Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kalas Mahal fire: CM sets up panel on heritage buildings

Fire-fighters try to douse a major fire at Ezhilagam in Chepauk, Chennai, on January 16. Photo: R. RaguTamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Saturday announced the setting up of a committee to inspect heritage buildings in Chennai and submit a report on their safety following last week’s blaze that severely damaged Ezhilagam, a heritage structure housing some government departments.
The committee, comprising former Anna University Dean A.R. Shanthakumar, PWD Principal Chief Engineer (Building) R. Gopalakrishnan and officials of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority will work out possibilities of restoring Ezhilagam to its original beauty or build a ‘replica’, an official press release said.

The Commitee has been asked to inspect all heritage buildings in the city and submit a report on their safety by Ms. Jayalalithaa, it said.

The January 15 blaze had resulted in loss of property to the departments of Social Welfare and Industries located there to the tune of Rs. 2.7 crore, the release said, adding the Chief Minister allotted an initial sum of Rs. 2.46 crore towards purchasing furniture and stationery.

The fire at Ezhilagam killed a Fire and Rescue personnel and injured two others, including a senior Fire Officer.

HC stays move to alter new Secretariat complex

A view of the Assembly complex at Omandurar Government Estate, in Chennai. Photo : R. RavindranIn a setback to the AIADMK government, the Madras High Court on Friday granted an interim injunction restraining authorities from making any structural alterations to the new Legislative Assembly-cum-Secretariat complex at the Omandurar Government Estate on Anna Salai here until a writ petition challenging the decision to convert it into a multi-specialty hospital is disposed of.
A Division Bench comprising Justices D.Murugesan and P.P.S.Janarthana Raja passed the interim order on a writ petition by R.Veeramani, a city advocate. It directed the authorities to file their counter by February 10. The case has been posted for February 13.
The petitioner said the present government took a policy decision on August 19 last year to convert the new building into a multi-specialty hospital. This decision was irrational, “tainted with mala fides and is against public interest.”
The petitioner's senior counsel, P.Wilson, contended that environmental clearance given for the Assembly/ Secretariat complex could not be taken as clearance for conversion and housing a multi-specialty hospital.
The Bench noted that the PWD had issued the tender notice in two dailies for carrying out civil and electrical works.
Admittedly, as on date, no environmental clearance was obtained for the proposed modification in the new building. It was not in dispute that for a project exceeding 15,000 sq.metres, environmental clearance should be obtained from the Centre's Environment Impact Assessment Authority.
Though such clearance had been obtained before constructing the building, the fact remained that it was not obtained for the modification, the Bench said.
The court said the authorities' only contention was that the government was taking necessary action to get clearance before the building was put into use. The question as to whether the clearance was necessary prior to any modification/alteration or not should be gone into at the time of final disposal of the petition.
For the present, it was of the prima facie opinion that the environmental clearance given for constructing the building would not include clearance for any modification. If that be so, the structure constructed at a cost of Rs.551.80 crore could not be altered and any money spent on such modification would cause huge loss to the exchequer if the writ petitioner succeeds. In that view of the matter, it said the authorities should be restrained from altering or modifying or in any manner changing the structure till the petition was disposed of.
The Judges said their order would not stand in the way of the government obtaining environmental clearance and also taking other steps as per the policy decision.

New chief for TNPSC

R. NatrajR. Natraj, retired officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), was on Friday appointed the Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Public Services Commission (TNPSC).
He will hold the post till he attains the age of 62 years [March 2013], according to the order issued by the Personnel and Administrative Reforms Department.
He fills the vacancy caused by the resignation of R. Sellamuthu following the allegations of large-scale irregularities in the selection of candidates to various government posts.
Mr. Natraj is likely to assume charge on Saturday.
Belonging to the 1975 batch, Mr. Natraj served the State and Central governments in various capacities.
While in the Central Reserve Police Force, he worked in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir. Between 1986 and 1990, he was First Secretary in the Indian High Commission in Kathmandu.
During 2003-2006, he held the post of Chennai Police Commissioner in two spells. Later, he was Director General of Police in-charge of Prisons and Fire and Rescue Services.
In the recent past, Mr. Natraj was in the limelight when he challenged the appointment of Letika Saran as the State DGP in 2010. The Madras High Court last week upheld her appointment.

