“Strict enforcement of laws and punishment for corrupt officials will instil confidence in the system”

Unauthorised buildings in the city, which are on the rise, pose a threat not only to the heritage value of Madurai but also to the safety of residents.

An RTI activist, Sampath Kumar, who had recently accessed correspondence from local bodies’ authorities on different ‘burning’ issues, told The Hindu that strict enforcement of laws and punishment for corrupt officials would instil confidence in the system. The loopholes in the laws should be plugged and gullible public (read builders) guided in the right direction.

A survey by the Corporation of Madurai authorities has revealed that there are at least 750 high-rise buildings within the objectionable area around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The question is, after this survey, what is the next course of action to be taken by the authorities.

At a time, when the citizens boast of having a world famous shrine in their city, which enjoys the status of a heritage town, should there not be some collective responsibility, he asks.

Yet another point which is being talked loudly by activists is the blatant violation by some builders who proceed with construction even before obtaining plan approval. The judiciary, which is the only saviour for the society, should direct the officials to bring to book all erring builders, they say.

On September 30, a multi-storey building near ESI Hospital in Thathaneri collapsed at around 8 a.m., when about 10 workers were engaged in the site. Luckily, seven workers escaped but one mason caught trapped under the debris and died.

None other than the Corporation Mayor V.V. Rajan Chellappa, the Corporation Commissioner R. Nanthagopal and a battery of Town Planning officials inspected the site. The bureaucrats told media persons that the builder had not obtained plan approval but went ahead with the construction. The moot question asked by the activist is what were the engineers and ATPOs (Assistant Town Planning Officers) doing. The property, which collapsed, was close to the Vaigai river bed and near the ESI Hospital.

The response to the RTI activist’s query from the authorities suggest that like the Sellur building, there are at least 50 such constructions which are described as ‘unsafe’ and ‘illegal’. The one-line answers say, “Notices have been served to the applicants seeking explanation…In some cases, the reply is stop-work notice issued…”. The classic example is that unauthorised constructions in the city with ground plus 11 floors, ground plus 10 floors, ground plus 7 floors… are coming up.

The activist pointed out that a single G.O No. 164 of 1993 has been interpreted to suit the needs of applicants at different times in the past. The connivance of officials in the Town Planning Department has to be exclusively examined under direct supervision of the courts. In 2009, the Corporation council meeting had even resolved to cancel Section 3 to 9 of the G.O 164, which is again a violation.

Fire and Rescue Service

The Fire and Rescue Service Department should be given more teeth, which would make them more accountable.

Using the gaps, the officials escaped, in the real sense from the laws.

“By issuing a conditional NOC (no objection certificate), the department only allowed the applicant to indulge in all kinds of illegal and unsafe practices,” the activist said. In a query to the status on issuance of licence for screening movies in a cinema house in a private mall, the response is that the mall owners have violated the Cinematography Act.

Remedy

According to reliable sources in the Local Planning Authority and Town Planning Wing in Madurai Corporation, for development of a city such high rise buildings and more and more commercial malls are essential but not by violating the laws. Either these buildings should be demolished or violations rectified as per rules, the activist says.

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