It is a place of beauty. Amidst the lush green foot hills of the Western Ghats, not very far away from the state of Kerala, it’s an abode which offers peace and quiet, much needed for its residents.
On September 5, 2012, the silence was disrupted when the Deputy Director of Town and Country Planning of Coimbatore Region issued a lock, seal and demolition notice for buildings constructed without approval on that area of land. The land is to be restored to its original condition within 30 days from the date of the notice, it says.
Later, a Government Order dated June 26, 2013, stated that if the buildings were constructed after obtaining approval from the Panchayat, then they can get approval from the Directorate of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) by applying for it within six months from the date of the G.O. By now a legal tangle had ensued, ensuring that the organization, which built the structures on forest land without approval, continues to operate till date.
No, this is not about Isha Yoga Centrer.
The notice refers to buildings of Karunya University at Mathuvarayapuram village at the foothills of the Western Ghats, bordering the Siruvani Main Road, 13 km from Isha, and constructed “without permission / consent required under Section 47A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971”.
According to environmentalist M. Siva who has been involved in both the cases, Isha and Karunya, “The violations and lack of approvals are almost the same in both cases. In the case of Karunya, the university spread over 800 acres, sits on the elephant corridor, which also contains wetlands and several water sources of River Noyyal.”
Several educational, religious and social institutions have put up base in the region, which has led to the disturbance in the ecosystem of the Western Ghats and the traditional migratory routes of elephants. Though there has been strong opposition and protests from environmentalists and local communities, not much is getting done to stop their growth, which is often attributed to religious and political support.
Though Karunya was founded in 1986 by late evangelist DGS Dhinakaran, rampant construction began in 2005, after it was awarded the deemed university status. Though Siva’s efforts in bringing the violations to DTCP’s notice started even as early as in 2006, it was only in 2012 that it gained momentum. Following this, several exchanges between the DTCP and the university have transpired.
A notice dated March 14, 2014, has asked the university to produce the approval plan for the construction of several buildings. This also includes buildings having a built-up area of more than 300 sqm that needed clearance by the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) since Mathuvarayapuram village came under the purview of a hill village.
There is a list of 59 buildings that do not have DTCP/ HACA approvals.
It is interesting to note that a copy of this notice and subsequent ones have also been marked to the All India Council for Technical Education’s (AICTE) regional office, UGC Chairman, and Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, with a request to direct the university to obtain statutory approvals for the buildings. A similar notice pertaining to violations at Indus College of Engineering at Alandurai on the same stretch led to its closure by AICTE.
One response dated March 30, 2015, by D. Ramamoorthy, Director (Trust Affairs), Karunya, states, “Even though Karunya University has necessary records of building approvals, our institution’s name has been published in newspapers and electronic media under the caption: Karunya University has built the buildings without approval. Being a minority institution, we feel that this is done with wrong intention and without establishing the facts, thus tarnishing the reputation of the university...we request you to consider the existing approvals for the aforesaid 59 buildings and treat the issue closed.”
The DTCP in response to this, has said on April 6, 2015, that the approvals stated to have been issued by the Panchayat, without the concurrence of the Deputy Director of DTCP, violating the provisions of Sec 25 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Building Rules 1997, cannot be construed as a statutory approval / valid one.
D. Ramamoorthy in a response dated April 21, 2015, stated that buildings from 1987 were built after obtaining valid permission from the then competent authority the President of Mathuvarayapuram Panchayat, Commissioner, Thondamuthur Panchayat Union, and HACA and DTCP.
A notice dated May 08, 2015, which looks like the final one from the DTCP, has come out very strongly that the Local Body could approve public buildings such as college buildings only with the concurrence of the DTCP and that too this cannot be done without collecting necessary fees.
With regard to the university’s contention that the university buildings had come up before HACA, the notice mentions that 90% of the buildings were built after 1990 when the regulations of HACA were in force.
It also points out as “baseless, wrong and unacceptable” several explanations given by the university. Referring to a very early letter dated February 6, 2007, which had directed the university to obtain approvals for more than 10 buildings, the DTCP in its notice says “instead of submitting applications to the DTCP and HACA, the Karunya University deliberately, wilfully, consciously, intentionally influenced the Panchayat President of Mathuvarayapuram and got approval violating Rule 25 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Building Rule 1997 and HACA. The Panchayat has now cancelled all the approvals issued and hence all these buildings have been constructed without getting any approvals”.
The notice ends: “though lot of letters and notices have been served to the university by the office of the Regional Deputy Director of Coimbatore in various occasions during the past three years, the university has not taken any positive steps to submit applications seeking approval from DTCP and HACA. Hence the university is directed to take appropriate action to get approval, failing which this department will take stringent action against the unauthorised buildings constructed within the university campus as deemed fit”. A copy of this is also marked to the District Collector.
Following this, Siva says the university has obtained a stay order from the Madras High Court in August 2015 against the DTCP’s lock, seal and demolition order. Though several dates for the Court’s hearing of the order comes up, it always gets postponed.
Since the migratory route of the elephants has been disturbed, Coimbatore and its nearby areas have witnessed several animal and human deaths. From co-habitation, it has turned to a case of man-animal conflict. More violations also mean loss of more forest and wetlands, and while smaller institutions and organisations get targeted, the larger ones manage to go scot free because of the power and wealth they wield.