Explained: Why did Supreme Court order demolition of apartments in Maradu?

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Flat owners protest against the court order.
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The demolition of five waterfront residential complexes has been a talking point in Kerala since the Supreme Court issued an ultimatum on September 6.

The court ordered the demolition as it found the construction of the apartments in Maradu municipality – bordering Kochi corporation - in Kerala's Ernakulam district violated the Coastal Regulation Zone rules.

There is no clarity on the fate of the 346 families living in these five complexes.

How did the apartment complexes come up at Maradu?

Maradu lies just 7km from Kochi. The gram panchayat, formed in 1953, was upgraded to a municipality in 2010. On September 19, 2006, the panchayat, without obtaining the mandatory permission from the Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority (KSCZMA). issued building permits to four companies - Alpha Ventures Private Limited, Holy Faith Builders and Developers Limited, Jain Housing and Construction, and K.V. Jose – to construct five apartment complexes. People began to occupy flats in 2010.

Why did the panchayat issue notice to the builders?

Nine months after issuing the permission, the Maradu gram panchayat, following a directive from the KSCZMA, issued a showcause notice to the builders alleging that they had violated the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. KSCZMA's nod is mandatory for any civic body before granting permission to construct buildings in areas under the CRZ-III category.  

Why did KSCZMA object to the construction?

KSCZMA is the empowered authority to deal with environmental issues related to the CRZ. It found that the construction was taking place in critically vulnerable coastal areas, which come under CRZ-III category.

In CRZ-III area, no construction is allowed within 200 metres from the coast. In CRZ-II zone, works are allowed beyond 50 metres from the coast.

What happened after that?

In reply to the notice, the builders approached the Kerala High Court in 2007. They got an an interim stay order in July, which helped them to continue the construction. In September 2012, the court ruled that the government had no power to issue instructions to the panchayat. The court dismissed an appeal against the order in November 2016. But KCZMA did not throw in the towel. In the same year, it appealed to Supreme Court against the order. It argued that the mandate for construction in CRZ areas lay with it and Maradu gram panchayat issued the construction permit without its concurrence.

What was gram panchayat's position?

Maradu gram panchayat, in an affidavit submitted to the Kerala High Court, stated that 'with its well-developed nature, the gram panchayat will come within CRZ-II, though the area was mistakenly categorised under CRZ-III.'

How did the Supreme Court respond to it?

Last year, the Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee consisting of the secretary to the local self government department (K. Gopalakrishna Bhat, IAS), district collector (K. Mohammed Y. Safirulla) and chief municipal officer (Subhash P.K), to ascertain whether the gram panchayat violated the CRZ rules. The committee entrusted a technical committee to carry out the study.

What were the findings of the technical committee?

The technical committee found that the Maradu gram panchayat violated the CRZ rules. The existing Coastal Zone Management Plan in Kerala was approved in 1996. According to it, Maradu has been marked as gram panchayat area and hence falls in the CRZ-III category.

According to the draft CZMP prepared as per the CRZ notification in 2011, Maradu has been classified in CRZ-II category. But it has not been approved by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change so far. The technical committee said that the CZMP of 1996 stands until the government issues an order and hence Maradu comes under CRZ-III.

What was the Supreme Court order?

In its order on May 8, 2019, the Supreme Court division bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, said permission granted by the panchayat was illegal and void."No such development activity could have taken place. In view of the findings of the Enquiry Committee, let all the structures be removed forthwith within a period of one month from today (May 8, 2019) and compliance be reported to this Court."

Why did the court issue ultimatum?

The Supreme Court initiated a suo motu case against the state government for not complying with its May 8 verdict. Hence it issued an ultimatum to raze the buildings by September 20.

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