Almost six months since the work began for the construction of a zipline and suspension bridge along the periphery of the Udhagamandalam lake, the Tourism Department is yet to get clearances from the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA). Activists argue that such constructions, undertaken before proper clearances, defeats the purpose and spirit of building rules designed to ensure a sustainable development model for the hills.
The ₹5-crore project being undertaken under the Public-Private Partnership model was inaugurated by Tourism Minister K. Ramachandran in March, 2023. The towers being built around the lake are said to be almost 50-feet high, while the bridge itself is to span a length of 450 metres across.
The then District Collector gave assurances that the work would commence only after the approval of HACA committee, comprising Agricultural Engineering Department, Public Works Department, Forest Department and Department of Geology and Mining.
However, despite this, work has continued to progress at the lake, which is a wetland with the highest number of birds in the Nilgiris.
Officials from the Tourism Department admitted that HACA approvals were yet to be received for the project. “We have received no-objection certificates from three of the four departments, but as of yet, the approval is yet to come through. We will start construction of the tower once the approval is received. Till now, only work on the base of the structure has been completed,” said an official requesting anonymity.
This is the second project commissioned by the Tourism Department in recent months where work has commenced even before getting HACA and Architectural and Aesthetic Aspects (AAA) Committee approvals. Recently, activists highlighted how an observation deck was being built overlooking the Ketti Valley without requisite approvals.
Commencing work on a project anticipating that the approval would come through was a subversion of the procedure established to ensure that such structures were safe for public use, said S. Manogaran, president of the Coonoor Consumer Protection Association.
Mr. Manogaran said such violations sent a wrong message to the public that illegal constructions could be regularised at a later date. “When the government itself is flouting its own rules, then it will obviously encourage the construction of illegal buildings in the district, with builders hoping that their constructions can be regularised at a later date, like government projects,” he said, adding that it was the district administration’s responsibility to ensure that constructions began only after approvals had been applied for, and cleared by the relevant departments.
“Otherwise, what is the purpose of having a HACA or AAA Committee at all?” asked Mr. Manogaran.