The Supreme Court order to raze down five residential complexes in Maradu Grama Panchayat near Kochi had kick-started a political storm in Kerala. Here is everything you need to know about the issue.
How did the apartments come up in Maradu?
The story begins in 2006, when the CPM-ruled Maradu Panchayat granted permission for the construction for five waterfront apartments -- Holiday Heritage, Kayaloram, Alfa Ventures, Holy Faith and Jain Housing -- overlooking the scenic canals of Kochi backwaters. The 343 flats in the five buildings cover an area of 68,028.71 sq mts.
But, just nine months after granting permission, the panchayat issued a notice to the builders following a directive by the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA).
Why did KCZMA object the construction?
The government body said the site fell under the CRZ-III vulnerable category where no construction is allowed within 200 metres from the coast. Any such act will be identified and acted upon as a violation of the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) rules.
It was also revealed that a directive issued by the KCZMA makes it mandatory for self-government bodies to obtain its clearance before approving constructions in coastal areas. But Maradu panchayat didn't forward any application to gain a CRZ permit for the five complexes.
What is CRZ?
The CRZ norms are framed under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles.
No construction is allowed within 200 metres from the coast in areas falling under CRZ-III zone while it is 50 metres from for CRZ-II.
How did the Supreme Court come into the picture?
The builders managed to get an interim stay order from the Kerala High Court in 2007 and finished the construction before starting selling the flats.
The KCZMA approached the Supreme Court in 2016 and argued the panchayat issued construction permit without their concurrence. The apex court formed a technical committee to study the issue - whose findings were in favour of the CZMP. On May 8, 2019, the Supreme Court declared the construction permission granted by the Panchayat "illegal" and ordered the demolition of the complexes. The court said CRZ violations should not be treated lightly in view of the natural calamities happening in different parts of the country.
Subsequently, the municipality served notices on all the residents of the five apartments asking them to vacate the flats by September 14. The flat owners, however, refused to vacate alleging that it was a violation of their rights to live.
What are the builders' arguments?
The construction was granted in 2006 when Maradu was a panchayat. However, it was upgraded a municipality in 2010. The builders claim that the building permit was granted before the Coastal Regulation Zone Act came into force. There was no CRZ mapping available when the project was sanctioned. The Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA), which was made a party in the case, never argued in the court the building permit issued by the panchayat was illegal, builders say.
Whose side is the state government on?
On September 21, the Kerala government filed an affidavit before the apex court stating that all steps have been taken to comply with the direction to demolish the complexes. The affidavit stated that the demolition process and disposal of debris required appropriate technology and machinery.
The Maradu Municipality invited expression of interest for controlled implosion of the four apartments. As many as 13 specialised agencies came forward.
An all-party meet convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on September 18, Wednesday, had decided to stand with Maradu flat owners and approach the Central Government for intervening in the issue. This has made the residents hopeful of a turn-around in the verdict.
Why is the demolition of the apartments problematic?
If the entire structure is demolished at one go without proper study and planning, it will result in larger ecological disaster, seriously affecting the environment and inhabitants of nearby places.
The method of demolition, if carried out, should be carefully decided in consultation with experts, though implosion by explosives seems most appropriate. Even so, it would be practically impossible to remove the foundation, especially with the 35m-deep cast-in-situ bored reinforced concrete piles expected under the buildings in Maradu.
This could also result in significant environmental impact, including air pollution caused by fine material over a radius of more than 1 km and noise pollution. The fine material and debris could even contaminate water bodies and set on the leaves of plants.