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Maradu flats demolition case: Supreme Court orders demolition of four buildings within 138 days

Directs Kerala govt to disburse Rs 25 lakh to owners as interim compensation; remaining amount to be decided by the committee set up to evaluate the total amount payable to residents as damages.

The Supreme Court on September 27 ordered demolition of the four residential buildings, comprising around 400 flats built on the coastal zone of Kochi's Maradu area, and directed the Kerala government to disburse Rs 25 lakh each as interim compensation to each of the homeowners within four weeks.

The court fixed the matter for further hearing on October 25.

The apex court has directed that the Kerala government pay Rs 25 lakh to each of the residents of the four apartment blocks within a month and that the money be recoverable from the builders or promoters. A committee would also be set up comprising a retired High Court judge, technical expert and a civil engineer to oversee demolition and assess the total amount to be paid as damages to the home owners, legal sources said.

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Vandana Ramnani
Vandana Ramnani
Associate Editor, Real Estate|Moneycontrol News

    A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhat directed freezing of assets of builders and promoters who were involved in the construction of the four illegal buildings in Kochi.

    At the onset, senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Kerala government, suggested that the residents would be evacuated from the towers but  the four buildings should be allowed to remain but the court struck down the suggestion, saying that its order was not intended to evacuate people but to stop illegal constructions and CRZ violations.

    "We do not want Maradu residents to be left in dire straits. Our primary concern is illegal constructions in CRZ areas and the natural disasters that follow. The flats have to be demolished. If the Kerala government cannot do it, we will get it done through someone else at your cost. We cannot let illegalities continue," said Justice Arun Mishra.

    Salve asked for 120 days to pull down the four apartment blocks in Maradu to which the court said that the residents would have to be compensated immediately. "These residents should have some shelter. They should get compensation at the earliest," the court said.

    On September 23, the court had slammed the Kerala Chief Secretary for not complying with orders to demolish the complexes. Citing the loss of lives during the recent floods, the Supreme Court on September 23 said it was ‘shocked’ that illegal construction of multi-storey buildings was being allowed in Kerala’s coastal zones and made it clear that it would fix responsibility on officials permitted such contructions.

    "We are really shocked. What action has the state government taken against illegal constructions? If some disaster happens in the coastal zones, the families residing in the buildings will be the first ones to get affected. Your officers should be held responsible," the Supreme Court bench said.

    Justice Arun Mishra, while hearing the matter relating to the demolition of housing units in restricted zones CRZ zones in Maradu, Kochi, Kerala, had told Kerala chief secretary Tom Jose, “You are in patent breach of law. Your attitude is of defiance.”

    "Have you any idea how many people have died due to floods and devastation caused to the environment. You are playing with nature. Thousands of people have died in devastation. How many houses have you built for victims. Yet illegal structures continue to come up in coastal areas," the bench told the Chief Secretary of the state.

    The bench had said the conduct of the chief secretary was of defiance. "What is happening there we know. We will fix responsibility on those responsible. This is a colossal loss.  It's a high tide area and hundreds of illegal structures have come up in the coastal zone", the bench said.

    It said the Chief Secretary has not indicated in his affidavit as to how much time is needed to comply with apex court order. In an affidavit, the chief secretary of Kerala had assured the top court that its order would be complied with and the process for selecting a specialised agency for "controlled implosion" to demolish the buildings is underway.

    On September 26, power and water supply lines of the complexes were disconnected a day after the Kerala State Electricity Board pasted notice on the walls of the four complexes in Maradu municipality informing residents about its decision.

    Water supply was also stopped a few hours later.

    Meanwhile, residents of the four complexes have refused to leave the flats and intensified their agitation against human rights violations.

    Acting on the complaints of flat owners, police has also registered FIRs against three builders, who constructed apartments in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone rules and have frozen around 60 bank accounts of the three builders who constructed the apartment complexes violating CRZ rules in Maradu municipal area, local reports said.

    The Supreme Court bench had on September 6 directed the Kerala government to file a compliance report by September 20, failing which the chief secretary would have to appear before the court on September 23.  The chief secretary Tom Jose was personally present before the bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Ravindra Bhatt.

    As per the Supreme Court order dated May 8, the four residential complexes in the picturesque Maradu area in Kochi, Kerala, housing around 400 residents, had to be brought down after the court decided that their construction had violated the stringent Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) norms.

    In July, the Supreme Court had dismissed the review petitions filed by builders. Alpha Ventures Pvt Ltd, Holy Faith Builders and Developers Ltd, Jain Housing and Construction, KV Jose.  It had earlier refused the plea of residents to reconsider the order directing the authorities to demolish the complexes in Maradu near the backwaters of Ernakulum.

    The demolition order was passed in May following submission of a report by a three-member committee appointed by the court that had said that the constructions in the area came up when the area was a designated CRZ III area where such constructions are not permitted. The court had noted that the local panchayat had granted the building permits without the mandatory permission by the Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA).

    The legal case is as old as 2006.  Construction had started in 2006 following granting of permits by Maradu Grama Panchayat which is now a municipality. Later, citing CRZ violations, the panchayat issued a showcause notice to builders revoking the building permit. This was challenged in the Kerala High Court which stayed the notice. The Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority or KCZMA later moved the Supreme Court in 2016 stating that the area fell under CRZ III where construction is not allowed within 200 metres from the coast.

    In July, the top court had dismissed a plea filed by the four real estate developers seeking a review of its May 8 order that was passed after taking note of a report of a three-member committee. The committee said that when the buildings were built, the area was already notified as a CRZ and construction was prohibited. The court declared the permission granted by the panchayat as ‘illegal’ and ordered the demolition of the complexes. The court also noted that CRZ violations could not be taken lightly in view of the recent floods in the state.

    The SC had earlier set September 20 as the deadline for the demolition.

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    First Published on Sep 27, 2019 01:23 pm
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