From Sabarimala temple entry to the demolition of illegal apartments in Kochi, a range of Supreme Court orders have kept Kerala on the edge and put the Left Democratic Front government in an unenviable position. The Supreme Court's order to demolish five waterfront apartment complexes at Maradu that were found to have violated coastal regulation zone laws has created an unprecedented situation in the state. The administration has no template to implement the order by evicting the house owners and demolishing the buildings.
Maradu panchayat council's wayward actions in allowing the builders to have their way have grown to be a state-wide issue. About 400 families are at the risk of losing their costly homes. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other leaders shared their helplessness while talking at an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala politics has a precedent of ministers quitting on the face of adverse comments from the court. The state government has a decisive day on Monday when the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case again. The court has summoned the state chief secretary to be present in the court. The day may not be any easier for the state government than the day of the previous hearing when the bench flayed the counsel who sought a stay on the demolition.
Justice Arun Kumar Mishra, former chief justice at the Rajasthan and Calcutta high courts, had earlier found unconstitutional a Kerala legislative assembly resolution to regularise the admissions to the Karuna Medical College. He also warned of sending the chief secretary to jail if the state government did not implement a 2017 order in a dispute between two factions of the Orthodox Church.
The court is keenly watching the developments in Kerala after the order to demolish the apartments at Maradu, the government has learned.
Roping in the central government
The chief minister wanted to involve the central government in the imbroglio as the state government was not sure of getting relief from the Supreme Court despite its best efforts. A local issue created by a corrupt local body has assumed national proportions.
Though Maradu fell within the ambit of the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, the local body did not pass on the applications for the construction of five apartments to the CRZ Authority as required by law. The local body erred in granting permission to the apartments in 2006-2007. This haphazard decision was taken despite a circular from the authority warning against violating the CRZ Act in June 2006.
Though the vigilance wing of the local self-government department spotted the violations, the builders approached the Kerala High Court and secured an interim order. The legal battle that started in 2007 has culminated in the Supreme Court order to raze the apartments.
The Maradu panchayat has since been elevated as a municipality, which is responsible for bringing down the buildings its predecessor has approved of. The then panchayat president, now a municipal councillor, remained silent throughout a steamy session of the council on the matter. The builders who got approval from the local body and a reprieve from the high court have washed their hands of the issue. The house owners who spent crores of rupees on the apartments stand to lose.
The cost of the environment
CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran rubbed it in when he pressed for the demolition at the all-party meeting. If the state government thought it proper to implement the court order in Sabarimala, it should apply the same yardstick and demolish the apartments, Kanam echoed the conservationists' argument.
The government seems to have learned its lesson from Sabarimala. The government has assessed the feasibility of demolishing the buildings, convened an all-party meeting and even went back to the Supreme Court. It stopped short of sending an all-party delegation to New Delhi because the CPI was not on the same page.
The CPI stand is echoed by CPM leader V S Achuthanandan and Congress leader V M Sudheeran, who wants to offer a helping hand to the apartment owners and penalise the builders and their collaborators.
At a time when all political party leaders pour into Maradu to stand by the house owners, they should convince the people that they have learned their lessons. They should make sure that the local bodies governed by their members no longer bend rules to allow unscrupulous builders to have their way. Maybe they can face the Pala assembly byelection on an anti-corruption plank.