T Nagar fire: Many Saravana Store clones remain tinder boxes

Like beauty, news is in the eye of the beholder. For newspapers that choose to “see no news, hear no news, print no news” (substitute the medium suitably for television), the deadly fire at the Saravana Stores in T.Nagar (Theagaraya Nagar) will appear such a small event in comparison to the service rendered to the economy by the store.

In the absence of strong torts, the lawmakers and their minions in Government get away with murder. How else can one view the failure of the police to proceed against those who sanctioned the building violations in T.Nagar that have put the lives of so many people at stake? In the Saravana Stores fire, two employees have died. But the English language media is too busy pursuing its narrow agenda to even highlight who they are.

Fortunately, the Madras High Court has taken cognisance of the issue and ordered that the officials obviously complicit in the violations also be arraigned, besides refusing bail for the shop owners. That report, featured more directly by the Times of India than in the other newspapers, is here. The Hindu’s report is here. English-language news television is not very interested in the story, but the Sun channels are pursuing it vigorously, perhaps for political reasons. A story on residents fearful of more such disasters is here.

The precedents in the Uphaar fire tragedy make it clear that there can be no leniency towards such building promoters, and the agents in Government who have aided and abetted illegal acts. Read the report on the court verdict here. Let us remember that employees of the Delhi Vidyut Board (Electricity Authority) were found guilty under Section 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).

I have always thought that governance will be far stronger and rules much more effective, if the minions in Government and regulatory agencies such as the CMDA are brought to book for obvious corruption in the grant of building permits, motivated exemptions and other felonies. My list also includes the Traffic Police, because they are responsible for aggravated risks that kill and maim a large number of Indians each year. For instance, the failure to enforce traffic regulations at intersections leads to the death of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users. Why cannot the jurisdictional sub-inspector be held responsible for acts of gross negligence leading to death, which is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code? The same goes for employees of Municipal Corporations and other local bodies, who are responsible for maintenance of civic infrastructure.

Far more sinister is the role of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), whose labyrinthine corridors at the Thalamuthu Natarajan building in Egmore conceal murky dealings. Is it possible for so many illegal structures to be built, if the CMDA actually does its job? Or is it that it is a window to facilitate such constructions without interference from other official agencies which might call a halt to the constructions?

The most deplorable role in all this is played by the media. While newspapers and television always take the moral high ground when it comes to freedom of speech, but they are loath to use it in the public interest. Few newspapers will vigorously expose the illegalities that lie just beneath the surface, all around them. They even pretend not to know that there is a Right to Information Act. Much of their time is taken up by climbing the greased pole of advertising profits.

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