Building norms violations, Cocking a snook at Silkyara

Despite the back-from-the-brink Uttarkashi tunnel rescue act, it’s life as usual in neighbouring Nainital as building  regulations go for a toss in the ecologically fragile tourist town with corrupt officials conniving with violators. A report by Tehelka SIT

“I will relax all the construction rules for you to assist in building a resort of your choice. I understand that it is not always feasible for a businessman to adhere to all the regulations. In fact, practically speaking, strictly following every rule can hinder business. I will arrange for a draftsman. He is under my supervision, and he will create a map for your resort besides letting you know about the bribe money you will have to pay.” This is Keshav Giri Goswami, a government servant, working as a supervisor in Lake Development Authority (LDA), Nainital, since 1993.

Surprisingly, when we presented Goswami with a fictional proposal to construct a resort in Nainital, Uttarakhand, in violation of building by-laws, he agreed to our plan with alacrity. It’s worth noting that Keshav Giri Goswami’s responsibility in the department is to prevent illegal construction in areas under his supervision, such as Bhowali and Mukhteshwar. But, rather than ensuring construction adherence to rules and LDA norms in his jurisdiction, Goswami promptly agreed to assist Tehelka’s investigative reporter in violating construction norms, contingent upon the bribe we would pay later.

The state of Uttarakhand, it is worth noting, has repeatedly made headlines for various unfortunate reasons—be it the cracks in Joshimath and Nainital houses, the 2013 tragedy in Kedarnath, or the recent Silkyara tunnel collapse incident in Uttarkashi. While the whole country prayed for the safety of 41 workers who remained trapped for 17 days before being rescued from the collapsed tunnel, the question arises why it happened in the first place. As this Tehelka SIT investigation indicates, we have not learnt any lessons from the tragedies that the state of Uttarakhand has witnessed for the past some time.

According to experts and activists, the common thread running through all these mishaps is the illegal and unplanned construction going on in the state of Uttarakhand. Environmentalists have even urged the government for an immediate construction halt to prevent further disasters.

When we approached Goswami with a request for building a resort in violation of rules, he assured us all possible help. In fact, he sounded sympathetic to our ‘cause’ as he acknowledged the difficulties a businessman faces in adhering to the rules. Goswami promised to provide comprehensive assistance, offering the services of a draftsman to design the building according to our specifications. The draftsman would also tell us the bribe money we would have to pay later, he added.

Reporter- Matlab sare kanoon, niyam to follow nahi kar payengey hum..?

Goswami- Saare kaun karta hai, koi nahi karta hai…..sare to kar hi nahi pata hai, building pass karwaney pe, naksha pass karwaney pe, approve ho gaya…wo khud milega, kitna kharcha lagega batayega…

Reporter- Draftman aapka, naam kya hai uska?

Goswami- Naam kya hai… uska?

Goswami- A K XXXXX..

Reporter- Aapka banda hai ?

Goswami- Mera banda hai…mere kehney par naksha bhi banayega, kharcha bhi batayega, mere kehney par…aap apna headache hi usko de dijiye ji…

Reporter- LDA ka kharcha, sarkari kharchey ki baat nahi kar raha hoon mein

Goswami- Haan private kharcha… haan wo kharcha jayega ..XXX , XXXXX par, wo to aap ko pata hi hai, wo vyavastha wo karega…

Reporter- Mujhe ek banda chahiye tha LDA ka, mil nahi raha tha, ab aap mil gaye..

[Unfortunately, Keshav Giri Goswami, an official responsible for ensuring that people adhere to building by-laws during construction, did not think twice before agreeing to overlook violations in exchange for money. Come to think of it, how many illegal constructions might have come up in the Nainital district with the assistance provided by Goswami and others of his ilk]

We informed Goswami that due to our lack of connections in LDA, we would prefer to pay bribe payments directly to him. He accepted this arrangement.

Reporter- Main kisi ko nahi jaanta mein aapko janta hoon..

Goswami- Haan haan..

Reporter- Jo bhi len-den paise ki hogi wo aapse hogi…

Goswami- Haan haan..koi chinta nahi hai..

[Goswami agreed to our request, allowing us to confine our dealings for monetary transactions solely to him, considering that we didn’t have any contacts in the LDA]

We reiterated to Goswami that adhering to all the rules set by LDA for the construction of our resort would be impractical for us. Goswami again sought to reassure us on this count and even echoed our sentiment, acknowledging the challenges of following every rule.

Reporter- Dekho agar 100 niyam hain LDA ke building bananey mein to 100 k 100 niyam follow karna to mushkil hai,.?.

Goswami- Phir to building hi nahi banegi…

Reporter- Building banegi nahi …munafa bhi nahi hoga

Goswami- Kahin nahi banegi…

Reporter- To 100 mein se 10 follow kar liye 90 chodh diye…

Goswami- 10 to..automatically choot jaate hain…

Reporter- Nahi 90 chodh diye, 10 maan liye

Goswami- nakshey jab pass ho jatey hain to…to phir to aadmi ka khud bhi right hota hai..planning ki zimmedari bhi hoti hain..pass to tabhi karenge jab kuch norms to hongey uske, waisey to karengey nahi..khule mein to kar nahi dengey…har cheez dekhna padta hai…background mein kitna chodna hai, kya chodna hai..sab cheez dekhni hai…

[Goswami appeared compliant when we communicated to him that it wasn’t feasible for us to adhere to all LDA rules for resort construction.]

