Jaya-baalu feud

Published: Monday 30 June 2003

The battle between the Union minister of environment and forests, T R Baalu, and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa over an amendment to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification has taken a fresh twist.

A division bench of the Madras High Court has suspended for two weeks the operation of a stay granted on May 27 by a single judge bench on the implementation of the amendment. The April 22 amendment sought to wrest from the state government the power to approve projects over Rs 5 crore in coastal areas. The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), in a move widely acknowledged as politically motivated, had framed the notification virtually overnight.

The alleged motive was to thwart Baalu's archrival Jayalalithaa from building a swanky new secretariat by demolishing the century-old Queen Mary's College on Marina beach. Apart from being the oldest women's college in the city, the institution figures in the draft heritage list of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. However, since the area was classified under CRZ-II, the CM would not have been flouting any rules.

Citizen, Consumer & Civic Action Group, a Chennai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), wrote to MoEF seeking the declaration of the coastal stretch of the Marina from the DGP office complex to the HC (which will include the college), as CRZ-I. Under this category, no new construction is permitted within 500 metres of the high tide line.

The MoEF's controversial notification would effectively prevent the state government from planning any major construction activity in the coastal areas. Though the ostensible reason was "destruction of mangroves" and "depletion of groundwater" caused as a result of "large-sized projects being implemented without clearance from the ministry", the timing was obvious.

Opposing the notification, Jayalalithaa felt it "cut at the very roots and foundations of the federal structure of the country".

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