The razing of four apartment complexes at Maradu near Kochi for violating the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules turned out to be a big spectacle, with onlookers cheering each collapse and the media and authorities hailing the “perfect job” by demolishers. What, however, got drowned in the euphoria was the pain of the people who once called these buildings home. These people, who bought the flats with their hard-earned money, had to move out after it became clear there was no other option and watch helplessly as the structures were brought down through controlled implosions. They paid the price for the mistakes of others.
The Maradu episode is an example of how illegal constructions can destroy lives and why they shouldn’t be allowed at all in the first place. The fact that more than 300 families were deprived of their homes makes it necessary to ask how these buildings were allowed to come up when it was clear from the beginning that they didn’t pass the CRZ test. A Union Environment Ministry report says there are 66 high-rises—including hotels and hospitals—in Kerala that were built in violation of CRZ rules. A verification done in 2014 by the Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority revealed more than 2,000 violations along the coast. The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Kerala High Court order to demolish 59 villas in Alappuzha for the same reason. At least 200 Maradu-like cases are pending in courts.
The demolition can indeed serve as a warning to builders and would have sent shivers down the spines of those whose illegal buildings are still standing. After being informed of the demolition, the SC said action must be taken against builders and officials responsible for the mess. But demolitions are not the most ideal way to stop illegal constructions. Instead, the focus should be on tightening enforcement of norms, ending corruption in the building sanction and approval process, and punishing violators. That will also protect homebuyers from falling into the trap set by greedy builders and officials.