walks off.)

So the people who were displaced have found houses?

Yes, those who were evicted were given money. I have given Rs 65-70 lakh to them, which includes my own money and that from Millath Relief Trust. (The Trust gave funds to some residents during eviction; in a recent press conference, Haris said that he was linked to the Trust.) That's the money for their advance for renting houses, and they have gone to various places using that. Even those who did not have identity cards have been given biometric cards, and everyone who had been staying there will get houses. It is my best achievement so far. Otherwise how will these people get nice new houses? They were staying illegally earlier.

A supporter of Haris attired colourfully accompanies him during padayatras. Pic: Navya P K

Activists have criticised that public land is being given away to Maverick Holdings through the PPP for Ejipura EWS.

Government will get houses built in EWS land without spending anything. They will get revenue from Maverick's mall, and Maverick will maintain the EWS houses for 30 years. It's not that government has given away land and it is gone. Also, the decision for the PPP project was taken during Kumaraswamy's government, and the BJP government has done the rest. I only facilitated it, and got approval for the Sulikunte houses.

There are allegations that you harassed/abused relief workers during the EWS demolitions, and that you are taking undue credit for the sanctioning of Sulikunte project?

I had not even seen them (relief workers). And what have they done - just giving food for the time being does not make any difference. The work of giving them houses was done by me. Now even Samata Sainik Dal is saying that what I did was right, and are supporting me in my campaign. I have enough money of my own and don't need to get more through wrong means. The Sulikunte project is a government project - do you think it would have been sanctioned within 2.5 months? It happened because I took initiative, and I will take credit for what I have done.

According to RTI information we got from the DC's office, you did not apply for Local Area Development (LAD) funds in 2012-13. In 2011-12, only Rs 20 lakhs out of the sanctioned Rs 85 lakh was spent. Why was this?

The entire money that was allotted to me has been utilised. I can give you the documents.

(Citizen Matters has not verified this statement)

Do you think that the government should stop giving G category sites, given the land scarcity in Bangalore and random allocation of sites to all and sundry?

I don't think so. People who do something should get sites. Land is not an issue; it can be given far away, somewhere outside the city. But it should be channelised in a proper way. The issue is both - of people representing wrongly and taking sites, and of government allocating sites wrongly. Deserving people should get sites.

Which are the undeveloped areas and major issues in your constituency?

There are lot of areas - many small extensions - that don't have resources; basic facilities are not there. Major issue is water. In my area, Cauvery water is available and I have arranged for borewells, but many other areas don't get water.

Any other issues you are focusing on?

If water is taken care of, people will be happy. Lifestyle of people changes without water - women have to collect water even at night and store it, because of which they cannot take care of their children and family.

The other issue is education - it is the only way we can eradicate poverty. We have to motivate people to get educated - even 65 years after independence, people have not realised the value of education.

Are you planning any specific programmes for people to get better access to education? Will you push for proper implementation of RTE (Right To Education) Act in your constituency?

RTE Act has just started to be implemented, so it will take time. People do not understand how it works.

Government schools should be able to compete with private ones. Through my foundation - N A Haris Foundation - I have been giving scholarships, books and uniforms to children. I have used my MLA funds to renovate schools, but the government has not done anything to improve them. Of my Rs 5 crore of MLA funds, 75% was spent for renovating schools and remaining 25% for providing drinking water.

(According to RTI data with Citizen Matters, Haris had spent only around Rs 3 cr from his MLA funds until mid-February 2013.

Shantinagar RWA had made an MoU with BBMP about 1.5 years ago, to set up a compost/ biomethanisation unit near Shanthinagar cemetery, but it has not taken off. It was said that it got stalled because you did not favour the project.

There was only the MoU, no land; that land was sanctioned for some other purpose. If the RWA had everything, they should just have done it. I have done so much on the garbage issue. I have proposed to the BBMP to build a compost unit above a storm water drain, so that there is no stench, and land would not be an issue. Once the election is over, I will sort it out.

Two CA sites in Shanthinagar Layout have been encroached. Has anything been done to get the encroachment evicted?

I'm not sure. Some people say that these are CA sites, those occupying say that these were sanctioned to them. The details have not come to my notice.

Shanthinagar RWA members say that they had informed you about this in a meeting about a year back?

I don't know. They should complain to the BDA.