With the construction of Semmencheri police station inside a waterbody bringing the subject of reclassification of land use to the fore, residents and activists demand that the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) should be more transparent in issuing reclassification clearances.
As per CMDA rules, public should send their opinion or objection within 21 days of the reclassification notification being published.
According to Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam, there were twin violations in Semmencheri: the reclassification of a plot in Thamaraikeni lake and construction of a building without planning approval. “Instead of seeking public objection for reclassification of water bodies, the CMDA should reject the application,” he said.
Meanwhile, the CMDA has also released the reclassification notifications pertaining to conversion of a waterbody in Nandambakkam village and Red Hills catchment area near Villivakkam. As per the notifications, Blue Nile Properties Limited has applied to reclassify six acres of land at Nandambakkam into institutional use zone, while Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation (SIDCO) has applied to convert 53.97 acres of Red Hills catchment area into industrial use zone.
“Even as the State government has initiated steps to restore waterbodies, the CMDA is entertaining requests for reclassification of waterbodies to other use. It should not have taken the application on record and instead rejected the proposal at the very first stage itself without notifying the same,” VS Jayaraman of T Nagar Residents Welfare Association, said.
He also demanded the CMDA to reject the reclassification applications pertaining to Nandambakkam lake and Red Hills catchment area.
The planning authority receives around 100 reclassification applications every year. Usually, it would release the details of reclassification applications on its official website and would also release advertisements in newspapers, and would seek response or objections from the public. The officials would inspect the concerned land to ascertain adjoining developments, and would also check the ownership document and other documents.
“Whenever we receive objections, we would consider them while processing the reclassification applications. If any notification fails to receive objections, we will follow our procedures and issue the clearances. We would also reject the application in such cases where the land use conversion cannot be allowed,” a CMDA official said.
When asked the reason for allowing reclassification of land use after releasing land-use masterplan and map, the official explained that during the preparation of land-use map, some areas might be demarcated for a specific purpose. “When a landowner with valid documents and patta approaches us to change the usage, we have to admit the applications. However, the final orders will be issued only after scrutiny. In some cases, we might have caused error and wrongly demarcated land-use pattern while preparing the map.”
However, the people and activists contend that they tend to miss the newspaper advertisement and urged the CMDA to put up banners at the site with the details of the notification.
“In many cases, the local residents could not put forth their opinions while reclassifying the land. Only after when the builder starts the construction does the neighbours come to know. But by that time, their opinion would make no meaning. To ensure complete transparency, the officials should erect banners near the site,” V S Jayaraman pointed out.
While accepting the reclassification of land use applications, the authority collects scrutiny charges and advertisement charges. The charges collected would be utilised to issue notifications in Tamil Nadu Government Gazette and to issue advertisements in newspapers. Recently, the CMDA had increased the charges to Rs 30,000 for land extending up to 10 revenue sub-divisions and additional Rs 1,000 for every additional sub-division.
When contacted, a senior official said the land used to build Semmencheri police station is classified as grazing land as per Revenue Department documents. “Whenever we change the land use of grazing land, we should earmark the same extent of poramboke land as grazing land. Apart from this, there is no need for grazing land in the city limits, as the cattle rearing methods have completely changed. The government has initiated steps to reclassify the grazing land for other usage and a government order is expected,” he added.