The honorable Supreme Court of India in September 2019 had directed the State Government of Kerala to demolish 4 residential complexes which were constructed on the lakeside facing Vembanad at Maradu, Kochi due to violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. The order was executed by the State Government by demolishing the said buildings by a controlled implosion. But, was this the right approach and does this solve anything?
In 2006, the then Maradu panchayath had given approvals to the respective builders namely Alfa Ventures Private Ltd, Holy Faith Builders & Developers, Jain Housing & Constructions and K P Varkey & Builders to construct the housing complexes at their current locations. However as per the Kerala Municipal Building norms, permissions for constructions in the Coastal Regulation Zone is to be given by Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority who is the competent authority to grant approval for construction within a CRZ area. The government had ordered the panchayath to withdraw the permission as the proper guideline to construct in a CRZ zone was not followed.
The first three builders however approached the High Court and secured interim stay and later a judgement in their favour. The builders completed the construction activities in the meantime and the flats were passed on to occupants. The Golden Kayaloram project was however completed about 20 years back. There was also a fifth builder, who rightly dropped the project in the initial stage itself when faced with legal issues.
The trouble began when the Coastal Management Authority approached the Supreme Court against the High Court order. The Supreme Court had ordered to demolish the illegally constructed flats. Though review petitions were filed by the builders, they were also rejected and directed the builders to pay the flat owners Rs. 25 lakhs as compensation.
Two of the four apartment complexes, the 18 storeyed H20 apartment complex housing 90 flats and Alfa Serene Complex with 73 flats were demolished using controlled implosion on 11th January 2019 by Mumbai based Edifice Engineering using about 555 kg of explosives. While the other two 17-storeyed residential buildings, Jain Coral Cove and Golden Kayaloram were demolished the day after, on 12th January 2019 by Chennai based Vijay Steels using about 387 kg of explosives. Oddly enough this move comes a day after the ASCEND Kerala 2020 – a Global Investors meet aimed at attracting investments to the state citing ease of doing business.
The obvious questions that are raised when such an exercise is carried out are:
- Why were the buildings given permissions in the first place?
- Why weren’t the concerned government departments taking actions in the meantime?
- Who were the officials responsible for the fiasco?
- Are the builders the only ones to blame or are the concerned authorities responsible too due to the lack of clarity among themselves?
- Was demolition necessary, given that families had already occupied flats?
- Wouldn’t the demolition of these completed flats in the midst populated area pose a greater risk to both property and the environment?
- What to do with the approximately hundred thousand tonnes of construction waste produced as a part of the demolition?
Though most of the above questions still remain unanswered, the bigger question that remains is “Was the decision to demolish the buildings the best one?” especially at such a later stage. There are approximately 600 other buildings which were identified as illegal and violating CRZ norms. Would these buildings share a similar fate too is something to be seen in the future.
On the financial side of things, the entire amount worth hundreds of crores spent by the builders in constructing and maintaining the complexes is now gone. The estimated cost of demolition works were at about Rs. 30 crores to be arranged by the municipality which is about 4 times the annual revenue it receives. As they are forced to carry out the order from the Supreme Court, the municipality finances are also expected to end in a turmoil. About Rs 56 crores were to be disbursed as initial compensation to the families by the builders. This would be no match to the kind of emotional stress the families had to go through.
Personally, I don’t feel that the decision taken to demolish the completed flats was the best one. The concerned authorities could have gone for alternative options, ones that would have a much lesser impacts on the 350 odd families residing there, but still sending a message strong enough to deter builders from bypassing these critical laws in the future. Also strict actions should have been taken against concerned authorities.
Environmental protection is indeed the need of the hour especially in Kerala on account of the recent flooding episodes of 2018 and 2019, however the current demolition might only add to degradation of the environment by explosives and disposal of construction wastes of this magnitude and can never undo the already caused impact if any through such an action. Especially when one of the building has been there for around 20 years
Image credits: Online Manorama.
The case of the Maradu demolition spree – one of the biggest in India, sends a strong message that those who violate critical norms would not be spared at any cost. Though the order was not well received by the affected parties as expected, the general public’s response have been positive to such a move. Let this be an example which will deter any kind of illegal construction activities by getting approvals through dubious ways in the future.
What do you think of the demolitions that took place at Maradu, Kochi? Do let me know in the comments below.