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A view of the Parvathy Puthanar canal
A view of the Parvathy Puthanar canal|Photo credit: The Hindu
Governance

How To Sell Part Of A Canal To A Powerful Corporate

A division of the Parvathy Puthanar canal built by the Travancore queen has been ‘sold’ to Lulu Mall in Kerala

Special Correspondent

Special Correspondent

A social activist in Kerala is fighting a case in Kerala High Court against the state government for reportedly ‘selling a division’ of man-made canal Parvathy Puthanar in Thiruvananthapuram to the Regional Director of Lulu Mall without the knowledge of the Coastal Shipping and Inland Navigation Department.

“Sourced documents reveal that Lulu Mall International Pvt Ltd is owning the ‘land’ with survey number 1890/1. Interestingly, Parvathy Puthanar canal’s survey number is 1890. How could this happen? And a few other documents also reveal that Lulu is paying tax for the same too,” MK Salim, who is currently fighting the case, told The Lede in an exclusive interview.

A certificate (in possession with The Lede) issued by Kadakampally Village Office in Thiruvananthapuram on August 8, 2016, reveals that plot with survey number 1890/1 belongs to Lulu Mall International Pvt Ltd.

Possession certificate by Lulu Mall
Possession certificate by Lulu Mall

Encroachment Found

Additionally, a letter sent to Advocate General on 30 August 2019, by the Executive Engineer of Inland Navigation Division says that on the basis of documents submitted by SR Joy, Regional Director of Lulu Shopping Mall International Pvt Ltd, an examination done by Assistant Engineer has found encroachment of Parvathy Puthanar canal.

Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to the Advocate General Page 01
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to the Advocate General Page 01
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to the Advocate General Page 02
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to the Advocate General Page 02

The letter reads that the Tahsildar has been informed about the encroachment and was requested to do demarcation of the area and the District Collector had also been requested to do the survey urgently.

Lulu is building a multi-storey shopping mall and hotel worth Rs 1000 crore adjacent to the Parvathy Puthanar in Akkulam, Thiruvananthapuram.

The Parvathy Puthanar runs through the west coast of the Trivandrum District, which was named after Rani Parvathi Bai, the then queen of Travancore when it was created.

It was made primarily for connecting the Travancore capital to Kadinamkulam, the Vamanapuram River and finally to Kochi.

And interestingly, the canal was recently declared a part of the West Coast Canal which forms the National Waterway 3 (NW-III).

The letter also states that “while going through the documents submitted by the Regional Director, Lulu Mall, it has been noticed that vide Thandaper 4802, the land comprised in survey 1890 /1 having an extent of 4.45 acres belongs to Director M/s Lulu Thiruvananthapuram. But the survey number 1890 pertains to Parvathy Puthanar. The facts were informed to the Tahsildar and requested complete the survey and demarcate area urgently.”

SEIAA Questioned

The letter from Inland Navigation also ‘questions’ that State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) finding that the project is out of CRZ III category and lies within the 100 metre High Tide Line (HTL) from the lake (Aakkulam).

The Executive Engineer adds in the letter that the project land lies adjacent to the Parvathy Puthanar canal, which is part of the state Kovalam-Kollam Waterway.

“The canal is currently 25 m wide. The government has decided to widen it by 35 m. And the work is done by Kerala Waterways Infrastructure Limited. These facts were reported to SEIAA on Aug 17 and Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority on Aug 21,” the letter reads.

Meanwhile, Salim alleges that State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) has erred in issuing a certificate to the Lulu Mall International Pvt Ltd to build a mall of such a size.

In the court hearing, Lulu had produced an Environmental Clearance Certificate from SEIAA based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2006 that they had a green signal to go ahead with the project under certain conditions.

Dumping Waste

Additionally, a letter sent by the Executive Engineer from Inland Navigation Division from Kollam on 21 August 2019, to the Member Secretary of the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) states that a complex (Lulu project) is being built bordering the Parvathy Puthanar.

“Construction work is going on in the site and some encroachments were noticed in that area as boundary wall of the project is built inside the canal area and all wastes are dumped into the canal area,” the letter reads.

Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to Member Secretary, KCZMA Page 01
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to Member Secretary, KCZMA Page 01
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to Member Secretary, KCZMA Page 02
Letter from Executive Engineer, Inland Navigation Division to Member Secretary, KCZMA Page 02

Category B Or B1?

The SEIAA clearance certificate reveals that the Lulu Mall Thiruvananthapuram project falls under Category B.

According to Environment Impact Assessment norms, all projects and activities are broadly categorised into two categories - Category A and Category B, based on the spatial extent of potential impacts and potential impacts on human health and natural and man-made resources.

All projects or activities included as Category ‘A’ in the Schedule, including expansion and modernisation of existing projects or activities and change in product mix, shall require prior environmental clearance from the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on the recommendations of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to be constituted by the central government.

And all projects or activities included as Category ‘B’ in the Schedule, including expansion and modernisation of existing projects or activities will require prior environmental clearance from the State/Union territory Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).

Interestingly, Environmental Clearance 156/2016 documents that the SEIAA has given nod to the Lulu project [Commercial Complex (Hotel, Convention Centre and Shopping Mall)] under Category B Section 8a, which is building and construction projects ranging between 150,000 sq m and 200,000 sq m built up area.

According to the central government notification, the term “built up area” is the built up or covered area on all the floors put together including its basement and other service areas, which are proposed in the building or construction projects.

And 8(b) includes Townships and Area Development projects covering an area ranging between 50 hectares and 150,000 sq m built up area.

A project of Township and Area Development Projects covered under this item shall require an Environment Assessment report and be apprised as Category ‘B1’ Project.

