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Vol. XXVI No. 16, December 1-15, 2016

How can Courts get authorities to act?

(By The Editor)

How many buildings in the city are strictly legal? Not many, it would appear. Everyone is aware of this – the Press, the immediate neighbourhood, the Courts, the lawmakers and the activists. The only entities that remain in blissful ignorance of such a problem are the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and the Corporation of Greater Chennai. That such a turning of the proverbial blind eye will one day come to haunt them has been amply evident in the last few weeks when the High Court of Madras has come down heavily on both the planning and civic bodies for not taking any action on these matters despite repeated instructions to do so.

Early last month there were three consecutive days when the CMDA and the Corporation came under fire from the Court for scuttling legislation and Court orders when it came to illegal structures. This was while dealing with representations protesting against the CMDA’s repeated attempts at legalising for a penal fee buildings that violate the rules. The Court ordered a contempt notice to be served on the Member Secretary, CMDA, for what it termed “wilful disobedience”. On the second day, the hearing pertained to a case wherein the CMDA and the Corporation had happily been passing the buck to each other when it came to action against a particular structure that had violated the law. When confronted by the Court, the CMDA had to accept that the matter came within its ambit. The Court sharply castigated the planning body for passing the buck. A day later, it fined the Member Secretary Rs 10,000 for wasting the Court’s time. This pertains to lack of action taken despite a demolition order from the Court on an illegal structure put up by a Ward Councillor.The aggrieved parties had to approach the Court again to seek redress, which Their Lordships rightfully interpreted as a total waste of everyone’s time when judgememt had already been delivered.

The question is, why are the CMDA and the Corporation not proactive in these matters? It is not so long ago that the Commissioner of the Corporation had stated in Court that 99 per cent of the buildings in George Town are in violation of some code or the other. There is no data forthcoming on T’Nagar, but you can be reasonably sure as many gross violations there also. Why is action not taken when these structures are coming up? After all, water and electricity connections are to be given only after Corporation officials inspect a building and certify that it is according to CMDA plans. How then are permissions given if these structures are in violation of the law? Does this not point to a deeper malaise in the functioning of the CMDA and the Corporation? Does it not need to take the blame for the mess that the city finds itself in?

Violations, be they major or minor, invariably adversely affect the quality of life of the citizenry. It is not for nothing that we have rules on maximum floor space index for a road of a certain width. There are implications on sunlight, water, open space and ventilation. If a builder simply chooses to put up several additional storeys using his/her political or financial clout (and often both), and if the civic authorities choose to remain silent, what options are there for the common man other than to seek legal redress? The Court has spoken repeatedly against violations. If the authorities do not act even after that, then they do need to face stringent action. These fines and contempt notices are just the beginning.

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