Accessing key civic services such as planning permission and building approval in Chennai is an obstacle course. The Citizens’ Charter of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority fixes a non-binding time limit of 45 working days to convey a firm decision for special buildings, but shortage of staff to look at plan applications, diminishing interest to join town planning agencies such as the CMDA, the Chennai Corporation and the Directorate of Town and Country Planning over pension issues contribute to perceptible corruption, violation of building norms and a tendency to manipulate rules.

More than 20,000 new houses or commercial or institutional buildings are built a year in the Chennai Corporation limits of 426 sq km. An equal number are built on the outskirts. But approvals for some property can take over a year.

As per CMDA records, a planning permission application (file number C3/22126/2008) received on January 3, 2009 for a nine-storey residential building received approval after four years, on February 2, 2013. That, officials say, is because one must get over 10 no-objection certificates for big projects. But small projects too get delayed by 8-10 months. “The CMDA delays major projects because of archaic rules and staff shortage. The technical personnel do not even know the latest developments in the construction industry. ” says S. Senthilkumar, an architect.

These lacunae weaken enforcement of building norms. The recent 48th Monitoring Committee observed: “Members felt that this move [the Regularisation Scheme 2012 to condone violations for a fee] by the CMDA further violates the court order… sending a wrong message about the government’s unwillingness to enforce rules.”

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