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Major fire in Chennai puts spotlight on lack of adherence to building safety norms

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: A major fire that broke out at an eight-storey textile showroom in Chennai’s Thyagaraya Nagar (T Nagar) on Wednesday has brought into focus the lack of adherence to building safety norms in the city.

More than 100 fire service personnel and nearly 50 fire tenders struggled for more than 24 hours to douse the flames at the shop located in the cramped commercial hub of the city.

The demolition of the building began on Friday morning.

The shop was allegedly constructed in violation of building norms, according to Tamil Nadu housing minister ‘Udumalai’ K Radhakrishnan.

Finance minister D. Jayakumar on Wednesday said the government would take stern action against officials who had failed to act on the violations.

T Nagar, the commercial hub of Chennai, which is part of the Smart City project has over the years witnessed many “lock and seal” notices from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) for violating building norms.

In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld a Madras High Court order regarding unauthorised constructions and observed that more than 32,000 buildings in Chennai flouted rules.

Incidentally, the Chennai Silks building which was gutted in the fire was facing demolition. As many as 25 commercial buildings on Usman Road and Ranganathan Street were sealed on October 31, 2011. Chennai Silks was one of them,” said the housing minister.

The apex court had then observed: “The whole city of Chennai is now unlivable” due to unauthorized constructions that have been allowed “to flourish in violation of all building laws. Let the people live in peace. Let there be some discipline.”

Earlier in May, a fire at a residential complex in the Vadapalani area claimed four lives. Despite being sealed last year by the corporation authorities for not having approval for two additional floors, the building continued to be used, which led to the loss of lives.

In November last year, the Madras high court sent a contempt notice to the CMDA head over “disobedience of court orders” in relation to unauthorised constructions “One wonders if the authorities are only waiting for some mishap to occur before they take any action,” the court observed.

Again in December, a report filed by an Amicus Curiae said from 1986 to 2005, only 156 demolitions were carried out by CMDA in connection with illegal constructions which accounts for an average of eight to nine buildings per year. Meanwhile, the CMDA grants plan approvals for 500 to 600 buildings per year, on an average.

The report also said that between 2009 and 2015 no unauthorised constructions were demolished.

The first bench of the Madras HC, referring to the report, had observed that the “astounding” number of cases of violations regarding illegal constructions showed a complete failure of the system and that people were engaged in construction without any fear of consequences.

Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S. Ramadoss said in a statement that violation of building norms had made it difficult for fire personnel to control Wednesday’s fire. He claimed the building had permission only for four floors but eight floors had been constructed.

The fire broke out around 4 am on Wednesday and 12 employees were rescued from the building. No one was injured and no casualties were reported.

PTI contributed to this story.

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