Anti-nuke group lays down terms for attending January 31 meet

The People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), which is leading the ongoing anti-Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project agitation, has decided to send some of the members of its 28-member experts' panel for the proposed talks scheduled for January 31 with the Central Expert panel at the Tirunelveli Collectorate.
“If the Central panel, which is now addressing the students of various colleges on the issues pertaining to the KKNPP, refuses to talk with our representatives, our members in the State panel will not participate in the talks to be conducted on January 31 with the Central Expert panel members,” said S.P. Udayakumar.
Speaking to reporters here on Friday, Dr. Udayakumar said that PMANE's experts, based on scientific facts and findings had raised several doubts pertaining to the insecure geology of the region surrounding the KKNPP. The Central government's expert panel had the responsibility of answering all these queries and clear their doubts. If the Central experts' team refused to speak to the PMANE's specialists, then anti-nuke representatives in the State panel would not be part of the talks to be held on January 31.
He claimed that the ongoing agitation against KKNPP was being carried forward only with contributions from villagers agitating against the upcoming nuclear power programme. He dismissed allegations that PMANE was getting succour from abroad and some of the non-governmental organisations funded by foreign agencies.
NGOs being threatened
“The Central government, which is levelling all these baseless allegations to divert public attention, is also threatening the NGOs being run by Christian churches through surprise raids though it did not yield any information to prove their charges. In fact, the officials who conducted these raids have lauded the manner in which these organisations are being administered,” Dr. Udayakumar said.
He said that PMANE was prepared to show to anybody except Congress functionaries all its “well-maintained” financial transaction details pertaining to the funds being raised by them after the struggle commenced, its expenses etc. “We've nothing to hide.”
Pro-nuclear activist criticised
Dr. Udayakumar, terming pro-nuclear activist T.K. Sathya Seelan “a thug as per the police records of Ambattur police station in Chennai since 2008,” added that the Department of Atomic Energy should not solicit the services of “such unruly elements” for mobilising support for KKNPP.
Petition against daily
Earlier, he, along with a few PMANE members, submitted petition to District Collector R. Selvaraj seeking filing of case against a Tamil daily “for publicising private information about some PMANE members, including addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses etc. that caused untold agony.”

Highest priority for education in the 12th Plan: E. Ahamed

E. Ahamed, Minister of State for HRD and External Affairs, with S. Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, in Chennai on Friday. Photo: R. Ravindran
The 12 Plan seeks to place the highest priority on education as a central instruments for achieving rapid and inclusive growth, E. Ahamed, Minister of State for HRD and External Affairs, said on Friday.
Inaugurating a national symposium on “2011 Demographic Characteristics: A Road to Development” hosted by the Department of Economics, Loyola College, Mr. Ahamed said the Plan would present a comprehensive strategy covering all segments of the education pyramid.
During a brief interaction later with the media, the Minister said the allocation for education in the 12 Plan was likely to be about seven times more than the amount earmarked in the 11 Plan. He also hoped that the redrafted Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation), Bill would be introduced in the upcoming Budget session of Parliament.
In his address to students, Mr. Ahamed said the Centre had adopted a neo-liberal approach to expansion of education in recent years. On the higher education front, the Centre had been following a multi-pronged strategy —strengthening existing institutions of higher learning along with a massive plan of setting up a large number of public funded institutions —with the aim of doubling the access ratio to higher education.
Other initiatives included creating national level resource institutions such as the National Commission for Higher Education, National Authority for Regulation in Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions and Educational Tribunals, he said. He hoped that the strategy would pay off in terms of enabling India to leverage its demographic dividend.
In his view, making an asset out of the exploding population for fostering economic growth and development was possible only through a joint effort by politicians, administrators, educational institutions and employers.
At present, India with 1.2 billion people was next only to China as the most populous nation. The demographic changes were opening up new economic opportunities for India. With 50 per cent of the population below 25 years of age, engaging the working age population in productive employment would accelerate economic growth, Mr. Ahamed said.
In his key-note address, S. Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Research Unit on International Migration, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, said the surplus labour available in India in the form of its educated youth could be a demographic dividend if managed well through literacy, education and productive employment; or else it could be a demographic bomb.
He also pointed to demographic imbalances within India where declining population growth in the south and galloping growth rates in the north was rendering the age pyramid unattractive.
Mr. Irudaya Rajan said it was important for India, which had an estimated 400 million people on the move for work, to promulgate an Emigration Bill to protect future potential emigrants and a migration policy to facilitate safe, orderly and legal migration.
Rev. Fr. B. Jeyaraj, Loyola College Principal, Rev. Fr. K. Amal, Rector, C. Joe Arun, secretary and T. Eugene, Head, Department of Economics, also participated.