An audit report on ‘housing for urban poor’ has revealed that the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board has allowed the construction of tenements on water bodies. Following the report, the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) of India reprimanded the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), highlighting that the CMDA’s reclassification of water bodies for residential use can cause environmental damage.
According to the report by the CAG, in July 2005, the Tamil Nadu government allotted 74.57 acres on Moorthingar Street, Chennai, for the construction of tenements by the TNUHDB. The TNUHDB constructed 8960 tenements under Phase 1 on 8.96 acres. In 2018, Phase II and Phase III were sanctioned for the construction of 1,080 tenements on 11.7 acres, which is in progress. Out of the 74.57 acres allotted, the report noted that 4.24 acres was classified as water body. The spatial data analysis carried out by the audit team found that the construction of Phase II and Phase III was done on this body. The audit observed that despite the availability of land, the construction of tenements was still done on water bodies, endangering the lives of the inhabitants.
To the CAG’s report that the CMDA’s reclassification of water bodies was in violation of the second master plan, the government replied that the CMDA had reclassified these bodies following proper procedures. However, The CAG observed that both TNUHDB and CMDA are under the administrative jurisdiction of the same department and that the revenue department was the competent authority for the classification and reclassification of land. The CAG noted that work should have commenced only after obtaining statutory clearances.
Audit scrutiny found that out of the 43 projects selected, only eight projects were completed and that out of these projects, several tenements remained unoccupied, though they were completed as early as 2021. The reason for non-occupancy was also analysed and it was credited to non-identification of beneficiaries, unaffordable beneficiary contribution, distance and lack of infrastructure in the projects.
Moreover, the audit also found out that a payment of Rs. 24.55 crores was made to the contractor for the completion of the project up to the plinth level, that is, for the completion of the construction of the foundation of the project. However, the satellite images showed that the project was only at ground level and had not reached the plinth level in two blocks. The project was either too far away from the area from which they were being relocated, or there was a lack of basic amenities like roads, drinking water, sewage systems, etc., which contributed to the non-occupancy of the tenements.
The report also remarked that the slum areas encroaching on Velachery Marshland and Kovilambakkam Lake in Chennai have grown in size between 2005 and 2021. The audit recommended that the government do a demand survey, including a comprehensive slum survey, and devise a plan of action to provide tenements to all intended beneficiaries.