Kochi: With the deadline to vacate the five water-front apartments in Maradu municipality, ordered to be demolished, coming to an end, the residents are in no mood to give up their fight to save their homes. Residents of the flats, belonging to over 350 families, resorted to a relay sit-in on the premises of Holy Faith H2O apartment, one of the five to be razed, on Saturday evening after a hectic day of protests.
The flat owners staged a protest in front of the Maradu municipality office till 5pm even as leaders of various political parties joined them expressing solidarity.
The municipality had served a notice to the flat owners on September 10 asking them to vacate within five days. The notice was issued after the state government asked the civic body to initiate the actions to demolish the buildings by September 20 in compliance with a Supreme Court order that found that the flats were constructed in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone rules.
The flat owners have, however, refused to vacate with some even threatening to commit suicide if the authorities try to forcefully evict them. The residents seem to be pinning their hopes on the assurances given by political parties, including the ruling CPM.
CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who visited the flats on Saturday, told the residents that “they will not have to vacate their homes today or tomorrow”.
“State government will do everything needed to ensure justice to the innocent flat owners. The Supreme Court order to demolish the flats is ruthless and cruel. Kerala will fight this battle united regardless of political biases,” he said.
"We are with you. The flat owners have not committed any sort of illegality. It was the builders and the officials who gave sanction to construct the complexes in the CRZ zone are the real culprits," Balakrishnan told the flat owners.
He said natural justice was denied to the people residing the flats ordered to be razed.
The CPM leader said if the Apex Court order was implemented, that will have a long lasting impact as in Kochi alone many such buildings were constructed in such zones.
Leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala, meanwhile, blamed the state government for its alleged double-stand in the issue. “While the government says it supports the flat-residents, it also says that it cannot act beyond legal limitations. It is high time the government intervened in the issue,” he said.
Chennithala urged the government to submit a new affidavit in the Supreme Court, saying the court appointed three-member sub-committee had not spoken to the residents before submitting their report.
Earlier, the flat owners had alleged that the three-member committee did not give them a proper hearing on the show-cause notice pertaining to violations.
Chennithala alleged the sub-committee did not even consider changes brought in the CRZ rules before submitting their report to the Supreme Court. "So the government should direct the Chief Secretary to submit a new affidavit in the apex court citing all these lapses in the sub-committee report considered by the Supreme Court. And the government should seek permission from the Supreme Court to withdraw that report and submit a new report," the senior Congress leader said after visiting the protesting flat owners here.
BJP state secretary A N Radhakrishnan also visited the agitating flat owners. He held former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan responsible for the illegal construction of buildings that happened during his tenure. Radhakrishnan said that the state government should call an urgent all-party-meeting and find a solution. He said the CPM-led government should stop offering fake support and consolation and take solid actions.
Expressing concern over the fate of the flat owners, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan said he could not comment publicly as the matter was sub-judice.
"You know something which is sub-judice, it will not be proper for me to comment on it publicly. But yes, I feel concerned... I feel concerned. What the government shall do, what I will do, cannot be spelt out at this stage because the matter is sub-judice," the Governor told reporters in Kozhikode when media drew his attention to the issue.
The flat-residents Onmanorama spoke to said they haven't even thought about finding an alternative house. “We don't have any other place to go. We haven't packed anything. Our homes are exactly like how they were yesterday, last week or last month. We are sure they'll remain the same until we are all dead,” said Dr Deepa, a resident of H2O Holy Faith apartments.
Speaking about the Supreme Court ultimatum to demolish the five flats, Balachandran, a businessman from Alfa Serene apartments, said that they first came to know about the legal issue behind the residential complexes in 2012, when the municipality refused to issue the ownership certificate of their apartment. “We have been betrayed. We would sit as strong as rocks at our homes when the authorities come to evict us,” he added.
'These are our dream homes'
Maya Prem Mohan, a home-maker living in Holy Faith, said that she cannot watch her dream home falling apart. Maya, a 60-year old Thiruvananthapuram native, lives with her 90-year-old mother in her apartment. “It took me long 52 years to own a house. I sold all my earnings, inherited and received from my late husband's provident fund, to buy this apartment. My flat costed Rs 65 lakh back in 2011. This is a home that is made out of our emotions. I shall breathe my last along with this building. My mother will also be there with me,” Maya said.
Maya said she arranged the curtains, mopped the floor and cooked food on Saturday morning quite like any other day. “I haven't packed anything. I don't have a place to go. I am sure I will repeat my routines tomorrow also,” she said.
Bushra Shamsudeen also had similar tales to narrate. She moved to H2O Holy Faith along with her husband and two children in order to facilitate her children's higher education. “The flat costed more than we could afford. We invested for a better future – not for mere profit. I have kept ready the vegetables for tomorrow's lunch. I don't have another option than believing that tomorrow and the day after will be the same as today or yesterday.”
“We need a solution for this problem. Our personal, professional and social lives are all messed up. This is the violation of our basic human rights. We are being punished for the mistakes committed by someone else,” Shamsuddeen, a lawyer residing in Holy Faith H2O told Onmanorama.
The municipal authorities reiterated on Saturday that they would take the next step based on directions from the state government.
The state government had on Monday initiated steps to implement the apex court order and given directions to the municipality to take immediate action for evacuating the residents and rehabilitating them in coordination with the Ernakulam District Collector. The top court had on May 8 directed to demolish the buildings within a month as they were constructed in a notified CRZ, which was part of a water body known to be hit by tides.