The Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IIT – M), on Monday, contended before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Southern Bench that its campus was not situated in ‘forest area’ and that it had utilised space affected by invasive shrub species like prosopis juliflora (‘veli kaathan’) to create many new facilities.

In an affidavit filed by Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of the IIT- M, to vacate the stay on construction activities on the campus imposed recently by the NGT, he said that it was “totally erroneous” to state that the institute was situated on forestland. He contended that the IIT – M was established within a portion of land awarded by the Government of Tamil Nadu from the then reserve forest area.

“However the government notified in a government order dated September 14, 1961 that the area to be handed over to the IIT – M which was reserved under section 16 of Madras Forest Act 1882 ceased to be a reserve forest with effect from October 25, 1961’’, the affidavit said. The permanent land records from the revenue officials termed the land as ‘poromboke’ (unassessed wasteland), it added.

However, to a question whether planning approval was obtained from Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, he stated that the institution had now “initiated” the process of getting planning approval and also for obtaining clearance from state authorities.

“IIT-M could not successfully complete the formal process of approval for building planning approvals earlier due to administrative and academic reasons,” reads the affidavit.

Further, he stated that around 50 % of the campus was originally on barren land and subsequently overrun by invasive shrub species. “The IIT-M has been conscious of using only the prosopis-affected area for creating new facilities such as the New C2 faculty quarters, himalaya mess and new hostels etc. In fact some of the prosopis-affected area has been cleared and actively maintained free of invasive species as an open grass land for black buck habitat,” it stated.

The affidavit further said that the students and employees have taken active initiatives to green the entire campus. “The number of trees planted in the last ten years is 1594. The green cover of the IIT- M has increased from 21.6 % in 1965 to 70 % in 2013 out of which about 40 % is native green cover due to natural expansion by seed dispersal.

Mr. Bhaskar Ramamurthi also outlined the ongoing projects and their necessity.

“Currently the student accommodation is short by 500 beds. With additional students expected in July 2014, the pressure on classrooms and hostels is going to increase. Therefore, IIT- M was compelled to initiate construction activities urgently even while finalising the revised master plan and submitting the same to CMDA,” the affidavit reads.

On March 4, restraining the IIT, Madras from cutting or felling trees and also any new construction activities on the campus, the Tribunal had directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and the State government authorities to file their replies by May 5.