In some zonal offices, printers failed to work, paper stock got depleted or cartridges went dry and officials attributed it to red tape.

Residents who happened to visit the Chennai Corporation website during the past five days for approval of their building plans elicited only one consistent answer on screen that read: “The file is damaged and could not be repaired.”

This problem pertaining to a corrupt hard disk may just be the tip of an iceberg, as there is a whole range of obstacles faced by those wanting to own a home in the city.

After the expansion of the limits of the Corporation from 174 sq km to 426 sq km, the civic body expects the number of building plan proposals to touch 15,000 every year. So far, it has been giving online approval to nearly 8,000 plans annually.

The challenges confronting the online approval system of the Chennai Corporation have been on the rise for the past few years. After the expansion of the city, the system has started to deteriorate as more factors, including availability of fewer engineers to scrutinize the plans, contributing to the delay.

A group of licensed surveyors in the city made a representation to the Corporation a few weeks ago as a number of residents were being unable to construct their homes as per schedule. The surveyors pointed out that many applications were pending because of the delay in getting approval. After a review of the system, Corporation officials suggested various solutions, including outsourcing of online approval.

The suggestion for outsourcing was made because many of zonal offices of the Corporation did not have adequate manpower or infrastructure even for printing the required copies of the plan once the online system gives technical clearance for the proposed building.

In some zonal offices, printers failed to work, paper stock got depleted or cartridges went dry and officials attributed it to red tape. These simple reasons too are counted among the factors that cause delay in online approval of plans. Consequently, they discussed the possibility of handing over the technical scrutiny of building applications to a private party before Corporation officials inspected the site and scrutinised documents. Final decision is yet to be taken by the civic body in this regard.

The online approval system was introduced in 2009 and today covers the entire city minus the newly-added areas to the Corporation’s boundaries. The eight zones that comprise these new areas are yet to have an online system in place and still follow manual processing of applications. Zones such as Valasaravakkam and Alandur are likely to be included in the online approval system shortly, and the remaining in a year’s time.

On top of the heap of challenges that confront the resident is the interference by a few elected representatives of the corporation council in the approval process. Officials seem helpless in such cases. Clearly, political will at the highest decision-making level may be the answer to overcoming such challenges.

Aloysius Xavier Lopez writes on civic issues for The Hindu.

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