The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya defies Delhi, flags off new complex

Chennai, Oct. 30: Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa defied the Centre again today by going ahead with the bhoomi puja for the new secretariat complex, despite a notification by the Union environment ministry.

The directive requires that all projects where “construction has not come up to the plinth level on the date of issue” of the notification issued by the ministry on October 28 get the approval of the ministry. This would mean that the ADMK government in the state sends a detailed project proposal for the secretariat complex to the Union environment ministry headed by T.R. Baalu of the DMK before continuing work on the project.

The draft notification issued by the environment ministry — in accordance with a Supreme Court directive in the Yamuna river pollution case — brings all new construction projects, including “new townships, industrial townships, settlement colonies, commercial complexes, hotel complexes, hospitals, office complexes for 1,000 persons or above”, under the environment impact assessment (EIA).

It also brings under the EIA’s purview projects for “discharging sewerage of 50,000 litres per day and above or with an investment of Rs 50 crore and above and new industrial estates having an area of 50 hectares and above”. Industrial estates having high pollution potential will also be brought under EIA, irrespective of the area, says the notification.

Undeterred by the Centre’s notification, the bhoomi puja was performed according to schedule, though sans the fanfare that usually marks such occasions. Jayalalithaa later unveiled a plaque to lay the foundation stone for the massive complex estimated to cost more than Rs 300 crore.

The function was held at 8 am at the project site behind the Anna University here. Jayalalithaa, in her favourite green sari, arrived on the dot in her Pajero.

Officials of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, which is executing the project for which an architect was recently finalised, were at their nerve’s end trying to ensure that journalists were kept away from the spot where the chief minister performed the puja with the aid of a priest.

The metropolitan authority’s officials and cabinet members encircled the rectangular east-facing sacred pit, dug up according to vaastu shastra norms, while the ADMK leader sat for about 20 minutes part-performing and part-witnessing the puja.

Nine types of grain, flowers and precious stones, as well as a silk cloth, were offered into the pit. Jayalalithaa later gave prasad to the ministers and officials, including Assembly Speaker K. Kalimuthu. The pit was then covered with a granite slab bearing the image of Lakshmi.

When the puja was over, Jayalalithaa went up to the dais to unveil the foundation stone for the complex. The visibly pleased ADMK leader then left the venue waving to the crowd.

Several structures on the university campus, including the Madras School of Economics, the government data centre and some hostels, will have to be pulled down to make way for the secretariat complex, which has been dogged by controversy over its location for a year now. The government has, however, assured the university and other affected institutions that alternative land would be provided.

The secretariat, which will include an Assembly complex with modern facilities and a convention centre on the lines of New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, has been planned to reflect the best architecture of the times. “It will be an architectural marvel to crown the landscape of Chennai,” the compere at the function said.

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