Tinsukia: Illegal, unauthorised constructions dot the map of Tinsukia, and the municipal board is well aware of the challenges it faces in its attempt to rid the town of such buildings. However, identifying the problem is one thing, but, as the authorities have found out, executing prompt, direct action is proving to be a different ball game altogether. 

The Tinsukia Municipal Board demolished an illegal floor and other portions of a residential apartment in the heart of the town on Tuesday. Jayanta Baruah, the man behind the initiative, took the step within days of assuming charge as chairman of the Tinsukia Municipal Board.

The builder had converted the parking space into a flat and constructed an additional floor, illegally. In a conversation with EastMojo, Baruah said. “We did not only serve notice upon him multiple times, but I personally asked him not to go ahead with the dhalai (construction), but he showed no regard for the law and tried to showcase his power.”

On Monday, the TMB demolished an illegal floor and other portions of a residential apartment in the heart of Tinsukia town
The builder had converted the parking space into a flat and constructed an additional floor, illegally

“It should be absolutely clear to all that we are not going to tolerate illegal construction,” Baruah said, adding, “This is our first step to check such unauthorised construction, where we have initiated action to demolish the unauthorised floor and other illegal portions of the building, and are poised to act in accordance with the law in a swift manner.”

Baruah, however, admitted the Tinsukia municipality is understaffed and may be lacking to put a check on illegal constructions. The citizens too have a responsibility to follow the proper norms, which they cannot shy away from, he added.

“If we want to construct a building, why make it illegal? What message and mess are we leaving for the future generations, who will be compelled to struggle for basic amenities like parking and drainage if we don’t act today?” asked Baruah.

The Board will form a committee to look into all the recent permission and constructions. “We will not deter from carrying out more demolitions if a report of unauthorised construction is received by my office,” added Baruah.

Violations abound, but who is to be blamed?

In Tinsukia, at least when it comes to spotting construction violations, one is spoilt for choice. Conversion of parking space into shops and godowns? Done. Rule violations regarding the front, rear and side setback? Done. Construction of cantilever beyond the permissible limit to erect walls from the end of the cantilever? Done. Additional floors in an old building without parking provisions in violation of set rules under Building Bylaws? Done. Construction of illegal floors and violating building height rules? Done. 

Citing an example from Chirwapatty road, Chinmoy Sarmah, a senior journalist, told EastMojo, “A three-storeyed building was constructed in the heart of Tinsukia town without any parking space. It is not that it was constructed overnight and the officials did not get time to stop the construction within time or demolish it before it took the shape of a complete building. It does not stop here. The owner manages to open a hotel in the building, even though a trade licence cannot be issued for hotels without sufficient parking space and dual entry-exit provisions, and has been making hefty earnings ever since. A few years later, the same authorities reached the place to demolish the building. The owner shows a court stay order compelling the officials to return empty-handed. As the matter is sub judice, the businessman operates his hotel and continues to earn from this alleged illegal building.”

Such violation of Building Bylaws is a common sight to the eye if one travels in different parts of the town.

A recent incident is yet another example of how deep-rooted the problem is. One person, allegedly in collusion with a section of officials and employees of the TMB, constructed a building on a plot of land that does not have an approachable road to date.

“The assistant engineer of TMB, Jyoti Prasad Das, had allowed the person undertaking the construction to cut the railing of an over-bridge, a government property, to facilitate him in constructing the said building,” alleged Rituraj Boruah, central committee president of Parivesh Suraksha Samiti, Assam. 

Another example of illegal construction in Tinsukia, done after cutting the railing of an over-bridge, a government property

The Samiti even submitted a memorandum to the deputy commissioner of Tinsukia, Narsing Pawar, to take cognisance of the incident and take strict action against all involved in this illegal act. 

The Parivesh Suraksha Samiti’s letter to the deputy commissioner of Tinsukia, Narsing Pawar

“How did the assistant engineer muster the courage to permit a person to destroy government property to construct his private building? This is not a small incident, and we demand strict action to set an example besides getting the railing constructed immediately,” said Boruah.

TMB chairman Jayanta Baruah said they had ordered an enquiry into the incident and formed a committee involving the executive office, personnel of the technical branch of TMB, and technical experts from outside.

“Notice has been issued to stop the construction immediately till the enquiry report is out,” the chairman said.

It is not as if such malpractices have gone unnoticed. In the case of Ranju Agarwal And Ors. v. the State Of Assam And Ors., the Gauhati High Court held in 2018 that the Tinsukia Municipal Board flouted rule 67(3) of the Building Rules, 2014 while granting permission and approving the plan and design of the RCC building in favour of Gayatri Devi Choudhury.

But such judgements do little to deter those bent on flouting rules. And citizens are well aware that large-scale rule violations cannot happen without the connivance of a section of officials and employees of the concerned authority, tasked with the responsibility to check that the building bylaws are not violated.

Boruah demanded strict action against the team tasked to ensure that building bylaws are followed in each construction. “A time-bound enquiry must be conducted on the roles of the officials and employees of TMB who have turned their eyes and allowed the violation of building bylaws and unauthorised construction to flourish across Tinsukia town,” he added. 

Investors trapped

Possibly the biggest victim of these large-scale malpractices is mostly middle-class families, trapped in the illegal acts and violations, putting their dream home and hard-earned money at extreme risk.

Bhagwan Prasad Gupta is one such person, residing at this residential apartment on Khageswar road. His home stands at the risk of demolition after he received a notice from the Tinsukia Municipality. 

On Tuesday, April 26, Gupta said the builder sold him the flat for Rs 37 lakh with the assurance that the building and the flat are approved by the competent authority. “I am in shock and trauma (since) the day I received a notice from Tinsukia Municipal Board, stating that the flat is illegal,” he said. 

“Where will we go? My husband sold our Doomdooma house (about 35 km away) and has put every single rupee of his hard-earned money to make their dream of a house in Tinsukia town come true. Where is our fault, the builder needs to be punished,” Gupta’s wife, who has been residing at this flat for the past two years, lamented. 

Gupta said that the builder has given assurance that he would construct a flat on the floor above and give it to them, but it also turned out to be illegal.

This is not the first case where investors have been misled by builders, leaving them in trouble. In a similar case, a Chirwapatty builder has converted his parking space into godowns and a shop. 

“TMB had demolished the godown and issued a 10-day ultimatum to a shop owner who prayed for time because he was not informed about the notice from TMB by the landlord. If the shop is demolished, his entire stock in the shop would be damaged and he will leave and have to face huge loss,” the source said, adding, “However, the shop has not been demolished till date for the reasons best known to the TMB.”

File photo of a 2020 demolition drive in Chirwapatty

On the condition of anonymity, another citizen alleged this was a scam worth crores of rupees.

“A builder gets hardly any money by selling parking space. But he earns crores by converting parking into commercial shops and godowns. Similarly, by extending the cantilever and erecting a wall at the end, he gets an additional few hundred square feet on each floor to sell and earn lakhs of rupees. This is an open secret, and if a section of municipality officials and employees has turned a blind eye, there is more than meets the eye.”

The recent demolition drive might seem like a welcome move, but for now, it is clear that taking on all illegal constructions will prove to be a long and arduous challenge. And it will have its share of innocent victims who got duped. 

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