Early in November, the city woke up to read in the headlines that less than barely one per cent of the buildings in the George Town area are not in violation of building regulation rules. The very nonchalance with which the Corporation filed this report exposes what we have said all along – the civic body does not implement most of the excellent rules with which it is endowed.

It took a major fire in the George Town area in July this year for this skeleton to come tumbling out. The conflagration took place in an unauthorised commercial complex in Narayana Mudali Street, killing one person. A public interest litigation was filed thereafter in the High Court of Madras praying for directions to the Corporation on illegal buildings in the area. The High Court then set the civic body a three-month deadline for conducting a survey of buildings constructed in violation of regulations. It also said that these would have to be demolished within two months of submission of the survey report.

The report when submitted revealed that the Corporation had surveyed 11,304 buildings in 449 streets of the district, all of these thoroughfares being less than nine metres in width. A mere 72 structures were found to have complied with the regulations and been built on an approved plan. As for the rest, they have violated rules and are, therefore, plainly illegal. Even when it comes to the 72 buildings that are in conformity, the floor-wise layout has not been verified. This is because the Corporation does not have the approved plans, the excuse being that these structures were built ages ago. Surely the civic body of a city that claims to be world class ought to have digitised the plans in its custody?

That not being the case, the Corporation has said that it has asked the owners of these 72 buildings to submit the approved plan in their possession so that it can go through the same. In short, it is up to the owner to provide the plan. If they do not, then the Corporation is helpless. Is that not a sorry state for a historic civic body to be in?

As for the illegal buildings, what is amazing is that the Corporation has chosen to remain silent while they were being constructed. An entire district has come up in violation of rules and the officers in charge have turned a blind eye. If this is not dereliction of duty, then what is? It is no wonder that the PIL petition claimed that the “officials of the Corporation have chosen to remain silent for reasons best known to themselves.” If electricity and water connections are to be issued to a building only after Corporation officials have confirmed construction according to the approved plan, how did these structures manage to get sanctions? The quality of life in the entire area has been destroyed and many lives continue to be at risk thanks to such official negligence.

Since January 2014, only 607 building owners of George Town have been asked to submit their planned layouts, only 162 structures have been issued seal notice, and a further 26 been asked to empty their premises prior to sealing. A mere 12 buildings have actually been sealed. A day after the report was submitted, a five-storey illegal building (it cannot get bigger than that) was sealed amid high drama.

In its report the Corporation has said it cannot do anything until it receives guidelines under Section 113-C of Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act of 1971, which are to be framed by Government for exemption of illegal buildings completed prior to July 2007. That matter has been subjudice for quite some time now and is a convenient cover for what was constructed before that year. But what about illegal buildings built thereafter. Is it too much to expect of the Corporation to at least ensure that buildings constructed from now on will be according to plan?