27 December, 2013
Chennai: City activists have called for a halt on all constructions inside IIT Madras pending an independent investigation into allegations of illegal construction and tree felling by the institute between 2001 and 2013. Releasing a report by the Chennai Solidarity Group titled “City in the Forest: The birth and growth of IIT Madras,” city activists said that the tree cover in Guindy is a matter of public concern, and that they are shocked by IIT’s callous disregard for the environment.
IIT Madras has cleared more than 52 acres of forests, including 8000 trees between 2001 and 2013 as part of a major construction spree that saw 39 renovation projects and new constructions within the ecosensitive campus, the report states. The research used Google Earth satellite images to identify constructions and estimate loss of forest cover within the campus over a 12 year period. If the institute has its way, more than 10,000 trees will be axed to accommodate new infrastructure spread out over 58 acres of forest land to provide for an increase in student population from the current 5500 to 8000. The IIT Madras campus was carved out of the Guindy forests in 1958, and contains some of the last remnants of the Southern Thorn Forests and is home to the endangered blackbuck, pangolin, monitor lizard and star tortoise.
The report questions the legality of the construction projects, suggesting that IIT may be operating as if it was above the law. Construction projects inside institutional areas require approval from the CMDA. Major construction projects also require an Environmental Clearance. When such projects fall within 10 km of a National Park, they require additional approvals from the Supreme Court and the National Board of Wildlife. The report suggests that none of these approvals seem to have been obtained.
The report is being released at a time when nearly 60 more trees are to be felled to provide space for a new B-type residence within the campus. The report also highlighted that the natural environment in the campus will not be able to withstand the high-decibel culture of the institute. Come January, the Saarang cultural festival will bring in more than 50,000 visitors and 13,000 vehicles for five nights of loud music, dance and cultural events. At Rs. 1.6 crores (Saarang 2012), IIT Saarang is the most expensive student organised trade fair providing multinational corporate sponsors a platform to market to a youth audience.
The report, according to its authors, is not intended to interfere with IIT’s right to expand. Rather, the report insists that as an exemplary institution, IIT should insist on complying with the law and taking its expansion to a satellite campus.
The report also points out that the research was severely constrained by the opacity of the IIT administration and the paucity of any relevant information in the public domain. Seven prominent environmentalists sent a letter to the Union Minister of Human Resources, the vice-chairman of CMDA, IIT-M’s director, the chairman of IIT-Madras’ governing board, and the National Board of Wildlife seeking investigation and action on the alleged tree felling and illegal constructions. M.G. Devasahayam (I.A.S), former member of the CMDA monitoring committee, R.R. Srinivasan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, and Nityanand Jayaraman of Chennai Solidarity Group addressed the press conference.
For more information, contact:
Nityanand Jayaraman. 9444082401
Chennai Solidarity Group
No. 92, Thiruvalluvar Nagar 3rd Cross
Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090