On Thursday, the Madras High Court ordered the transfer of 39 vigilance cell officials of the Chennai Corporation within four weeks, for failing to control corruption.

How a power generator exposed rampant corruption in the Chennai CorporationBy L.vivian.richard via Wikimedia Commons
news Corruption Friday, August 31, 2018 - 17:20

When Lakshmi, a resident of Villivakkam in Chennai, complained to the authorities about a non-compliant tenant in 2013, little did she know that five years later, the move would implicate her in her own wrongdoing. Nor did she expect that her complaint would end up exposing massive and rampant corruption in the Chennai Corporation – and lead to the mass transfer of vigilance officials.

On Thursday, the Madras High Court slammed the rampant corruption in the municipal body, ordering that all the officials currently serving in the Vigilance Cell be transferred within four weeks. The unprecedented judgement was also a scathing commentary on the state of affairs in government agencies and institutions in Tamil Nadu.

The judgment calls Tamil Nadu one of the states with the highest levels of corruption. “Statistically, we all are aware that the State of Tamil Nadu is also a highly corrupt State in respect of Governmental Organisations and amongst the public servants,” the judgment said.

How the case unfolded

Lakshmi, who owns two houses on Sannathi Street, Villivakkam, rented one to a hospital in 2013. The hospital installed a power generator on the road, causing smoke, noise and nuisance to her and passersby. She complained to the Chennai Corporation, but no action was taken by them to remove the generator. That is when Lakshmi approached the High Court, and would inadvertently begin the process of implicating herself for building violation.

The zonal officer impleaded in the petition responded stating that the hospital – Faith Multi-Specialty Hospital – had indulged in unauthorised construction on the terrace of the building in order to convert the house into a hospital. In addition to this, the petitioner herself had filed Rent Control Proceedings against the hospital and the case is pending.

To top it all, the corporation investigation found that Lakshmi herself had permitted the hospital to put up the generator in front of her wall.

Her property was then inspected and actions were taken in accordance with the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act. The corporation also stated in its affidavit that appropriate action was taken on the encroachment by the hospital.

Thus, on August 13 this year, when the matter came up before the court, Justice SM Subramanian sought an explanation as to why the Corporation was unable to control such huge building violations and unauthorised constructions, and rampant corruption.

Giving the municipal body a dressing down, the Court said, "Day-by-day, the corrupt activities of the officials are increasing and consequently, the unauthorised constructions are also developed to the maximum and the people are put under hardship in Chennai City. The living condition of the Chennai Corporation residents are horrible and at all levels. Corruptions are existing to the maximum and the authorities of the Corporation are making this kind of tips of corruption as a rule. Citizens, who all are also greedy of completing their jobs quickly and they are also encouraging such corruptions.”

Maladministration in the Vigilance Cell

According to an explanation provided by the Chennai Corporation, 48 instances of disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against corporation officials based on reports from various agencies. However, the Court pointed out that the Corporation maintains no records of the outcomes of these actions.

“On a perusal of the 107 cases of disciplinary proceedings initiated for the past 30 years, this Court is of an opinion that it is an alarming factor that no final orders are passed in respect of many cases. In 29 cases, meagre punishments were imposed and they were either reinstated or allowed to retire from services. The very functioning of the establishment in respect of dealing with the officials, shows maladministration in Chennai Corporation,” the court stated.

While the court noted that the initiation of action against officers is in accordance with the law, it believes that they do not minimise the corrupt activities in the Corporation.

Transfer en masse

Thus, with a view to ensure the effective implementation of Anti Corruption Laws to control and minimise the corrupt and illegal activities in government offices, the court directed the commissioner of the Chennai Corporation to transfer all the 39 Officials presently serving in the Vigilance Cell, Greater Chennai, en masse within a period of four weeks.

Further, it ordered the Corporation Commissioner to consult the Director General of Police to depute new police officials with proven integrity and honesty, “enabling the “Vigilance Cell” of the Corporation of Chennai to function more effectively and meaningfully."

In addition to this, the court has also ordered the setting up of Vigilance Booths in all Corporation offices along with CCTV cameras within a period of four weeks. Further, display boards discouraging corruption are to be set up in these offices. 'Special Secret Teams' would also be constituted to conduct surprise checks and inspections on building approvals and other activities. They would function under the direct command of the Commissioner.

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