The Supreme Court on Friday directed that demolition of flats built on the coastal zone of Kochi’s Maradu be completed in 138 days, in accordance with the time schedule provided by the Kerala government. The apex court also directed payment of R 25 lakh as interim compensation by the state government to each flat owner within four weeks.
The top court also ordered setting up of a one-member committee of retired high court judge to oversee demolition and assess total compensation.
A bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhat directed freezing of assets of builders and promoters who were involved in the construction of illegal buildings in the coastal zone areas of Kochi.
The bench further said the government may consider recovering the interim compensation amount from builders and promoters.
Reacting to the Supreme Court’s order, Shamsudeen Karunagapally, Chairman of Maradu Housing Protection Committee said, “We see some relief for flat owners. Today, SC identified flat owners' rights and SC directed govt to pay compensation to flat owners. It's a good decision, but how to implement this decision, it's not very clear.”
Earlier, the Supreme Court expressed shock over a spate of unauthorised structures coming up at Kochi’s Maradu. The top court said that the Illegal construction in coastal areas of Kerala is a “colossal loss” to the environment.
Coming down heavily on the Kerala government for not complying with its orders to demolish four apartment complexes built in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), the top court asked the chief secretary to conduct a survey to gauge the extent of devastation caused to the nature.
The top court said, “It appears that the authorities, rather than preventing the violations, are trying to mobilize the public opinion and time has come to hold them responsible for their active connivance in such activities of degrading the environment and violation of the coastal zone regulations.”
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhatt said it will pass a detailed order on September 27 on the issue and sought a concrete plan from the Kerala government on the removal of illegal structures.
It also asked the chief secretary to file a fresh affidavit. “(Do you) have any idea how many people have died due to floods because of the devastation caused to the environment? You are playing with nature. Thousands of people have died in devastations. How many houses have you built for victims. Yet illegal structures continue to come up in coastal areas,” the bench told the chief secretary.
The top court referred to the 2018 floods in the state and said, “Owing to such violation of law at various places, huge devastation has already been taken place in the State of Kerala in the year 2018 with colossal loss of human life and the property, the entire country was moved by it.”
The conduct of the chief secretary is of defiance, it said and warned him that he stands in great difficulty.
“What is happening there we know. We will fix responsibility on those responsible. This is a colossal loss to the coastal zone area. It’s a high tide area and hundreds of illegal structures have come up in the coastal zone,” the bench said. It said, “We have gone through the affidavit filed by the Chief Secretary... The contents of the affidavit are wholly unsatisfactory, it is apparent that no concrete plan has been carved to undertake the demolition. The same reflects the intendment not to comply with the order passed by this Court in its true spirit.”
The top court said the chief secretary has not specified in his affidavit as to how much time is needed to comply with the apex court orders to demolish four apartment complexes.
“Now, you are in great difficulty. We are telling you. You should conduct a survey to gauge the extent of devastation caused to nature. Do you know the extent of colossal loss caused to the nature. We are shocked to see this. No permissions were taken from the coastal zone authority. This could not happen,” the bench said.
It said that this Court has passed the order considering the importance of the coastal zones and considering the notifications issued from time to time to preserve such areas.
“Permission has not been obtained from the Coastal Zone Management Authority to raise the construction and after holding inquiry and calling for the report,” it said.
The top court said that there are around 350 families who will be affected by this demolition drive but who will save them.
“You don’t understand what is happening in this area. Officers are responsible for this mess as they were not able to stop the illegal construction in this area,” it said.
The bench said that in order to prevent such loss of human life and devastation, “it has become imperative to ensure that concrete plan is submitted on behalf of the State of Kerala to prevent such violations in future and also to take action against the existing violators”.
It said that Kerala government should also apprise the court about what course of action it proposes against all such existing violators and how many such constructions exist at present in the State, which are in violation of the notification issued by the CRZ Authority.
Senior advocate Harish Salve said he had asked the chief secretary to submit a detailed plan indicating the time needed to comply with the order.
In an affidavit, Kerala Chief Secretary Tom Jose while tendering an apology had assured the top court that its order would be complied with and the process for selecting a specialised agency for “controlled implosion” to demolish the buildings is underway.
The top court had earlier asked the state government to file a compliance report before it by September 20, failing which the chief secretary will have to be present before it on September 23.
The top court had in July dismissed a plea filed by the realtors, seeking a review of its May 8 order.
On May 8, the apex court had directed that these buildings be removed within a month as they were constructed in a notified CRZ, which was part of the tidally-influenced water body in Kerala.
The court had passed the order after taking note of a report of a three-member committee, which said when the buildings were built, the area was already notified as a CRZ and construction was prohibited.
Earlier, the court had rejected a plea filed by the residents of the area against the demolition order and taken a strong exception to an order passed by a vacation bench during the summer break of the apex court, which had stayed the demolition of these buildings for six weeks.