Urban development: Mixed signals

Today’s papers announced that the Tamil Nadu government would regularise unapproved layouts in the urban areas of the state barring Chennai under a new scheme. Some 2600 layouts and 90,000 households will benefit as they would be provided with basic services only if they were approved.

This poses a dilemma: On the one hand, this means that unscrupulous builders will continue to flout the norms laid down by the urban development wing of the government, confident that the can get the layouts approved. On the other hand, if these layouts are not regularized, then 90,000 families will continue to suffer because they will be denied basic services. What then is the solution? I say by all means regularize the layouts, but penalize the builders who flouted the urban development norms severely so that they do not repeat this again and again.

Unapproved layouts overbuild on plots and access roads that are incapable of servicing the density that results from such construction. This in turn, affects the quality of services, and indeed the quality of life, of all who live in that area. The example of the Chennai courts that have ordered the demolition of an unauthorized building near the Race Club is to be lauded. The building is apparently in total violation of the regulations, and regularizing it would amount to extending benefits to a person who violated building regulations.

Isn’t it ironic? The Hindu’s front page carried the article on regularizing unapproved layouts. Page three carried the article on the courts ordering the demolition of the illegal structure. What is the message the government is sending out? It’s OK but not OK? I think that there should be severe penalties for those who try and ignore regulations. As for the layouts that are being regularized to benefit the residents, the builders or developers should still face severe penalties for their greed, and for the harm they have inflicted on well planned development.

Will the government have the will to do this? The builders lobby is powerful, and more important, very wealthy. Unless citizens come together to hold both builders and the government responsible, I doubt this will happen. And we will continue to have haphazard development resulting in urban over crowding, break down of services, infrastructure that’s inadequate and cities that don’t compare with other developing nations. With a few people’s greed denying the orderly development of our cities.

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