IIT-Madras has cleared more than 52 acres of forest, including 8,000 trees, between 2001 and 2013, for 39 renovation projects and new constructions within the eco-sensitive campus, activists have charged.

Addressing a press conference here on Friday, member of CMDA monitoring committee M.G. Devasahayam said, “We are facing grave danger. According to the understanding with the State government, IIT-M will not build on more than 15 per cent of the land. Starting from 2001, there has been rapid increase in construction. That is a violation of the basic understanding… IIT-M is supposed to set an example. But they are setting a negative example.”

Activists at the press meet called for a halt on all construction activity inside IIT-M, pending an independent investigation into the allegations.

“We are shocked by IIT’s disregard for the environment,” said Nityanand Jayaraman of Chennai Solidarity Group, that released a report titled ‘City in the Forest: The birth and growth of IIT-Madras.’ The research used Google Earth satellite images to identify construction and estimate loss of forest cover.

The IIT-M campus was carved out of the Guindy forests in 1958, he said, and contains some of the last remnants of the Southern thorn forests and is home to the endangered blackbuck, pangolin, monitor lizard and star tortoise.

Construction projects inside institutional areas require CMDA approval. Major construction projects also require environmental clearance. When such projects fall within 10 km of a national park, they require additional approvals — from the Supreme Court and the National Board of Wildlife, according to Mr. Jayaraman.

According to the report, the natural environment in the campus will not be able to withstand noise pollution caused by cultural events such as Saarang that bring in more than 50,000 visitors and 13,000 vehicles for five nights of loud music, dance and cultural programmes.

Responding to queries from The Hindu, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of IIT-M, said he had not received a copy of the report. The IIT-M administration is very conscious of protecting the green cover on campus, he said.

“The number of students has increased from 2,500 in 1985 to 8,000 in 2013, so we have no option but to cut trees. However, we have made use of construction techniques to ensure fewer trees are cut, and have planted trees every time. We have documents for every tree cut (with permission from the forest department) and planted,” said Dr. Ramamurthi. In fact, the tree cover has only increased in the past 10 years, he said.

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