Bangalore’s Palace Grounds, a royal conundrum?

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Bangalore, October 22:  It’s been over a year since the government announced a ‘total clampdown’ on all commercial activities on Palace Grounds. Since then, the music in Bangalore has nearly died with rock and metal concerts — that once put Bangalore on the global map — now pushed to the outskirts, popular exhibitions have relocated, and all that’s left are the huge splashy weddings that have come to define this iconic space.

The government clampdown was based on the fact that despite Supreme Court guidelines on how Palace Grounds can be used — restricting it only to state, political and religious activities — no norms were being followed in the sub-letting of the 480-acre area that is owned by six entities, all belonging to members of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore.

However, the clampdown has done little to tackle the government’s primary grouse that it is being short-changed of revenue generated from the many events that are held here. A few phone calls to popular shaadi mahals and other venue sub-letters here reveal that the land is very much useable for events at a price that varies anywhere between Rs. 75,000 and Rs. 60 lakh. The shady part of the transactions is evident, when a majority of those contacted told The Hindu that the bill will “be kept to a minimum,” which is below Rs. 1 lakh, in order to “avoid huge taxes and legal issues.” “We put the rest under other heads such as venue décor and air conditioning that are not billed as rentals,” said one employee here. Evidently, the government clampdown on commercial events has remained restricted to concerts and a few exhibitions, even as such ‘black-cum-white’ transactions continue unchallenged.

Legal wrangle

The ownership of the entire property has been caught in a legal wrangle since 1996, when the State moved to acquire the land for public use; a move that was ratified later by the High Court and is since pending before the Supreme Court. In the meanwhile, commercial activities — such as Fun World and a few others — are allowed to continue; all other commercial activities and the coming up of permanent structures on the premises had been banned by the Supreme Court.

Over the years, the government has ordered several investigations into the state of affairs here. A Tahsildar report in 2011 contended that despite status quo being ruled on the issue, unaccounted money continues to flow into private hands here with no State control. When this report was contested legally, the Supreme Court ordered that the government submit a detailed report on the number of permanent/temporary structures here.

The Deputy Commissioner’s report, submitted earlier this year, found 52 permanent structures that have come up across the expanse of Palace Grounds. Most of these are marriage halls, says G.C. Prakash, Deputy Commissioner, Bangalore Urban district. “The report, commissioned by the Supreme Court, has been submitted earlier this year. The Court had earlier said that no commercial activities and marriages were seen as a social activity. But, these halls are being run commercially. Also, they claim the structures are temporary, but it is obvious from the kind of infrastructure erected that they are permanent structures.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms controls sanctions for events that are held here. “These are restricted. The Legislative Committee decided recently that per day only one event can be held in each of the six property here. We only accord those many permissions,” says Sanjeev Kumar, Principal Secretary, DPAR. When asked if concerts and exhibitions were stopped in order to curtail traffic, he said that the only factor in deciding whether an event is held or not is whether or not it is commercial or ticketed. “The real issue, however, will have to be sorted at the level of the Supreme Court, where it will be decided whether or not — in this case and many others — the State can through a legislation acquire private property. The larger question is whether the decision to remove ‘right to property’ from the list of fundamental rights was correct. This case, and others, will flow from that decision,” he explained.

Meanwhile, music lovers bemoan the loss of a centrally-located space. Says Arpan Peter, founder and co-partner of Overture Inc., known for bringing several metal greats to Bangalore, “The government ban has been a business killer. We were told the issue is traffic, but then they clearly don’t have an issue giving sanctions for IPL cricket matches that are held in the city’s centre.”

Anubha S., a Sadashivanagar resident, says she misses the “good old days” when the best bargains and the most exotic expos were within walking distance.

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