N.J. Nair

Orders granting zoning exemption and layout approvals

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Local Self-Government Department has directed local self-government institutions in the State to `keep in abeyance' the orders issued by the Town and Country Planning Department granting zoning exemption and layout approvals in violation of the High Court order concerned.

Official sources told The Hindu here on Wednesday that the Government had ordered a probe into the orders pertaining to land-use changes issued against the Kerala Municipal Building Rules. Action would be taken against officials responsible for issuing the orders at a time when the model code of conduct for the Assembly elections was in force, sources said. A preliminary inquiry conducted by the Local Self-Government Department has found that a number of exemption orders and layout approvals were given by the Town and Country Planning Department on April 20, two days before the first phase of the Assembly elections. This was not only a violation of the model code but also went against a court order which had said that the Government did not have the powers to grant zoning exemption. The undue haste shown by department officials to grant exemption within a day had given rise to doubts.

The Local Self-Government officials are learnt to have found that a few applicants who had sought exemption had moved the court complaining that the Town and Country Planning Department had refused to act on their applications. These applicants are reported to have secured a direction that the Chief Town Planner should dispose of their applications in accordance with the rules. They subsequently managed to get exemption orders by misinterpreting the court direction in their favour. Many such orders have been issued without specifically mentioning the name of the applicant and also the purpose for granting exemption.

The layout approval given for a building at Muttathara in Thiruvananthapuram and another order on zoning exemption issued in Palakkad have been cited as specific instances of misusing the court order for giving the orders. The Government is reported to have taken the cases seriously following charges of corruption and nepotism in such deals. The Local Self-Government Department is learnt to have decided to take stringent action in such cases.

Meanwhile, the department has also decided to revive the Crime Branch probe for busting a `racket that issued fake orders' and is allegedly operating within the confines of the Secretariat. The predecessor Government had given directions `to go slow' with the probe after the CB sleuths had started hunting down those who were thought to be involved, sources said.