The American-based realtor was building offices, mall and hotel levelling a ‘wetland’ leased for 90 years to the company
A downtown project under construction, spread over 21 acres, which includes a wetland and a pond, with a special economic zone and a non-special economic zone in Thiruvananthapuram, has hit a roadblock.
The Rs 1500 crore project is part of the Phase III expansion of Technopark, India’s first IT park set up in 1990, in Kerala.
The land has been leased to Taurus for 90 years. And upon completion, the downtown area will consist of Embassy Taurus TechZone, a 33 lakh sq ft IT space, Taurus Zentrum, a 12 lakh sq ft retail space, a 315-room serviced apartment Asset Taurus Identity and a 200-room business hotel.
However, in favour of a Thiruvananthapuram-based environmentalist, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea filed by US-based realtor Taurus which had sought to remove a stay order delivered on June 04 by the same.
“The realtors were filling a part of Veli-Aakkulam wetland with mud to build a special economic zone building, a mall, and a 200-key hotel. This was done by violating Kerala’s Conservation of Paddy and Wetland Act 2008. So, I went to the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court,” Thomas Lawrence told The Lede in an exclusive interview.
“In 2010 itself ISRO had mapped that Veli-Aakulam wetland in the National Wetland Atlas. When Taurus approached the government seeking permission to convert the wetland to dry land, the local agriculture officer inspected the land and submitted a report that if the land is converted, then it would be harmful to the environment,” Thomas said.
The agriculture officer’s report was submitted to the revenue department, seeking stopping of the reclamation of land. Upon this, the chief secretary of Kerala sent a letter to the Thiruvananthapuram district collector asking whether the site can be converted under Section 10 of the Kerala Paddy and Wetland Act.
Under Section 10, the government may grant exemption from the provisions of this Act, if conversion or reclamation is essential for any public purpose.
And no exemption shall be granted by the government unless the local level monitoring committee has recommended the conversion or reclamation and the government is satisfied on the basis of the report submitted by the state level committee, that no alternate land is available and such conversion or reclamation shall not adversely affect the cultivation of paddy in the adjoining paddy land and also the ecological conditions in that area.
“Interestingly, the agriculture officer and a 12-member panel who had the say in this, had denied conversion of the site. But who listens? The district collector issued an order on 19 Jan 2018, to convert the land. Here the government saw this land as a paddy land, which can be converted for a public purpose. But the fact is that this is a wetland and it is not being converted for public purpose either,” Thomas said.
“The state government exempted some survey numbers in the worksite from the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2008, as per an order issued in 2018. The exemption was given for 34 cents allotted to Winterfell Realty Pvt Ltd, an Indian subsidiary of Taurus. The area was marked paddy field in the land data register,” Thomas said adding that with that conversion of 34 cents of land, the rest was converted.
In May 2018, the sub-collector had told the district collector that the land is watery.
In September 2018, the agriculture officer again wrote that filling mud for construction in the marshy and watery land will lead to flooding in the area.
Following the construction in the area, most often, houses in the area get flooded in heavy rains.
And at the end of 2018, the minor irrigation department had issued a ‘stop work’ memo to the Technopark citing rerouting of a natural drain in the worksite.
“A No Objection Certificate was required. And it was not sought. The irrigation department issued a notice and then wrote to the district collector too. Meanwhile, I approached the National Green Tribunal. The Green Tribunal told the district collector to look into the issue,” Thomas said.
Again, the agriculture officers inspected the area. They wrote to the revenue department about the dangers. The district collector was appraised about the situation. Despite various reports and recommendations, the district collector wrote to Thomas stating that no action could be taken, which forced Thomas to approach the NGT again and then the Supreme Court for justice.
The Lede reached out to the then district collector who accorded permission for the project but is yet to receive a response.
Sanjeev SJ, president of Environmental Protection and Research Council, told The Lede that this is a big victory for the people.
“Such verdicts instil faith in the judiciary system. These people were trying to kill our mother nature. If allowed, they would have caused an irreversible loss. I am thankful that the court has stopped this daylight robbery,” Sanjeev, who was also part of the legal fight, told The Lede.
The Lede wrote to Taurus for a response on the Supreme Court order but did not receive a response. This report will be updated as and when the firm responds.
The Framework Agreement for Taurus Downtown Technopark was signed on 30 September 2015, by then Congress chief minister Oommen Chandy.
And the project was launched by the current chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in October 2018.
The chief minister said the project contributes to the government’s plan to expand the IT park space in Kerala from 1.3 crore sq ft to 2.3 crore sq ft and to provide 2.5 lakh direct jobs, besides increasing software exports and attracting investors to the state by 2020.
It is doubtful now, whether this will happen.