New Delhi: In a landmark verdict to rein in marauding real estate developers encroaching upon eco-sensitive coastal belt, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the demolition of around 350 flats in five highrises built in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms in Maradu municipality limits in Kerala's Ernakulam district.
The apex court also ordered the Maradu municipality officials to raze the flats within one month's time and submit a report before the court.
According to the court order, around 350 units of Alpha Ventures apartments' double-flat complex at Nettoor, Holy Faith's H2O towers at Kundannoor, Holiday Heritage's Kettezhethu Kadavu Jain Coral Cove and Golden Kayaloram will be razed to the ground. All these towers are situated within 10km radius of Kochi city.
The officials concerned will have to submit the report to the SC after demolishing the flats located in the Coastal Regulation Zone-3 (CRZ), where construction is restricted by the government due to the eco-sensitive nature of the land.
The then Maradu panchayat (which was later made a municipality) had granted permission for the construction in 2006-07 without informing the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority. The action comes as construction activities are restricted within 200 metres from the coasts in CRZ-3 limits. According to sources, any form of construction in this belt needs the clearance of Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority.
The SC bench headed by Justice Arun Misra said Kerala cannot withstand natural calamities caused due to illegal constructions. The state had suffered the worst floods in a century in 2018.
Earlier, a High Court single bench had quashed a notice by the municipality that sought to cancel the permission for construction.
A division bench of the High Court, comprising Judges Antony Dominic and Shaji P Chaly, had upheld the ruling in June 2006, prompting the Coastal Zone Management Authority to approach the Supreme Court.
The HC had ruled that the municipality was solely responsible for the illegal construction and those who got the permission cannot be deemed as guilty.
However, the municipality contended in the SC that the panchayat secretary and the builders had colluded to carry out the construction. The panchayat secretary had since been removed from the service, the municipality pleaded in the court.
The SC also considered a report submitted by a court-appointed panel, including the district collector and municipal secretary, before quashing the High Court order. The court agreed to the argument that when the approval for the construction was given the area was in CRZ-3.
Which are the apartments?
Holy Faith H2O at Kundannoor is an 18-floor apartment by the side of backwaters and around 47 families, including film stars, live in the 90 flats situated just behind the municipality building.
Alfa Ventures double flat complex at Nettoor is a 16-floor apartment by the riverside. All 94 flats in the building are occupied.
Golden Kayaloram is a 15-floor apartment near Chambakara canal road. Around 37 of the 40 flats are occupied. This is the first flat complex to be built around 20 years ago when Maradu was a panchayat. Other flats followed soon.
Nettoor Kettezhethu Kadavu Jain Coral Cove is a 125-flat complex but only 20 are occupied in the 18-floor building.
Holiday heritage is yet to begin construction as municipality issued a stop memo. Maradu panchayat had given permission for construction earlier.
Residents in shock
The SC order has come as a rude shock for the owners of the flats. Even film stars own some of these flats. Most of the flats cost more than Rs 1 crore. The residents are planning to continue the legal fight.
Reacting to the SC verdict, Maradu municipality's vice-president said that once the civic body receives the court order, appropriate action would be taken after conducting inspections.
In its order, the SC stated that Kerala cannot withstand natural calamities caused due to illegal constructions. It also said the approval for construction was given by a panchayat. Once the municipality came into existence, these were quashed.