The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Posh apartments on Sridevi land razed

Chennai, May 31: Former Bollywood queen Sridevi would have hardly expected the millennium’s first solar eclipse to cast a shadow on a multi-crore-rupee construction project in which she is said to have stakes.

As perplexed onlookers gathered opposite the brand new eight-storeyed apartment complex on Bishop Waller’s Avenue in CIT Nagar, where Chennai’s crème-de-la-crème live, the corporation began demolishing the top three floors of the building which it has declared “dangerous”.

Official sources said the land on which the building has come up belongs to Sridevi, who has apparently entered into an agreement with Shanti Builders, a top private builder in the city.

A few days ago, residents of the area were in for a shock when one of the columns that support the building almost collapsed. It was a close shave: the flats, which cost Rs 50 lakh each, were almost ready for occupation.

While other multi-storeyed and old buildings in the vicinity trembled, a relative of one of the would-be occupants who had come to oversee the interior decoration described the near crash. “It was a loud explosion,” he said, “as if a bomb went off.”

Others fear an imminent collapse, despite assurances from the builder that the building was being strengthened.

According to the builder, it was “just a technical problem with one column”. The construction firm even began a “salvage operation” with the help of a reputed international company to reinforce all the columns, not just the one that nearly gave way.

But as the seriousness of the incident reached the “top most level” in government circles, the commissioner of Chennai corporation issued a “demolition notice”. The notice said “except the stilt and four floors of the multi-storeyed building, it is in a dangerous condition which may endanger the occupiers of the neighbouring structures and passers-by”.

The commissioner directed that by noon today, “the construction of the building except the stilt floor and four floors have to be demolished, failing which the corporation will demolish (the additional floors) and recover the demolition charges from the builder”. After the deadline expired, the corporation began demolition from 4 pm.

Sources said the building was originally designed for only the stilt floor and four floors, but the promoters had allegedly violated rules that did not permit construction of additional floors on a narrow road just 33 feet wide.

But technically there was no “violation” at the time of the near collapse. The new structure had been “regularised” under a recent Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority regularisation scheme by paying a fine.

“We are now removing the three floors at the top,” M. Bhoopal, chief engineer of the Chennai Corporation, told reporters. It would take three weeks, he added, as the demolition has to be done step by step taking into view the safety of the people and other buildings in the locality.

Bhoopal said the builders have agreed to strengthen the existing structure, but “we have to verify their report in consultation with experts”.

The buyers, on their part, pleaded “ignorance” of technical matters. One of them said he had taken a loan from ICICI to purchase the flat. “All that we go by is the no-objection and regularisation certificates. We went in as the flats looked good,” he added.

According to the buyers, the builder alone cannot be blamed as state agencies were also involved in clearing the project.

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