Lulu Mall Thiruvananthapuram has a total built up area of 232,400 sq m, which should technically fall under Category B1 and the Townships and Area Development projects.

Green Rating

Strangely enough, the SEIAA based its nod on a rating certificate from the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). SEIAA analysed the CRZ norms and provided Environmental Clearance to the Lulu Mall Thiruvananthapuram project simply based on the IGBC report.

The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) is part of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

According to IGBC, pre-certification is awarded to a project based on the green measures considered during design.

And in a disclaimer note in its own website IGBC states that it is not responsible for the promises / declarations made by developer / owner to their end users / buyers.

“The IGBC pre-certification project needs to submit for final Certification after actual implementation of the envisaged measures. The IGBC precertification is valid only for 3 years. It is mandatory to submit six monthly project updates till final certification. The final award is based on the site verification by IGBC Team and actual implementation of envisaged green measures. (Applicable to all IGBC rating systems),” the IGBC website states.

The website also adds the IGBC Final Certification is valid for 3 years and thereafter, the project needs to submit for renewal, which is applicable to all IGBC rating systems.

CRZ Norms

And on the CRZ (Coastal Zone Regulations) norms, the SEIAA’s Environmental Clearance (EC) states that Lulu had produced a study from Anna University’s Institute of Remote Sensing department.

According to CRZ 2019 amendment, there are two CRZ III categories, A and B.

CRZ-III A are densely populated rural areas with a population density of 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census.

Such areas shall have a No Development Zone (NDZ) of 50 meters from the High Tide Line as against 200 meters from the High Tide Line stipulated in the CRZ Notification, 2011 since such areas have similar characteristics as urban areas.

And CRZ-III B areas with population density of below 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census. Such areas shall continue to have a No Development Zone of 200 meters from the High Tide Line.

Anna University

In 2016, Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority 75th meeting decided to provide permission to build construction outside the CRZ subject to conditions - like no construction in the No Development Zone and no reclamation and land modification, if any, in the same.

“The site lies outside the CRZ III area. The CRZ is marked as CRZ II area in the CRZ status report prepared by Anna University. As per CRZ Notification 2011, no construction of hotel, convention centre or shopping mall will be permitted within NDZ of CRZ II area in the CRZ status report prepared by Anna University,” the decision read.

Interestingly, in 2017, the same Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority had taken a decision to blacklist Anna University’s IRS department from conducting CRZ surveys.

The 90th meeting of the Authority took the decision after finding that the reports prepared by the IRS in many cases were inconsistent with the ground reality and in conflict with the ones prepared by the National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS).

Upkeep And CSR

While approving the project following CRZ norms, the SEIAA has said that the No Development Zone (NDZ) of CRZ III should be maintained properly with green landscaping and the upkeep and maintenance of Thiruvnanthapuram-Shoranur Canal (which includes the Parvathy Puthanar canal) stretch traversed by the project site shall be taken up by proponent (Lulu) as their CSR activity pertaining to their project.

Interestingly, Kerala Waterways and Infrastructures Ltd (KWIL), an SPV formed by the state government and Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL), has been entrusted with the canal development at a cost of Rs 150 crores.

As per the proposal, the 18.5 km Kovalam-Akkulam Lake stretch had to be developed in the first phase and made navigable with minimum land acquisition.

MA Yusuff Ali, who is the chairman and managing director of LuLu Group International, is also the one of directors of CIAL under which KWIL comes.

KCZMA’s 90th meeting in 2017, had named Yusuff Ali and a few others as CRZ norms violators.

While naming many, the minutes read that the major CRZ Violation listed out by Vigilance & Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) are MA Yusuff Ali and his wife Sabira Yusuff Ali.

Galaxy Developers (owned by AA Jains), Heera Constructions of KP Satheesh, Ambady Retreats, Jewel Homes (owned by PA Jihas), Galaxy Homes (owned by AA Jains), Perals Garden, Property of Cyril Paul and Nisha C Paul, Galaxy Clifford, DLF Builders, Abad Lotus Lake (owned by MC Basil), Rain Tree Realms, Blue lagoon, Golden Kayaloram, Hotel Crowne Plaza, Property of MK Kalyanikutty Amma and llegal land reclamation by cine actor Jayasurya in the Chilavanoor lake are some of the others named.

The minutes also read that the action taken by KCZMA on the above said projects and a detailed Plan of Action Report in this regard may be discussed in detail.

Meanwhile, on 13 September 2019, The Hindu reported that files related to CRZ violations by builders and industrialists have gone missing in Kerala.

Based on an RTI response, The Hindu reported that “the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) had conceded in June this year that files related to as many as 16 major violations were not available with it,” the report said.

The report added that with no files related to the CRZ violations in its possession, the authority has not acted on these violations for years together.

On Monday, the Supreme Court slammed Kerala government’s Chief Secretary Tom Jose saying – “You are in patent breach of law. Your attitude is of defiance” - for not complying with orders to demolish the four complexes at Maradu, Kochi, which were built by violating CRZ norms.

“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 adding that it will pass a detailed order on September 27 regarding the demolition of around 400 flats in Ernakulum’s Maradu area.

Following this criticism from the Supreme Court, the state government has stepped up its plans for demolishing the apartments and an order has been issued by the General Administration department giving the Sub Collector of Kochi the additional charge of Secretary, Maradu Municipality to carry out the task of demolition.

As the apartment owners are refusing to vacate their homes, the Municipality has asked Kerala State Electricity Board and other service providers to disconnect their supply lines. KSEB has been asked to disconnect the power supply before September 27.

The authorities were of the view that the disconnection of service lines would force owners to vacate their premises without any protest, thereby averting a law and order situation.