A VIP high-rise headed for thin air?

Chandigarh, June 19 (IANS) It could have been THE address, north of Chandigarh's upscale areas. However, even before the first brick for the controversial Tata Camelot housing project could be laid, the project is headed to becoming history with Punjab's influential politicians pulling out of it.

Cutting across party lines and ideologies, over 100 influential politicians had got together and formed the Punjab MLAs Cooperative House Building Society in 2001. The society partnered with the Tata Housing Development Company (THDC) in 2007 to set up a multistoreyed housing project in an ecologically fragile zone in adjoining Punjab, north of Chandigarh.

The project, which was to be a realty windfall for the politicos - with each one being promised over Rs 80 lakh and a 2,500 square feet apartment - is being shelved with the society floated by Punjab politicians working out modalities to cancel the contract.

Led by Punjab Assembly Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, a four-member committee went to Mumbai this week to discuss the pull-out from the project with THDC officials.

Former assembly speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon, who was part of the committee, said: "The committee went to Mumbai on behalf of the housing society members to speak to the company officials. After so many years, the project has not taken off. They have sought some time and have promised to send a team to Chandigarh soon to take a decision on this issue."

Another member of the society said that all members were of the opinion that the project should be shelved as it had failed to make any further ground.

Despite repeated attempts, THDC officials in Mumbai were not available for comment.

The society, comprising sitting and former legislators and ministers, had bought the land in the Kansal area of Punjab, north of Chandigarh. The society members were to get plots of 500 square yards each but they pooled their land for the partnership with THDC for the housing project. While the 100 society members were to benefit from the deal by way of huge cash and an apartment each, THDC was to sell the remaining 900 multi-tower, high-rise apartments in the open market, with each apartment costing a minimum of Rs.3 crore.

The THDC had offered luxury flats and penthouses to politicians from the Akali Dal, Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties in Punjab, in the 18 towers that were to be built.

However, the controversial project came under the scanner of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which stayed its construction in January 2011 since it was located close to the Sukhna Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.

The floors of some of the towers were to go as high as 23 floors - a thing unheard of for any building in and around Chandigarh.

The highest building in Chandigarh, the Punjab and Haryana secretariat complex in Sector 1 here, has 10 floors. It was designed by the city's founder-architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s.

Chandigarh city was conceptualised by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a symbol of the emerging, modern India in the post-independence era.

Making strict rules of construction in and around the city in its Master Plan, no construction activity was allowed by the planners in a 16 km area around the city.

The project was opposed by lawyers and conservationists, saying that it violated the very spirit of Chandigarh. They pointed out that given the influence of the politicians involved, the project got quick clearances from the Punjab government. There were allegations that the Punjab government bent rules to give a go-ahead to the project.

The then union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had sought an inspection report from officials.

Chandigarh, a union territory, is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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