Erring buildings in Coimbatore stay put on jumbo corridors (India)


Komal Gautham,Times of India

Date Published
COIMBATORE: The Directorate of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) and Local Planning Authority (LPA) have issued notices to more than 80 educational institutions and resorts since 2011 for constructing buildings on elephant corridors and forest fringes without getting approval from the forest, mines or agricultural departments, but most continue to function even today. 
An elephant corridor is a narrow path connecting two landscapes which are usually separated by roads or human habitation. Elephants are known to travel long distances for food and water and the corridors also facilitate interaction with other elephant groups which negates the risks of inbreeding. Keeping such corridors free from human habitation is necessary to avoid man-animal conflict and secure long-term survival of these animals. 
The DTCP has sealed two colleges and the LPA sealed one resort in the past, while the rest of the buildings continue to function. While some have applied to the directorate for approval, a few colleges and resorts have filed review petitions stating they had panchayat approval. But a major chunk have not even applied or tried to get an approval even after being issued the notices, said senior officials. 
“More than 30 institutions and resorts have not even filed their applications with us and 25 have not at all submitted their proposals. Seven buildings and resorts have filed a case in the court which is pending,” said a senior official. “Since 2011, we have been constantly sending notices to these buildings,” added the official. 
While officials in the DTCP and LPA pointed fingers at the forest officials and the local panchayats which provided these buildings with basic amenities, forest officials blamed the district administration for lack of action. As per the Tamil Nadu Municipality Act, buildings cannot be constructed 150 metres from the hilly region and 60 metres from the reserve forests as these are called buffer zones. 
Moreover for an approval, the owners need to take a no objection certificate from the forest, mines and agriculture department after which the district collector would inspect the site and send a report to Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA). “What most owners do is break their plot or land into smaller units and sell them like the recent case where a DMDK functionary P A Matheshwaran tried to sell 62 acres of HACA land and a case was registered against him after a complaint was filed with the Economic Offences Wing,” said an official. 
Activists said that the lacuna lay not in inaction of officials but with the government policy and laws. “Everyone talks about conserving an elephant corridor but the state government has not even recognised these corridors so far. We only have HACA which is highly ineffective in taking any action. Neither the forest department can take action nor can the administration unless a strong law is passed,” said K Kalidasan, president, Osai, an environmental organisation. 
Forest officials said in the year 2012-2013, 14 people were trampled to death by elephants while in 2013-2014, 18 people were trampled to death. This year, there have been 5 deaths so far, said an official. 
But when some of these colleges and resorts were contacted, they said that these rules of getting a HACA approval came in only after 1999 and was implemented in 2003. “Most of our buildings were constructed several decades ago,” said an official from a renowned university in the city. But officials argued that even after issuing notices these building owners did not take any step to apply for approvals.