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Chennai Silk Fire: The result of government apathy or corruption at play?

  • In 2006, the Madras High Court had found 75 buildings violating the construction norms.
  • In 2011, the CMDA took action against 25 commercial establishments in Usman Road and Ranganathan Street.
  • Till date, close to 192 buildings and builders have been blacklisted.
Chennai Silk Fire The result of government apathy or corruption at play
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Little seems to have changed since the Madras High Court had directed the Chennai Metropolitan Development Corporation (CMDA) to take action against illegal structures in 2015. The Chennai textile showroom fire incident is a live example of the misses of the government agency, even after reminders from the court. The directive was put in place after the court issued a notice to tear down the construction of a four-storey residential building in Choolai area. The court also ordered the withdrawal of power and water supply illegally given to the building.

It had also asked the CMDA to conduct a survey to find other illegal constructions in the area and tear all of them down. Till date close to 194 buildings and builders have been blacklisted by the CMDA on charges of violations, but what has been done till date?

The problem does not lie only with the commercial centers, residential areas too have issues with the number of storey and locations. For instance, in the year 2006, the Madras High Court found that 75 buildings in T Nagar had violated the norms then. in 2011, the CMDA took action against 25 commercial establishments in Usman Road and Ranganathan Street.

But again, the action followed the court directive, not before that. Every time, there is a violation, the CMDA apparently turns a blind eye until it is shaken by court orders. A few buildings were also sealed and locked at that time were N S Ramanathan Jewellery, Omar Khayyam restaurant, Gandhi Hotchips, Sreedevi Gold House, Archana Sweets, Kesar Value office, Rathna Stores, The Chennai Silks, Sri Kumaran Gold House, Jayachandran Textiles; Rathna Stores and SAT Complex.

Incidentally, if Chennai Silks was sealed, how and when did it start functioning again? Do we call it the corporation's apathy towards law or corruption at play?

The issue subsided when all the commercial establishments came together to form a union and got a stay order from the Supreme Court. 

The situation is still sordid 6 years after. And the ministers still continue to make big promises. After the fire incident that had risked the lives of 12 employees, Urban Development Minister Radhakrishnan K vowed to ensure the demolition of these illegal constructions. But why is it so difficult to walk the talk?

Recalling the Coca Cola complex in Mumbai, which was adjudged illegal by the court because of its seven-storied construction, one is forced to think about the baggages that come with razing down a residential building. Homes to middle-class people in India, these apartments often are a result of a lifetime's saving for many. While this has to be kept in mind, there are other factors too that matter. For instance, public uprising, legal issues, compensations, loss of lives, harm to public interest. Commercial buildings come with a broader set of tools. Unions, local political intervention and corruption are some of the pertinent issues influencing a razing down. 

All said and done, it still remains to be seen when legal action will be taken, keeping public interest in mind.

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