Criticism over its alleged efforts to hide details on applications for reclassification of land use, has forced the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) to update its website after three months. The civic body, following widespread opposition to its acceptance of applications to reclassify water bodies, stopped uploading data from November 2019.
While the civic body continued giving announcements through two select government-approved newspapers, the application no longer appeared online. Earlier the body would upload details of the applications it published in papers online, lending to more transparency and wider reach of the information. The public is then given 21 days to register their objections and suggestions regarding the application.
Last week, urban development activists noticed that the CMDA had stopped uploading information every 45 days, like it usually did and raised the matter. ToI too reported that the planning authority had failed to update their official portal.
When TNM asked member secretary D Karthikeyan about the delay in updating the website, he simply said, "There was a server problem. It’s available now."
However, the 'server problem' doesn't seem to have made an impact when it came to uploading data on other pages of the site including the Special Buildings Planning Permission Approval Details, which was last updated on February 11. Data on reclassification on land, meanwhile, was updated only on February 24, as per the site.
"This is an effort to keep citizens in the dark about the reclassification process," says Jayaraman, president of the T Nagar Residents Welfare Association. "They have been reclassifying land according to their whims and fancy, not taking into account whether the necessary infrastructure is in place. When they only publish data in newspapers, the accessibility is lesser and a smaller group of people see it," he adds.
Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption NGO, had found through in 2019 that the Chennai police had sought a space of 0.6 acre or 25,833 sq ft in the Sholinganallur lake, to construct a police station. The Semmanchery inspector of police had applied for reclassification of land use through Greater Chennai Corporation in 2017 and it was granted in 2019. This was despite the High Court stating that the reclassification of water bodies is illegal in 2015.
"This is being deliberately done because of criticism against the CMDA for allowing for the reclassification of water bodies," says Jayaram, the convenor of Arappor Iyakkam. "Their process already lacks transparency because citizens are not actively involved in the decision making process. This just takes it a step further in this direction."