When we told Goswami that after the Joshimath crisis, building a resort in Uttarakhand had become a difficult task with the government stepping up its vigil on construction activities in the hills, Goswami sought to allay our fears and said that he would help us in every possible way.

Reporter- Hamarey kai saathi hain jinke Makhteshwar mein resort hain..wo sab keh rahe hain…bhai pahadon mein kaam karna bahut mushkil ho gaya hai, Joshimath ke baad..Joshimath mein jo cracks aaye hain na..isliye hame bhi darr lagta hai, kahin hame bhi sare niyam bhi follow na karney paden…

Goswami- Niyam to kuch follow karne padtey hain, jo madad hogi ,dharatal mein wo karengey.

(Goswami tried to reassure us when we expressed our fears over reports about the government getting tough with those violating building norms after Joshimath crisis.)

Now, Goswami claimed on Tehelka camera how the LDA had tried to cover up the matter when cracks developed in independent houses in Nainital. He said though the houses which developed cracks had not been given approval by LDA, but the authority did the face saving act by taking a legal action.

Reporter- To Nainital mein buildings mein bhi cracks aa gaye hain kya…?

Goswami- Nainital mein bhi aaye hain.

Reporter- Cracks aaye hain Joshimath ki tarah ?

Goswami- Haan haan

Reporter- To wo kya private building mein hain..ya sarkari ?

Goswami- Apne makano mein ho rahe hain.. personal.

Reporter- To usmein LDA ka kya lena dena?

Goswami-LDA ka lena dena to poora hota hai..atikraman mein…poora zila vikas pradhikaran ke ander wo hai..bilkul body ke ander hai ye..

Reporter-Jo makaano mein crack hain wo LDA se approved hain?

Goswami- Wo approved nahi hongey.. wo aisey banaye hongey. Hamne kanooni karwai ki hogi, apni bachat to ki hogi hamne…

Reporter- Hahaha

Goswami- Bachat to kartey hi hain hum apni…

Reporter- Matlab bina area ke approve kiye hongey..

Goswami- Haan thodi bahut..1-2 kamre ka..

[Goswami dubbed the LDA’s move to take legal action against builders after the houses had developed cracks in Nainital as ‘face-saving’ act by the authorities.]

We sounded Goswami about our intent to get land for building a resort in Nainital even as we sought his help for approval of the building with by-law violations. He again sought to re-assure us by saying that it is tough for anyone to follow all the rules.

Reporter- Ab aisa hai, mujhe zameen batao…clean zameen , ped na ho…15-20 nali, uspar hum banayengey resort, theek hai, ab usmein violation ho, wo aapko dekhna hai.

Goswami – Jo bhi hai mein karwa dunga…jo madad hogi..

Reporter- Theek hai..kyunki usmein sare kanooon agar hum follow karenge..

Goswami – Sare to nahi ho paatey hain…koi kar hi nahi pata hai..

[Goswami tried to put us at ease when we sought his help in getting government’s clearance for the resort despite violations by telling us that it is tough for anyone to follow all rules.]

When we inquired about the amount of bribe we would have to pay him in return for the favour, Goswami replied that he would take the cash only after the work was completed. Upon expressing our intention to pay the bribe exclusively to him and not to the draftsman, he readily agreed.

Reporter- Aap apna kharcha paani bata do..?

Goswami-Jo chai pani de dogey, jab aapka kaam ho jayega, aapse to hum le hi lengey…

Reporter- Mein paise aap hi ko dunga…draftman ko nahi.

Goswami- Koi dikkat nahi hai…koi tension nahi hai, mein aapko milwaonga…

Reporter- Aapka job hi hoga, under the table ki baat kar raha hoon mein…

[When the topic of bribe payment was raised with Goswami, he responded that he would only accept the money after the work was completed.]

As discussions concerning the resort’s construction progressed, Goswami assured us of his assistance in facilitating the project through the payment of bribes to all relevant government officials. He said this would ensure smooth running of construction process and also keep officials from red-flagging regulation violations.

Reporter- Resort bananey k liye khuli choot de dena.

Goswami- Resort k liye to zameen dekhonga bhaiya..

Reporter- Zameen dekh lo aap usmein resort bananey k liye khuli choot de dena..

Goswami- Khuli choot kya.. jab mein saath rahunga to koi dikkat hi nahi hai…

Reporter- Aisa na ho aap O.K. kar do… ooper wala koi taang ada de.?.

Goswami- Na na aisa nahi hai…uper wala tang nahi adayega,..ooper wale ka bhi mooh band kiya jata hai…wo banda ooper tak hota hai, aisa kuch nahi hain..

Reporter- Theek hai…to aap zameen bata do uske baad ek baar aur beth lenge…usmein poora estimate bana lenge, kharcha pani, aapka kitna hoga, uska kitna hoga, phir cottage ki costing kar lenge..

