CHENNAI: The state forest department’s spanking new headquarters built at a cost of Rs 30crore at Velachery, on a plot adjoining the Guindy National Park, breaks every rule in the department’s own book, an internal inquiry has revealed.
The probe by the department’s vigilance officer also uncovered that Rs 7crore had been siphoned off during construction of the five-storeyed 21,477sqft building between 2019 and 2021.
Violating the forest department’s own norms, it’s been built in the buffer zone of the park, which is a reserve forest. And untreated sewage from the building will drain directly into the Guindy National Park. When TOI visited the building on Friday, an inquiry was under way and range officer Saravanan was being questioned.
He, however, told TOI that no rules had been violated and that the building was still under construction. However, multiple sources confirmed that a report submitted by the forest vigilance officer Mita Banerjee detailed the way money had been siphoned off. Banerjee was not available for comment.
The Chennai district forest officer and the conservator of forests for Chennai confirmed that a probe was on, but refused to comment further. “Any construction, especially a commercial building, near a reserve forest in the country requires a slew of clearances from the forest department and building clearances from other government departments. But what if the violator is the forest department itself,” asked Satheesh, a city-based conservationist.
To an RTI query about there being no sewage treatment plant, the forest department replied that it had made ‘necessary’ provisions. TOI has photographs of the sewage pipelines draining directly into the Guindy National Park, in violation of the wildlife protection and various other forest conservation acts.
The building does not have Metrowater connections for sewage or drinking water supply either. “The park has two huge lakes and a canal and drain system that carries water into Adyar river. Letting untreated sewage into the park will endanger wildlife and also violates TNPCB norms,” said Vetriselvan, advocate for Poovulagin Nanbargal, a citybased NGO.
“The building hasn’t got CMDA approval for construction. Since it’s a commercial building, it is supposed to get a high-tension electricity connection. That was not sought. The building hasn’t received clearances from the fire and safety department for its lifts. Also, it has a low setback area. And one of the major violations is that it didn’t get an NoC from the highways department, which had earmarked that land for a future road expansion project,” added Vetriselvan.
The probe began after the completion certificate for the building was not provided by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Agency (CMDA ) as there were several building violations. A whistle-blower had also written to the department on the violations.
The building, for which the foundation stone was laid in 2019 by Edappadi K Palaniswami as chief minister, remains unoccupied. The forest department headquarters continues to be in Panagal Building at Saidapet.