CHENNAI: The leasing out of 25.27 acre of land, registered in the name of IIT Madras, to the Tata group for building an SEZ and other up-market residential facilities is a case of blatant misuse of land originally meant for educational institutions in Tamil Nadu.
A vast tract of vacant land in Taramani, where IIT was also was allotted 40 acres (16.05 hectares) apart from the 250 acres of lush green forest land where the main campus is functioning, had been earmarked for educational purposes soon after Independence by the then K Kamaraj government.
Though a slew of institutions came up in the region even before it became a prime locality in Chennai and the modern multi-lane OMR was constructed, IIT had been oblivious of its ownership of the land in Kanagam village till revenue records, unearthed in January 2002, brought out the fact. However, letters written by the IIT management to the government between August 2001 and October 2007 - Express has a copy of the correspondence file - clearly show how difficult it was for the elite institution to retrieve even a portion of its own land from the government after it had taken control of it and set up the MGR film city in 1993.
Even after the government initially allotted a mere 6.59 acres of land in the film city through a government order (GO) dated July 4, 2005, the institute had problems accessing the site. On April 17, 2006, IIT wrote to the district collector complaining about a group of people from the adjoining film institute interfering with the work carried out in the site allotted to them and also seeking protection from them. The IIT also wanted access to the site through the public road as Tidel Park had put barricades on the road.
The IIT had to write again to the Revenue Secretary, in June 2006, seeking additional land, pointing to the 8.05 acres that had then been allotted to the National Institute of Science, which was not being established in Chennai anyway.
The haggling continued with a series of meeting and letters till a GO was issued on June 5, 2007 making the total allotment 11.42 acres. Then letters were dispatched seeking orders for the transfer of right over the land. Later on October 25, 2007, the IIT wrote to the tahsildar of Mambalam-Guindy Taluk that it would not ‘pay the land cost as fixed by the Government for alienation of the land’ as the land in TS 2, Block No 6 of Kanagam village is registered in the name of IIT and that IIT Madras was its owner.
Curiously, the IIT never issued a legal notice to the government asking it to vacate the land, which it could have done. The institute’s then director, M S Ananth, despite highlighting the fact that the 16.04 hectares is in the name of IIT in several of his letters never asked for the entire land to be returned or seek any legal course to retrieve it. Why he refrained from doing so could not be ascertained as he was not available for comment - neither did he take a call made to his mobile nor did he reply to a message. From the records available it is clear that he just wanted to get the small piece of land for the research park, which was subsequently built.
But then, the initiative for the IITM Research Park was first taken by the institute’s former director R Natarajan, who wrote to the government on August 2, 2001 stating that the board of governors of the IIT has authorised the institution to approach the government for 10 acres of land, when it was not known that 40 acres lying across a narrow road running parallel to the eastern side wall of the main campus actually belonged to it. It was after Natarajan wrote the letter that the fact about the actual ownership came to light.
Earlier the government had built the MGR Film City on the land without seeking IIT’s permission. Remnants of the film city that has since been dismantled can be spotted as one walks through the approach road to the IITM Research Park. While on the southern side, work is on to construct the gargantuan structure of the Tata group, a lone bus stop shelter stands as an anachronism on the northern side. The board on the shelter says ‘Ashok Nagar’ and the route numbers of a few metropolitan buses, presumably that stops there to pick passengers, are painted on the concrete awning. But none of the buses with those route numbers pass that road - in fact no bus passes through - or even through Ashok Nagar.
That was a dummy bus stop made for shooting when the film city was doing roaring business and was a tourist spot in the city. Well, even then it was not used for promoting higher education.