But political parties have come together to support the NRI residents of these apartments
Protests against the Supreme Court’s order to demolish five waterfront buildings at Maradu Municipality in Kochi by September 20, which has been built by violating coastal zone regulations in 2006, is garnering momentum and support.
Ignoring an eviction notice slapped by Maradu Municipality, mainstream political parties, including Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Indian National Congress have come forward in support of the residents.
While Oommen Chandy, the leader of INC and former Kerala chief minister, has demanded an all-party petition team to be sent immediately to approach the Supreme Court to find a solution, CPM State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has voiced his party’s support for protesting residents.
Balakrishnan termed the Supreme Court verdict as cruel and ruthless. He called the verdict a violation of basic human rights.
Participating in a public protest meeting organised on the premises of the property named Holy Faith H2O, he said that CPM has always been supportive of the landless and homeless and the government will do all that it can, within legal limits.
The municipality’s eviction notice, dated on September 10, states that residents should move out in order to start demolishing buildings from Monday.
The deadline for eviction has been set for 5 pm on Saturday.
However, on Saturday, the owners of Maradu flats told the media that they are not willing to move out from the building no matter what.
According to the law, 15 days’ time shall be allowed to evict any residential building. The flat owners pointed out that the municipality’s notice demanding to evict the flats in five days is in violation of rules.
Around 1200 people, mainly non-resident Indians, are residing in the five luxury apartments.
After a long legal battle in multiple courts for 13 years, citing coastal regulation zone norms, the Supreme Court had issued an ultimatum on September 06 to the Kerala government to raze the five luxury apartments, Holiday Heritage, Holy Faith, Jain Housing, Kayaloram Apartment and Alpha Ventures by September 20.
In its order on May 08, the Supreme Court division bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, said permission granted by the panchayat to build the flats were illegal and void.
"No such development activity could have taken place. In view of the findings of the Enquiry Committee, let all the structures be removed forthwith within a period of one month from today (May 8, 2019) and compliance be reported to this Court."
The Supreme Court initiated a suo moto case against the state government for not complying with its May 08 verdict and issued the ultimatum.
In all, there are around 1200 people residing in the five flats, which were built on the banks of Vembanad lake and Wetland, which is included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands.
On September 19, 2006, the gram panchayat issued building permits to four companies - Alpha Ventures Private Limited, Holy Faith Builders and Developers Limited, Jain Housing and Construction, and KV Jose – to build five apartment complexes.
Nine months after issuing the permission, the Maradu gram panchayat, following a directive from the Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority (KSCZMA), issued a show-cause notice to the builders alleging that they had violated the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules.
KSCZMA is the empowered authority to deal with environmental issues related to the CRZ.
It found that the construction was taking place in critically vulnerable coastal areas, which come under CRZ-III category.
In CRZ-III area, no construction is allowed within 200 metres from the coast. However, in CRZ-II zone, works are allowed beyond 50 metres from the coast.
However, in reply to the notice, the builders approached the Kerala High Court and they got an interim stay order, which helped them to continue the construction.
After fighting the case in Kerala High Court, the Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority finally approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court heard the case in detail and instituted a three-member committee to hear the objections and to give a finding in terms of CRZ Notification in 1991.
The committee found that the Maradu gram panchayat had violated the CRZ rules.
The committee found that the existing Coastal Zone Management Plan in Kerala was approved in 1996 and according to it, Maradu, which includes the locations of the buildings, falls in the CRZ-III category.
However, in 2019, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had issued a notice bringing the Maradu under CRZ-II from CRZIII.
The builders had placed their hopes on the fact that the location of the buildings is now in CRZ-II as per the KSCZMA, where construction is legal.
And the builders also argued in the court that change to CRZ-II was enabled through an amendment in 2018 which allows the government to give post-facto clearance for activities that are otherwise permissible.
The apex court, however, was not convinced by that argument and the court said the question was whether the constructions were legal when they were made, not whether they are legal now.
The Supreme Court said that the decision of this Court in Piedade Filomena Gonsalves vs State of Goa [(2004) 3 SCC 445] has also been relied upon which explains the significance of CRZ notifications in the interest of protecting environment and ecology in the coastal area and the construction raised in violation of the regulations cannot be lightly condoned.
“The construction activities of the respondent builders are on the shores of the backwaters in Ernakulam in which supports exceptionally large biological diversity and constitutes one of the largest wetlands in India. The area in which the respondents have carried out construction activities is part of the tidally influenced water body and the construction activities in those areas are strictly restricted under the provisions of the CRZ Notifications,” the court said, adding that uncontrolled construction activities in these areas would have devastating effects on the natural water flow that may ultimately result in severe natural calamities.
Quoting expert opinions, the Supreme Court said that the devastating floods faced by Uttarakhand in recent years and Tamil Nadu this year are the immediate result of uncontrolled construction activities on river shores and unscrupulous trespass into the natural path of backwaters.
The Supreme Court also said that the Coastal Zone Management Plan has been prepared to check these types of activities and construction activities of all types in the notified areas and the High Court has ignored the significance of approved CZMP.
“However, it would be open to the applicant to claim compensation from the promotor/builder in accordance with law in appropriate proceedings,” the court added.
Meanwhile, quoting Chief Secretary Tom Jose The Hindu reported that Kerala is looking at various ‘ways and means’ to implement the Supreme Court order to demolish four Maradu flats ‘without hurting anyone’.