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The real culprit of the Chennai Silks fire: Tamil Nadu’s political situation

Tamil Nadu’s political developments in the last five months have left residents on the edge of their seats. From startling declarations at former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s resting place to the ‘abduction’ of MLAs to a holiday resort, AIADMK’s leaders have shunned their duties in their mad race for power. But the real losers in this competition are in fact the people of Tamil Nadu.

The fire at Chennai Silks in the state’s capital is unfortunately a burning example of how political instability in a state can reduce its residents’ aspirations to ashes. Documents accessed by The News Minute reveal that the lack of fire regulations in Chennai Silks and other establishments in the city’s commercial hub is because of the ‘political situation’ in the state. This admission comes from none other than the Secretary of the Urban Development and Housing Department.

In reply to a writ petition filed by the T.Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association, in February 2017, the secretary states that recommendations given by the Justice Rajeswaran Committee on the regularisation of the unauthorised buildings was yet to be approved by the government. He claimed that ‘due to the prevailing political situation in the state, it will take some more time for the government to take a final decision.’

The Justice Rajeswaran Committee had been set up by the Madras High Court after a fire safety audit in T.Nagar revealed that at least 10 commercial establishments had flouted norms set by the Government. This list included all the big brands – Chennai Silks, Pothys, Saravana Stores, Saravana Gold House, Sri Kumaran Gold house, Nalli Trust, RMKV stores and Jayachandra Textiles. The purpose of the committee was to provide a solution to the matter and frame rules and guidelines for regularisation of these unauthorised buildings.

“The committee’s report was ready by October 2015,” says Kannan, the secretary of the T.Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association. “The public was consulted in the matter and we also gave our opinions and possible solutions to this mess,” he adds.

By November 30, 2015, the public had also pitched in, but a presentation to the Chief Secretary and senior level officers in the government was made only seven months later.

The process was already delayed and what followed next, according to Kannan, was a major show of power by the owners of the establishments.

“They brought lawyers like Kapil Sibal, Ashwani Kumar and Aryama Sundaram to court and demanded that a monitoring committee set up by the government look into the report. They didn’t even give a copy of the report to the court or to me. The judge then agreed to their demand because the government has to approve the rules,” he says.

The secretary in his letter states clearly that a monitoring committee was then formed as per the High Court’s orders. The Committee then submitted its recommendation on January 5, 2017. A meeting was then held on January 13, for the Chief Secretary and high level officials to finalise the rules and guidelines for effective implementation of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act, 1971.

But the proposal did not go any further, owing to the ‘political situation’.

The Chief secretary then requested that the court grant the government an extension of two months to notify the rules and guidelines. But now, three months and seven gutted floors later, there has been absolutely no change at the ground level.

And so, when Minister Jayakumar comes up to the waiting media and claims, “The government is working 24×7 to resolve this issue and those responsible will be punished,” we can’t help but ask, are you not responsible for this?

Source: The News Minute