Goswami- Theek hai…

[Goswami offered to facilitate the resort construction by bribing government officials. This, he promised, would ensure that no one would interfere or raise objections, allowing the project to proceed unhindered.]

Goswami now guaranteed that he would “handle” the senior officers at LDA, ensuring they wouldn’t oppose our construction. To solidify this assurance, he accepted Rs 1000 from us.

Reporter- XXXXX kaun hain abhi aapke..?

Goswami- XXXXX ji hain…XXXXX…bahut badiya admi hai..

Reporter- Ye to IAS hain..?

Goswami- IAS hain..

Reporter- Aapki jaan pehchan hain ?

Goswami- Bahut badiya..

Reporter- Oopar se koi dikkat to nahi aayegi bananey mein..?

Goswami- Koi dikkat nahi aayegi aap koshish karengey to koi dikkat nahi aayegi..koshis karni padegi..

Reporter- Ye lo kharcha pani…. Rs 1000 hain…

Goswami- Haan theek hain…aap mujhe phone kijiyega, jahan pe logey mujhe bata dijiyega, aap apni samajh se lijiye

Reporter- Chahey apartment loon..?

Goswami- Haan bas jankari dijiye ga…

[Goswami boasted about his ability to “pull strings” with the bigwigs at the LDA. He then collected Rs 1000 from us, sealing the deal.]

Goswami informed us that Mukhteshwar and Bhowali were within his jurisdiction and advised  us to acquire land in these areas for our resort construction. He emphasized that since these areas are under his purview, we wouldn’t encounter any issues during the construction process.

Goswami- Mukhteshwar mein chalega…

Reporter- LDA hai Mukteshwar mein…?

Goswami- Haan haan hai…meri hi duty hai…

Reporter- Jahan aapki duty ho..

Goswami- Bhowali meri duty hai…

Reporter- Mukhteshwar

Goswami- Meri hai…

Reporter- Nainital

Goswami- Nainital Bishnoi ki hai..

Reporter- Matlab aapke hotey hue koi dikkat na aaye.?.

Goswami- Dikkat aaney ki koi baat hi nahi hai.. jahan hum beech mein aayengey to…agar hum beech mein hain to koi dikkat nahi hai…

[Goswami, while disclosing that Mukhteshwar and Bhowali were under his purview, advised us to acquire land there for our resort, as it would guarantee a hassle-free construction process.]

Goswami now explained the steps involved in getting our resort map approved and assured us he could expedite the process. Regarding the financial aspect, he mentioned that the draftsman would inform us about the bribe amount required.

Reporter- Ab ye batao sir.. resort mein jo nakshey wagera pass hongey cottage ke uska kya hisab kitab rahega…?

Goswami- Uska pehle architect se naksha banvayenge… phir uske baad maloomat karke online submit ho jayega..

Reporter- LDA mein?

Goswami- LDA bhi uske bhi uske norms area aapko chodna padega…side area chodhna padta hai…jis hisab se..ped bhi na gire…ped bhi nahi girna chahiya…Ped hue to dikkat aajayegi..

Reporter- Ped nahi hone chahiye..? Theek hai uske baad?.

Goswami- Uske baad pass karwayenge…pass jo karwayega wo documents lega aapke.. wo LDA ka hi hoga…

Reporter- Kharcha pani.?.

Goswami- Kharcha pani..wo karwa denge

Reporter- Matlab jaldi ho jaye naksha pass..

Reporter- Accha sir resort banane mein koi dikkat pareshani aaye..?

Goswami- Arey kuch nahi hota

Reporter- Kyunki aap LDA mein ho isliye baat kar raha hoon…aisa na ho k ye kagaz lao, ye approval lao…?

Goswami- Arey aisa hai wo to bidding hogi na..wo jo document banata hai, naksha banata hai, khud laga rehta hai uske peechey..tumhara headache kam rahega…waise hum bhi dilwa denge poora headache hi uspar rahega…

Reporter- Kharcha pani to bata do..?

Goswami- Kharcha pani wo batayega…

Reporter- Ek andaza to bata do…?

Goswami- Andaza to wahi batayenge sahib..kitna hai kya hai..

Reporter- Maan lo 20 cottage hain…20 cottage ka naksha approve karwana hai hame..kitna kharcha aa jayega?

Goswami- Ab ye to draftsman batayega..

[Goswami outlined the resort construction approval process, promising swift assistance. However he insisted that the draftsman would disclose the bribe amount for approval.]

The world watched in horror as the Uttarakhand tragedy unfolded in 2013. This devastating event, along with the more recent Joshimath incident and the Silkyara tunnel crisis, begs the question: have we learned from these tragedies?

Experts point to unplanned, illegal, and heavy construction in the Himalayan state as one of the primary culprits behind these disasters. Despite expert warnings, illegal and unregulated building activities continue in Uttarakhand, as revealed by this Tehelka report, involving connivance between government officials and the land mafia.

There is a stark choice before us: Should economy get precedence over ecology or the ecosystem? Are we willing to sacrifice the fragile beauty and delicate balance of the Himalayas for short-term economic gains?

 The time to act is now.