Updated: September 1, 2021 1:47:12 am
The Supreme Court Tuesday directed demolition of two 40-storey towers of Supertech Ltd Group in NOIDA, comprising about 850 flats, finding that they flouted regulations regarding distance to be maintained between buildings and of fire safety. The court also held that the towers, in the National Capital Region, were constructed “through acts of collusion” between officials of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority) and the group, and gave the go-ahead for prosecuting them.
Upholding a ruling by the Allahabad High Court, the Court directed the two towers, Apex and Ceyane, in Supertech’s Emerald Court project, to be demolished within three months, with the expenses to be borne by the developer. Supertech will also refund all those who had purchased flats in the towers within two months at an annual interest rate of 12%, the Court said. Besides this, Supertech has been ordered to pay Rs 2 crore to the Residents’ Welfare Association of 15 other towers constructed as part of the original plan, which was then revised multiple times and the twin towers squeezed in.
A Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah held that the purpose of the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Area Development Act, 1976, and Uttar Pradesh Apartments Act, 2010, was to ensure protection of the environment and the well-being and safety of residents. Illegal construction has to be dealt with severely, the Bench said, adding “When these regulations are brazenly violated by developers, more often than not with the connivance of regulatory authorities, it strikes at the very core of urban planning, thereby directly resulting in an increased harm to the environment and a dilution of safety standards.”
Supertech had gone in appeal against the April 2014 High Court ruling that directed it to demolish the twin towers and sanctioned prosecution of the officials involved. The towers had been under construction when the High Court ruling had come, and the apex court had ordered a status quo.
The Court said “this case is replete with instances which highlight the collusion between the officers of NOIDA with the appellant and its management”, and “has revealed a nefarious complicity of the planning authority in the violation by the developer of the provisions of law”. The court found that they colluded “to avoid complying with the provisions of the applicable statutes and regulations for monetary gain, at the cost of the rights of the flat purchasers”.
The court rejected the argument by the NOIDA administration that the rules dealt with distance between “two adjacent building blocks” and that in the instant case, the two towers were part of one block. The administration also said that while the original plan comprised three towers per block, there being no definition of a building block in the rules, it was the discretion of the developer to determine whether one or more buildings should be treated as a building block.
The Bench, however, said that though the expression ‘building block’ had not been defined, “the construction which is placed upon the content of the expression must advance the object and purpose of the said Regulations”. “The purpose of stipulating a minimum distance is a matter of public interest in planned development. The residents who occupy constructed areas in a housing project are entitled to ventilation, light and air and adherence to fire safety norms. The purpose of stipulating a minimum distance comprehends several concerns. These include safeguarding the privacy of occupants and their enjoyment of basic civic amenities… Access to these amenities is becoming a luxury instead of a necessity. The prescription of a minimum distance also has a bearing on fire safety,” it said, adding that its definition therefore cannot be left to the unbridled discretion of the developer.
The Court also rejected NOIDA’s argument that the rules provide for an exception to the distance norms if the building blocks have dead-end sides facing each other.
The Bench questioned why, despite the clear terms of the supplementary lease deed under which additional land that was allotted under it was to form a part of the original plot, the communication addressed to the flat buyers of the existing 15 towers was that the new towers were completely independent.
The Court went on to express its anguish over the “rampant increase in unauthorized constructions across urban areas, particularly in metropolitan cities where soaring values of land place a premium on dubious dealings…” and said “this state of affairs has often come to pass in no small a measure because of the collusion between developers and planning authorities”.
As per PTI, Supertech submitted that out of 633 people who had booked the flats in the two towers initially, 133 had moved out, 248 had taken refund and 252 still had their bookings with the company in the project.
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