Concern over govt. decision to ease building approvals in the Nilgiris

A district-level Hill Area Conservation Authority will grant the permission

Published - June 16, 2020 10:31 pm IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

An aerial view of the concrete sprawl that is Ooty town.

An aerial view of the concrete sprawl that is Ooty town.

A recent government notification, delegating power to district and zonal-level officers to grant building and planning approvals could lead to the further concretisation of the Nilgiris, activists said.

In a release, the Nilgiris district administration stated that zonal officers with the Town and Country Planning Authority, along with officers from subordinate offices would comprise a district-level Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) to grant building and planning approvals.

Previously, the HACA was a State-level committee that had absolute authority to approve planning in areas with an approved Master Plan, which encompassed the major towns of Udhagamandalam, Coonoor, Kotagiri and Gudalur.

For approvals outside these areas, permissions had to be sought from the local body concerned.

With the latest order, approvals for buildings up to 15,000 sq.ft., as well as land measuring up to an extent of one hectare in municipality and town panchayat areas, and two hectare in village panchayats, can be approved by the district-level HACA Committee.

Powers decentralised

“This is really bad news for the district, as under the guise of simplifying the process, the government has implemented a system that has decentralised the powers of the HACA committee. This could lead to local, district-level officers being pressured into granting approvals for massive construction projects, paving the way for the destruction of whatever is left of the district,” said a Nilgiris-based activist and conservationist.

Moreover, for planning permissions, the order states that no-objection certificates must be issued by the Mines Department, the Agricultural Engineering Department and the District Forest Officer, based on the recommendations of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF).

However, there is a caveat that if the PCCF fails to object to the granting of the planning permissions for a period of more than 30 days, then the no-objection certificate can be issued by the District Forest Officer.

“This means that for a problematic project, the official can just delay responding to the file for more than 30 days, and the project will then come to the purview of the district-level officer,” said the activist.

The district-level HACA committee can also now approve planning permit for layouts.

The committee can grant approval for the land measuring up to two hectare in extent, depending on whether it is situated in a municipality, town or village panchayat. Once again, district-level officers from the Forest Department, Mines Department, Agricultural Engineering Department and the Revenue Department need to issue no-objection certificates for the change to occur.

“The Nilgiris is already struggling with rapid urbanisation and loss of biodiversity resulting from it. The delegation of powers to the district-level officers could be the final nail in the coffin for the Nilgiris as we know it,” said another Nilgiris-based conservationist.

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