Building licences and approvals indiscriminately issued from 2007 to 2010 are being looked into, says official

In the wake of the crackdown on illegal constructions coming up in the city, a spate of ‘stop work’ notices have been issued in the past few weeks by the Corporation and Local Planning Authority (LPA) over the violation of building plan approvals.

Construction work on residential and commercial buildings city-wide has been affected. But official action is clearly belated and possibly selective. Many multi-storey buildings are nearing completion. Many more are fully functional after completion. One alibi cited by the authorities is staff shortage

The Madurai District Local Planning Authority claims to be grossly under-staffed. Against a sanctioned staff strength of 26, it is now managing with only 13 staff and there are vacancies for the posts of surveyors, draughtsmen and supervisors.

The situation is said to be worse at the Corporation where the town planning wing has only five full-time officials to take care of nearly 2.7 lakh assessed buildings in 100 wards.

The erstwhile building inspectors were merged with the civic body team and, therefore, it is the Corporation’s Assistant Engineers who have to look into building violations in addition to their regular duties.

M. Rakkappan, Chief Town Planning Officer, Madurai Corporation, cites another reason why “lock and seal” cases are coming to light only now.

“The indiscriminate issuing of building licence and approval from 2007 to 2010 are being looked into now. It got delayed because our AEs have to take care of their other routine work, such as overseeing street lights and drinking water. Building inspection is their additional work,” he points out.

Earlier, each of the four zones of the Corporation had four building inspectors, with a total of 16 to carry out inspections. Presently, most of that work is done by assistant town planning officers.

Granting building licences and checking unauthorised constructions come under the purview of the LPA and the Corporation.

A longstanding complaint by the LPA is that the Corporation had issued permission and approvals on its own by encroaching into its jurisdiction.

Sources say that 28 cases related to unauthorised constructions are now in the court and the LPA is firmly arguing for locking and sealing the sites.

“There were complaints that the Corporation had illegally issued building permissions beyond its brief. District Collector Anshul Mishra, who is the chairman of the LPA, is streamlining the process,” a senior official said.

Plaints pouring in

Building plan approval violations are pouring in from various places in the city, such as Sellur, Aruldosspuram, South Masi Street, K.K.Nagar and Kamarajar Salai.

S. Sankaramoorthy, Member Secretary, LPA, says that building inspection work became a casualty as the already short-staffed wing had to attend court cases too.

“There were deviations and we issued notices with 30 days to reply. What we are doing now is not a sudden inspection but after due verification of documents under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971,” he says.

The Madurai Corporation’s Town Planning Committee too was critical of the delay in carrying out inspections till the construction was almost over. S. Rajalingam, committee chairman, wondered why Corporation officials waited so long when constructions were happening round-the-clock.

“I will raise the issue in the next council meeting. Can’t the Corporation staff in every ward go for rounds and check whether everything is going as per the plan? There is something suspicious, intentions are doubtful and I can’t say anything beyond that,” he says.

No discussion

Another councillor on the town planning committee, Anuradha Dinesh of Ward 14, lamented that the Corporation was not convening the committee meetings to discuss building approvals and violations in the Corporation area. “It is almost three months now since we have met. Unless we make building plan violation a non-bailable offence, things cannot improve. Or else, people will go to court and obtain stay orders. Town planning rules have to be made tougher,” she argues.

The construction industry as well as private individuals are feeling the heat at the moment. Will the next stage involve the deployment of the demolition squad?