A PIL is being heard in the Madras High Court stating that the Thamaraikani lake in Sholinganallur was illegally reclassified from ‘waterbody' to ‘institutional use zone' by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).

 Illegal structure near a disputed Chennai police station removed after complaint
news Controversy Thursday, May 12, 2022 - 19:01

A temple-like structure, which cropped up mysteriously in front of the newly-constructed Semmencherry Police Building on the Old Mahabalipuram Road, has vanished overnight after a social activist raised an alarm in social media and also filed a complaint with the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). The Madras High Court had issued a stay order preventing the police from using the building, which was constructed in 2019. The unoccupied station stands on a piece of land which was erected on a waterbody - Thamaraikani lake, pointed out Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of the NGO Arappor Iyakkam. He also stated that a temple-like structure was being constructed in front of the station in a bid to protect the police station.

The structure was demolished after he filed an online complaint at the GCC and took the issue to social media. Meanwhile, the police personnel of the concerned station and officials of the GCC feigned that they had no knowledge about such a structure.

While a police official said that they were just ‘planting trees and plants’, Semmencherry’s Assistant Commissioner of Police Riyasudeen said that the public tried to erect a structure, but they themselves had dismantled the structure when they were told they could not put up a structure there. However, when this reporter contacted the officials of the GCC, they had no knowledge of the structure, but assured that they would be looking into it.

The temple-like structure demolished in front of J10 Semmencherry Police Station building

Meanwhile, Jayaram questioned the presence of police barricades surrounding the construction. “If it was a private construction, why did they have Semmencherry police station’s barricades around it? Does the government provide protection to private constructions?” he asked. “In the past few days, we were able to spot abandoned vehicles being kept behind this station, violating the stay order. We also saw that a temple-like structure was being constructed in front of it. Even if it is claimed that it is constructed on the road and not on the waterbody, that also amounts to violation,” Jayaram said.

Speaking about the history of the station’s construction, Jayaram said that he came to know about the station’s construction in 2019, after locals alerted him that the land was being filled. The  Public Works Department (PWD), in September 2018, ordered filling up of the land with earth to the level of 12.5 metres, along with creating an all-round pavement level within the site to the same height and an interior stormwater drainage facility. After several of his complaints went unnoticed, he filed a PIL at the Madras High Court stating that the Thamaraikani lake in Sholinganallur was illegally reclassified from ‘waterbody' to ‘institutional use zone' by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).

Jayaram said that he also learnt that earlier in 2016, the PWD stalled the construction by the Police Housing Board which was trying to build the police station. Meanwhile, the station filed a petition with the CMDA seeking reclassification for the purpose of constructing the police station which was approved in 2019 and the PWD granted a No Objection Certificate. “While the construction work was underway, we gathered details through a Right To Information (RTI) application and found some inconsistencies,” Jayaram said. 

According to the information obtained through RTI, the piece of land on which the police station stands, was illegally reclassified from ‘waterbody' to ‘institutional use zone' by CMDA and the Thamaraikani lake was described and classified as ‘Meikkal Thangal Road' through a Government Order of the Revenue Department. Further, the land which is a waterbody was transferred to Semmencherry Police station by assigning it a New Survey Number and the construction of the police station building started without valid plan approval.

“‘Meikkal' means grazing land, and ‘Thangal’ means waterbody. It is quite confusing that an entire lake to the extent of 61.49 hectares (151.9 acres) is classified by the revenue department as a road leading to grazing land and waterbody,” he had stated in his PIL. 

“After hearing my petition, the court appointed the Director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) to conduct a study on the land on April 15, 2021. The court also sought remedial measures, if the building appeared to have come up on land that was part of a waterbody,” he said. The order also stated, “the construction, which has come up in the location will not be used for any purpose whatsoever without the express previous leave of this Court” and directed that “no further money should be expended on the betterment or completion of the building, since the building may be directed to be brought down if it is discovered that the building has been constructed on the land which was originally a part of a waterbody.”

In a court order dated July 19, 2021, the HC, based on the IIT-M report, observed that the “Semmencherry Police Station stands right in the middle of what was a waterbody until recently” and stated that the state government may “set an example that mistakes may not only be committed by private citizens but also by the State” and also that such mistakes “can be remedied.” The report by IIT-M found so many encroachments around the lake that it declared, “given the relatively smaller size of the disputed patch containing the police station, when compared to the other all-round encroachments across the entire waterscape, mere removal of police station alone from the disputed patch of land will not have any significant hydrological impact”.

The court also ordered that the police station may not be allowed to function at the present site and ordered the government to constitute an expert committee to look into the matter. However, the state government filed an affidavit during the later part of 2021 stating that the entire Thamaraikani lake was not a waterbody, for which the arguments have not yet been heard. The case is posted for hearing in June.

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