KOCHI: Vembanad backwaters may still flow smoothly through Maradu but are muddy in certain areas, just like the lives of owners of the demolished flat complexes and residents nearby whose fate changed drastically on this day last year.
On January 11 and 12 last year, four apartment complexes that housed 350 flats were razed following the Supreme Court verdict for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms.
The debris has since been cleared from all four plots, but the sorrows and frustrations of the affected people still linger.
“The demolition will remain as a glaring example of injustice. What have we achieved out of the process? It was a judgment which has done injustice to everybody; including the environment,” said Varghese C M, Golden Kayaloram Residents Association president.
While many of them were forced to migrate to other locations to live in rented rooms, a few shifted to their relative’s homes. “My mother Shanthamma Pillai, 93, and I shifted to a temporary rented home after vacating our flat in Holy Faith H2O. Later, we moved to my house in Thiruvananthapuram,” said Maya Prem Mohan, daughter of Shanthamma Pillai who had the luck to meet Mahatma Gandhi during the Independence movement.
It’s not just the loss of their beloved homes, the insufficient compensation has also made things difficult for many families to move on. “Apart from the initial compensation of `25 lakh, we haven’t received a single penny announced by the technical committee led by Justice Balakrishnan Nair. It seems the builders want to pay the bare minimum amount to the families. When government officials, who had approved the apartment construction plans, live freely, we are left with a life full of uncertainties,” said Isaac K Pattaniparambil, who was a resident of Holy Faith H2O.
Echoing a similar sentiment, residents near all four apartment complexes point out that they have been misled by the officials. “The one-year insurance cover given by the state government will end on Monday. None of us has received any financial assistance from the scheme yet. Even the small repair works took umpteen visits to the officials. Starting from cleaning the house within hours of demolition, several promises were made then. While a couple of us received some help, many still live under leaking roofs,” said Harischandrasai, a resident who lives close to the plot of Alfa Serene apartment towers.
Many of the former residents allege that even after razing the flats, the municipal officials are not accepting property tax for the vacant plots. “As the residents’ associations own the plots, we have collectively approached the municipality to pay the property tax to maintain the land. But the officials turned down our request citing Supreme Court cases,” said Varghese.
Meanwhile, many say the government has double standards on similar issues. “Right before the demolition, there were reports that the government is moving ahead with the decision to raze Capico resorts in Alappuzha. Have we witnessed any action after that?,” said George Kovoor, who owned a flat in Jains Coral Cove.
Meanwhile, the new Maradu municipal council has sought government approval to distribute compensation to residents nearby. ‘‘Though there were talks about reconstructing the apartments in the areas, we will only approve their request after getting clearance from the apex court,” said Antony Ashanparambil, chairman, Maradu Municipality.
What builders say
As the court has frozen the properties of all four builders after demolition, they claim that last year has been a stagnant period. “Although no court has called us ‘culpable builders,’ we have been hit badly by the demolition. Both flat owners and builders became victims of the lackadaisical approach of officials in implementing the rules. As our accounts and properties are frozen, we couldn’t even complete our ongoing projects. Though our office is still functioning, it only assists the flat owners in legal formalities,” said Sany Francis, builder of Holy Faith H2O apartment.Now, both residents and builders are eagerly waiting for the judgment of the Supreme Court bench led by Justice Rohington Nariman.
Coastal mgmt draft plan ready
As part of the legal process over the CRZ violations across the state, the government has started redrawing the coastal management plan as per 2019 CRZ law amendments which will have a lasting impact on the alleged violations in the state. The National Centre for Earth Science Studies has already completed the process in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kasaragod. As per the draft, the distance from the water body where construction can be allowed will be reduced from 200 metres to 20 metres on islands that come under CRZ-III. Structures with a height of maximum nine metres will be permitted in such areas. Following the finalisation, the plan will be published for public hearing. The new plan is expected to provide relief to the families who are living in coastal areas of the state.