Urban development minister Firhad Hakim has written to mayor Sovan Chatterjee, alerting him about a spurt in illegal construction across the city by “opportunists” using the “vacuum” in vigil because of the general election.
The letter urges the mayor to take “effective steps to stop the illegal activities” and fix “personal liability” among Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) officials who are “supposed to look after the matter”.
“It is alleged that in different corners of the CMC area, they are constructing buildings violating the sanctioned building plans. In my opinion the situation could be tackled by fixing personal liability of the officials who are supposed to look after the matter,” Hakim wrote in the April 10 letter. “I believe that being head of the civic body, you will take most effective steps to stop illegal activities.”
As municipal affairs and urban development minister, Hakim has the right to draw a mayor’s attention to unauthorised constructions but what has created ripples in political circles is the timing of the letter — on the eve of the first round of elections in Bengal.
Hakim may have addressed the mayor as “Dear Sovan” but it is known that his relations with Chatterjee in the party have not always been cordial.
The Trinamul leadership refused to comment about the contents or the timing of the letter. In private, some party insiders admitted that the letter suggests the carefully-brokered truce between the two leaders has fallen apart.
Mayor Chatterjee denied having received any such letter. “What letter? I have not received any letter from the municipal affairs department on illegal constructions,” he said.
Asked about the letter, Hakim said: “It is just a simple reminder to an autonomous body to play a more proactive role on illegal constructions. This has nothing to do with the relationship between two individuals.”
Some said Hakim’s letter was aimed at scratching an old wound of Chatterjee at a time he has been made the Trinamul point man for the Diamond Harbour constituency from where Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is contesting.
“The letter will again remind Chatterjee as well as the people that Mamata had snubbed the civic body in public in February last year for failing to curb illegal constructions,” a Trinamul leader said.
Civic officials said illegal construction in the city has been rampant over the past few years and it has nothing to do with the officials’ preoccupation with the polls, as suggested by Hakim.
“Over the past year or so we have been receiving at least two to three complaints of unauthorised constructions daily,” said an official in the civic building department. “We have partly demolished 172 constructions in the past year.”
According to the building department, of the 6.5 lakh buildings in the 141 wards of the CMC, around three lakh are illegal. A former chief engineer (building) said the problem was most acute in Behala, Jadavpur, Garden Reach, Metiabruz, Ekbalpore, Rajabazar, Topsia and Tiljala.
Insiders said the most usual form of violation is adding floors illegal.