Kerala’s ruling LDF government has finally moved to implement the Supreme Court’s directions on demolishing the four apartment complexes in Kochi that were built in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. The state’s additional chief secretary gave directives late Sunday to the secretary of the Maradu municipality, the concerned local body, to go ahead with evacuating the residential building complexes and invite tenders to find an agency that can safely demolish the buildings.
The government move came after the top court on September 6 issued an ultimatum to demolish the buildings by September 20 and file a compliance report. The state chief secretary has been asked to be present in court when the case comes up for hearing on September 23. The bench chaired by Justice Arun Mishra had come down hard on the government, going on to comment orally that Kerala is ‘known for not following the orders of this Court.
The top court had passed the judgment originally on May 8, issuing orders to the local body and the government to take down four apartment complexes — Alfa Serene, Holy Faith H2O, Golden Kayaloram and Jain Housing, consisting of around 350 flats located on the banks of water channels connected to the Vembanad backwaters. Since then, review petitions presented before the SC by the owners of the flats, pleading that their side has not been heard before the verdict, were quashed. The court relief upon the findings of an expert committee that submitted a report stating that the area, in which the buildings stood, fell under CRZ III as per which no construction is allowed within 200 metres of the coastal line.
The builders of the flats were given the go-ahead for construction in 2005-06 by the Maradu municipality, which was at the time, still a panchayat.
Crucial meetings on Monday
Officials of the local Maradu municipality conducted a meeting with Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas Monday morning on the way forward. Suhas later told reporters that the district administration will follow the orders of the state government and extend all help to the municipality to carry out the demolition.
The municipality officials will also conduct its own meeting of the steering committee to plan the steps forward, including putting out a tender to find an agency for the demolition, as well as locating the financial resources for the same. The municipality, on its own, will not have the financial strength to carry out the demolition and is seeking funds to the tune of Rs 30 crore.
Chief Secretary Tom Jose is expected to visit the four apartment complexes on Monday and later hold a meeting with the municipality officials. Rehabilitation measures will have to taken for the residents of the flats, many of whom are aged pensioners, retired officials and even young men who have bought the flats at exorbitant interest rates from banks.
‘Miscarriage of justice’
Varghese, one of the residents at the Golden Kayaloram, said that the apartment owners will file a curative petition before the top court as a last resort to get their side heard.
“Nobody from the lowest court to the highest court of the land has heard us. It’s a total miscarriage of justice,” he said.
Varghese claimed that in the case of the Golden Kayaloram, he discovered through an RTI reply that no file exists on the CRZ case against the apartment, either with the Maradu municipality or the KCZMA, and that the apartment got wrongly clubbed together with the others. “Technically, SC has found us as a violator, but on a false case, without any evidence or basis,” he added.
Another apartment owner, who bought one of the flats for Rs 44 lakhs after retiring from an insurance company, said there’s no clarity among the residents on what to do if their homes were to be demolished.
“Most of us are old and retired. Buying another home is very difficult. Our existing loans are still pending,” he said.
“Where will we go? We can only pray that this (demolition) doesn’t go through,” he added.
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