Go ahead and cheat. We can always legalise it later!

Among the most brazen actions to subvert the rule of law witnessed anywhere in the country is in the area of urban development regulation in Tamil Nadu.

Giving exemptions using Ministerial discretion to builders who flout development control rules used to be the norm, and the practice peaked in the 1980s in Chennai (then Madras) during the rule of M.G.Ramachandran.

One Minister in-charge of the subject, S.Thirunavukkarasu (whose is now known as Su.Thirunavukkarasar) went on the record on the floor of the Assembly, when confronted by the subsequent DMK regime, that every Minister had shown such favour to builders at one time or another, and he could not be singled out.

Such is the clout of the builders that they also ensured that the Indian Express, then a crusading newspaper, did not publish a story on a star hotel usurping public land in the centre of Chennai, on G.N.Chetty Road.

But the piece-de-resistance in the long list of machinations by the two ‘Kazhagams’ is the regularisation scheme of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. First initiated by Minister K.Ponmudi during the 1996-2001 regime, the scheme post-facto sought to regularise many grossly irregular constructions, particularly those in the commercial hub of T.Nagar.

There is a complete lack of honesty on the part of the same DMK regime, because it readily dismantles and demolishes structures put up by less wealthy people when they encroach on public space, using police muscle. But in the case of the rich and famous deviants of T.Nagar and for similar ‘mega’ structures worth several crores elsewhere, the party is ready to come to an understanding that lets the irregular buildings remain.

All of us are familiar with the Dravidian ethos which essentially requires that what the DMK does, the AIADMK must undo, and vice-versa. How else can we distinguish the individual rule of these servants of the oppressed? But not when it comes to regularisation.

What the DMK did to virtually dismantle urban development norms, the AIADMK has improved and perpetuated despite the occasional stumbling block put up by the courts. Why? As the Americans would say it, the answer is a no brainer.

The remarkable quality of such law-making is that it allows the wilful violators to actually PLAN their violations. They are given time and notice in advance so that they are able to make all the deviations that they want, enjoying the protection of the law that bends over backwards, and then apply to regularise the structure.

That fine tradition was elevated by the DMK to an even higher level of sophistication recently, as The Hindu reports today, July 31. The Tamil Nadu Government has issued an ordinance that stops all court-ordered demolitions for a year, during which the illegal structures can carry on a roaring business.

It would seem that this is the kind of contemptuous subversion of law that should cost someone his job if not earn him a term in jail. In legal traditions that do not tolerate such gross assaults, the Government would be less brazen, and if it were not, it would be shown the door by the Governor, who is sworn to uphold the Constitution.

The strengthening of democracy requires that public interest and the rule of law is upheld; this can be done only in an atmosphere where basic rights and protection to life and liberty are ensured; where the media is not intimidated with threats of physical assault or retaliatory action by those in power. But it would be too much to expect that such refined sentiments are respected in an atmosphere of unrestrained lumpen thuggery dominating both politics and public discourse.

There is a general consensus that Tamil Nadu is passing through a strange, moribund phase of governance where much noise about development work and infrastructure-building is made and massive project sanctions (the Adyar Eco Park at Rs.100 crore is one example) are announced at great cost to the taxpayer, but there is little happening on the ground.

The average citizen would, of course, be deeply disappointed if the liberal media, with its history of struggling against oppression for over 125 years, adopted a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak nothing about evil” stance.

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