The Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (TNSIC) has come to the aid of parents of students of Chettinad Vidyashram, who raised concerns over the construction of a 14-storey commercial building on the campus but were denied the information they sought under the RTI Act. The school is housed in the Chettinad House, an iconic heritage building and the residence of the Chettiar family which has produced MPs, ministers and mayors. The palatial building is located at Raja Annamalaipuram next to the Adyar River in Chennai.
In an April 28 order, the commission asked the school management to provide all details of the construction to the parents to enable them to make an informed decision as the activity could generate considerable air and noise pollution and dust. The commission also raised questions on whether a bar license would be given for the hotels proposed in the building, as it was in the vicinity of a school.
The RTI applicants approached the commission fearing that the space allotted for the school was being used for another purpose. The school had refused to provide the relevant information under RTI, the applicants charged. âThe school premises are being used for private benefits. Work seems to be underway to construct a new building, which does not appear to be a school building,â the RTI applicants said, appealing for information on what kind of building is proposed to be constructed.
S Muthuraj, an information commissioner with the TNSIC, directed the Principal of Chettinad Vidyashram and Vidhyalaya schools to provide all the information sought by four applicants under the RTI Act regarding the construction work in their premises. He also wanted the member secretary, Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), to explain why the TNSIC should not impose a cost of Rs 79.08 lakh (Rs 1,000 for each of the 7908 students) for denying information about the construction to the petitioners.
CMDA is the government body which gives permission for construction of high-rises in the city. Muthurajâs own inspection of CMDA documents found that the Raja Muthiah Chettiar Charitable Trust had moved an application for construction of a 14-storey building in front of the entrance arch of the building. Permission has been granted by CMDA, the TNSIC said in the order.
Muthuraj said that such a construction would cause âgreat harmâ to the students due to dust pollution, air pollution and heat. âLet the parents decide if the students should continue in the school,â he said.
Based on other documents reviewed by him, Muthuraj said that the high-rise building permission granted by CMDA would enable construction of hotels and rooms, which would make them eligible to get a bar license as well.
âSince this building comes under the campus of Chettinad Vidyashram (a school), it should be considered by the public authority before giving permission,â the commissioner said. Muthuraj also pointed out that no display board was placed at the site of construction, as mandated by the local authority in Chennai. This was a violation, which had âsubstantially affectedâ the petitioners, the students studying in the school and their parents.
âWhen the Building Planning permission seekers do not comply with the specific guidelines issued in the circular, these students and their parents do not know what is happening within the premises of the school campus which would affect the students at large and hence they will be the ultimate sufferers. The CMDA, after issuing plan permission, must have also ensured that the Display Board is to be displayed on the site,â the order said.
In his order, Muthuraj has also directed the member secretary, Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), to provide all relevant information regarding the proposed high-rise construction to the Chief Secretary, Secretary to the Legislative Assembly, Tamil Nadu Heritage Commission, legal heirs of Raja Annamalai Chettiar, MA Muthiah Chettiar, MA Ramanathan Chettiar and MA Chidambaram and the Mayor and Commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation.
The Information Commissioner, while mentioning the dust and air pollution from construction activities also went on to calculate the potential heat generated by building through use of air conditioners and its adverse impact on students and wanted the school administrators to provide the information to petitioners. âFurther assuming that the building is approximately 10,000 sq ft per floor, 13x10,000 = 1,30,000 sq ft. This large building requires an average of 100 sq ft 1 ton of AC. So, 13,000 tons of AC is required (A ton, as used in the HVAC field, is a term that describes how much heat the AC unit can remove from a home in one hour. The measurement for heat is the British thermal unit (BTU). One ton of air conditioning can remove 12,000 BTUs of air per hour.) 156000000 BTU heat will be emitted. As it is this heat will attack the school students and cause them great harm, so Principal Chettinad Vidhyashram and Vidhyalaya Schools are ordered to provide this information to the parents of the students. Let the parents decide if the students should continue in the school,â Muthuraj said in the order.