While the Supreme Court has ordered the demolition of four apartments near Kochi for being constructed in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules, it had allowed the regularisation of a DLF property in Kochi, also accused of flouting CRZ norms, after imposition of Rs 1 crore as penalty.
On January 10 last year, a bench of R F Nariman and S K Kaul upheld the verdict of the division bench of Kerala High Court, which allowed the regularisation of the DLF apartment project with 185 units after imposing the fine for violation of CRZ norms.
The Supreme Court had then observed that the alleged violations had not emerged with clarity and that if the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) had acted promptly, the picture would have been clear. The findings of CRZ violations made by the high court were set aside, but the builder was asked to pay a fine of Rs 1 crore for having started construction without prior environmental clearance.
Although the DLF project is under the jurisdiction of Kochi Municipal Corporation and the four apartment projects slated for demolition come under the Maradu municipality, both projects are situated on the banks of Chilavannur lake. So are several other highrises.
In 2012, a single bench of Kerala High Court ordered that the DLF project be demolished after the apartment complex was found to have been constructed in violation of CRZ rules. A division bench in 2014 upheld the finding of the single bench regarding the CRZ violation, but said, “This court is of the view that causing demolition of the structure will be more detrimental than causing it to be retained; also with a view to lessen the probable additional damages to be caused to the environment in this regard. This in turn persuades this court to save demolition, however, making the builder to pay for the damage caused to the environment.’’
The division bench had also remarked that the state government or the KCZMA had not taken any action against other builders, whose structures were closer to the water body.
The bench then quoted a sub-committee report of KCZMA in 2012 which stated that several buildings have come up on the banks of Chilavannur in violation of the regulations. Those named in the report are two projects of Galaxy Developers, Heera Waters, Abad Lotus Lake, Rain Tree Realms, Ambadi Resorts, Golden Kayaloram, Jewel Homes, Pearl Garden View and Water Front Enclave.
Of these, Golden Kayaloram is one of the four apartments that have been ordered to be demolished now. No action has been taken against any of the other buildings by the local governing bodies or KCZMA.
Advocate Prakash Vadakkan, who was a member of KCZMA until June this year, said the sub-committee had found violations of CRZ rules and reclamation of water body along Chilavannur Lake. “Action would be taken against builders only if someone moves a complaint with the authority or the court.’’
Vadakkan said KCZMA acted against the four apartment complexes in Maradu and the DLF project following complaints from public. “When we got a complaint, we issued stop memos to builders. They then moved the high court to get the memos vacated. Hence, KCZMA became a respondent in the case, which has landed in the Supreme Court.’’
A local resident, A V Antony, had taken the DLF matter to the high court.
Cheshire Tarzen, who had impleaded in the petition against DLF in the high court, said, “Both cases show the different approaches of the court on the same issue. DLF had reclaimed 150 m of the lake. DLF violations are much more serious than the violations of the apartments at Maradu,’’ he said.
Vadakkan said KCZMA has no power to take action. “The authority issues direction about CRZ violations to the local governing bodies concerned. It is up to local bodies to issue stop memos.”
In the DLF case, the Supreme Court had flayed KCZMA, which had appealed against the high court verdict. “It has been a saga of a sleeping authority — not having an afternoon siesta but a Kumbhakarna sleep albeit of almost four years. On being woken up, it suddenly seeks to see various violations wanting to put the clock back.’’
How the two projects came under scanner, what happened next
* The DLF project came up in an area categorised as CRZ -I. The developer got building permit from Kochi Municipal Corporation and other government agencies in October 2007.
* Maradu, where the four apartments which the SC ordered to be demolished are located, has been under CRZ III category as per the coastal zone management plan of 1996. When building permits were granted in 2005-06, Maradu was a village panchayat, but a fast-developing urban area adjacent to Kochi.
* DLF moved application for environmental clearance a month after building permit was granted. DLF went ahead with the construction, thinking there was deemed clearance as there was no communication from KCZMA or others. In 2011, Centre for Earth Science Studies, which was asked to look into the issue by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, detected a fault. By then, construction had progressed.
* At Maradu, builders did not approach KCZMA for clearance and went ahead with the construction. The Maradu local body too did not bother.
* For DLF, trouble began in 2011 when A V Antony, who lives close to the project, complained to revenue department, which issued a stop memo. A KCZMA team visited the project and a committee was formed to look into it.
* For builders at Maradu, trouble began in 2007 when the vigilance wing of the town planning department detected anomalies in building permits and asked the panchayat to revoke all permits. KCZMA stepped in following a complaint from activist Cheshire Tarzen.
* Antony moved the high court against DLF in 2012, seeking demolition of the project. After a legal battle, a single bench ordered demolition, but a division bench stayed it and ordered a penalty for DLF. The Supreme Court, which upheld the division bench order, questioned Antony’s motive and KCZMA’s delay in taking action. It asked why Antony remained silent for five years and approached the court after the construction was over and why he singled out DLF when the area has several such projects.
* In the case of Maradu builders, the legal battle started in 2007 when they moved the high court against the panchayat’s stop memo. The single bench and division bench favoured the builders. Meanwhile, Maradu panchayat became a municipality and as per the CRZ draft notification of 2011 the area was brought under CRZ-II. But KCZMA moved the Supreme Court, which ordered the demolition.