All eyes are on Supreme Court when it considers the Special Leave Petition (SLP) that may decide the fate of 13 residential buildings on the banks of the Chilavannur Lake in Kochi in Kerala.
The petition, filed by A V Antony, a native of Chilavannur, alleges that all the 13 structures have been constructed in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules and they should be demolished.
Antony approached the apex court after the Kerala High Court had quashed a First Information Report (FIR) on the violations filed by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB). The court's decision was based on a complaint by Cyril Paul, one of the 13 builders named in the report.
Supreme Court had recently ordered the demolition of four apartment complexes in Maradu municipality, bordering the Kochi corporation, for violating the CRZ rules. The demolition is expected to be completed by January 2020.
The vigilance FIR was based on a report prepared by an expert team in March 2016 after visiting the sites and observing the morphology, ecosystems and CRZ status. Dr Kamalakshan Kokkal, then joint director and scientist, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment; Dr K V Thomas, academic consultant, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies and former scientist, national Centre for Earth Science Studies, and an assistant engineer of Kochi Corporation were the members of the team. Onamnorama is in possession of the report.
The report states that Galaxy Homes (Galaxy Regent), Heera Constructions, Ambady Retreats, Jewel Homes, Pearls Garden View, Adelie Builders & Developers (DLF), Galaxy Homes (Galaxy Clifford), Abad Lotus Lake, Blue Lagoon, Golden Kayaloram and Rain Tree Realms and a building owned by Kalyalinkkutty Amma have been constructed in violation of CRZ rules. Business tycoon M A Yusuffali has also been mentioned for violation.
The Supreme Court has already ordered to demolish one of the aforementioned buildings – Golden Kayaloram – that comes under Maradu municipality.
"As per records and information from satellite imagery, all the investigated buildings were constructed prior to February 6, 2011 (when the new CRZ rules replaced the 1991 rules). Hence the provisions of CRZ 1991 are applicable," the report states.
India’s first CRZ notification was issued in 1991, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, empowering the central government to restrict industrial activities and processes to protect the 7500km long coastline. The notification was amended 25 times before being comprehensively revised in 2011.
While ordering the demolition of apartments in Maradu, the Supreme Court bench – headed by Justice Arun Mishra – had examined whether the buildings violated the rules at that point in time. The court relied heavily on the findings of an expert committee, which had established the violations.
Everyone is curious to know whether the Supreme Court will rely on the expert committee's report in deciding the fate of 13 flats in Chilavannur too. Antony's petition is being considered by a bench comprising Justice Naveen Sinha and Justice B R Gavai. Sinha was part of the bench that ordered Maradu flat demolition.
What are the violations?
The expert panel's report states that Galaxy Home (Galaxy Regent) on the west bank of the Chilavannur lake falls within the CRZ-II as per the 1991 notification. Portions of the lake, including intertidal zone (area between the high tide line and low tide line), were reclaimed for construction of the buildings. Reclamation of tidal-influenced backwater is punishable as per the CRZ rules.
The report states that no authorised structure existed on either side of the construction site. Moreover, evidence is not available to prove the existence of a road on the backwater side of the building, as on February 1991.
The report found similar violations by Heera Constructions.
Structural indications show that the site of Ambadi Retreats has been reclaimed, according to the report. "If the land was reclaimed after February 1991, it could be in violation of the CRZ provisions. The constructions were not landward of any authorised structure or road as existed in 1991," states report.
Builders of Jewel Homes, Pearls Garden View, Adelie Builders & Developers (DLF), Galaxy Homes (Galaxy Clifford), Abad Lotus Lake, Blue Lagoon and Golden Kayaloram are also found to have committed similar violations.
The report also found violations in the plots owned by M A Yusuffali and Sabira Yusuffali, Cyril Paul and Nisha C Paul and M K Kalyanikutty Amma.
"All the constructions were made on reclaimed intertidal zone or water body. Reclamations were in violation of CRZ since the natural flow of sea water was affected. Once the water body is reclaimed, the land thus formed attracts the provisions of CRZ notification for any construction activities," the report states.
"All the above discussed building constructions are within CRZ II. Construction is permissible landward of existing authorised building or existing or approved road, existing as on 1991. In case there is no authorised building on the site, permission for construction may be given landward of an authorised building on the adjacent plot. There is no evidence of authorised building in the site or in the adjacent plots along the line of construction for any of the above discussed buildings. Hence the constructions are in violation of CRZ," the report concludes.
The vigilance had found that the buildings were constructed without obtaining permission from the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA).
Cyril Paul, whose plea led to High Court's quashing of the vigilance FIR, said his house was constructed two years before the KCZMA issued CRZ guidelines to the local bodies. "The CRZ notification might have come into effect in 1991, but the authority issued the guidelines to local self institutions only in 2006," he told Onmanorama.
He said he did not seek no objection certificate from the authority because the corporation did not ask him to get it.
Sources in the KCZMA said the authority is also in possession of the study report ,which has found violations in the constructions. "The report is part of the files relating to CRZ rule violations on the banks of the Vembanadu lake," the source said.
Asked what could be the stance of the KCZMA on the case about Chilavannur violations, the source said the authority is likely to go by the findings in the report in its possession.
The Supreme Court had ordered the demolition of the flats in Maradu municipality acting on a petition moved by the KCZMA.
Will the 13 apartment complexes face the fate of Maradu flats? No one seems to have a clear answer at the moment.
Legal experts think the court may order demolition going by its tough stand on the Maradu flats.
"I expect a demolition order in this case," Antony told Onmanorama.
Cyril Paul, who approached the High Court against the vigilance probe, said he challenged the vigilance report as he did not commit any violations. "I am not a builder and I moved the High Court on my own and not on behalf of the other builders. The Chilavannur case should not be compared to the Maradu violations," he said.
Cyril said he came to know about Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court through media reports. "I have not received any communication from the apex court so far," he said.
Cyril built a 2750-square feet house in the 7.5-cent land in 2004. "I got all the necessary sanctions in 2003 and the work was completed in 2004. I have been paying building tax and land tax ever since I completed my house in 2004," he said.
Reacting to the story, DLF's public relations team has claimed that DLF Riverside has received all the approvals.
(This story has been edited to include DLF's reaction)