Maradu Case: SC Seeks Kerala’s Reply On Action Against Other CRZ Violations
Kochi's four illegal apartment complexes, built in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms, that is, Jains Coral Cove, Golden Kayaloram, H2O Holy Faith and Alfa Serene, were demolished on January 11-12, 2020, using the controlled implosion method. The move sent out a strong message to violators, being the first of its kind in the country. Multiple pleas by homebuyers and industry bodies to the Supreme Court (SC) to go soft did not bear fruit and the apex court has set an example, as 350 waterfront apartment units were demolished. In a fresh development, the top court has directed the Kerala government to file a response on the action taken against other cases of a similar nature. In doing so, the SC bench headed by justices RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and KM Joseph, have followed up on a contempt petition filed by Major Ravi and AK Raveendran, who alleged non-compliance of the court’s order of September 23, 2019.
The new chief secretary of Kerala state Bishwas Mehta, who has been made party in the contempt of court plea since the former chief secretary Tom Jose's retirement, must file a response within four weeks, while the petitioner will need to file a rejoinder. With this move, many commercial and residential buildings across Ernakulam, Kottayam and Kochi may come up for CRZ violations.
Earlier in 2020, the SC had directed the Kerala government to remove the debris from the demolition, from the backwaters and the surroundings. While the demolition that used 750 kgs of explosives was successful, those in the neighbourhood complained of dust and debris. Meanwhile, many others still complain that they have not been compensated adequately.
"We will not dispose of this (petition) now. You will have to remove the debris. There are reports that some portion of debris has fallen in backwaters. You have to restore the area," said a bench, comprising justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah, when it was informed by the state government that the apex court's order has been complied with.
The court has allowed the flat owners to approach the civil court to initiate proceedings against the concerned builders. The SC has also said it is looking into the malpractice that the government officials had allowed. "Something is happening in this. Let us wait for that," said the bench.
For those who owned more than one unit in the apartment complex, the counsel had apprised the SC that such homeowners had received compensation for only one property.
Here's a run-up to the Marudu demolition case.
Residents' petition to the SC
Following the order, 40 families residing in Golden Kayaloram Apartment have filed a plea in the SC, saying that the building was never served a show-cause notice but only for violations of building byelaw, and hence demolition should be reconsidered. These residents have also requested for an open court hearing.
Given that their building is within the permissible area, there is no reason why the building should be demolished, reason out the residents.
"A direction to remove the constructions which were made investing large amounts of money and efforts and when there are 40 families living on the same is against public interest and public policy, especially when the building is now within the permissible area. It is also a national waste, especially because now the building can be constructed once again in the same place legally," reads the plea
SC Quashes CREDAI's Plea To Reverse Demolition Order
The SC had directed payment of Rs 25 lakhs as interim compensation by the Kerala government to each owner within four weeks. On October 25, 2019 the SC reiterated its decision after it was brought to notice that some flat owners had received an amount lesser than Rs 25 lakhs. Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhat have also mandated that builders of the said complexes deposit Rs 20 crores within a month. The SC bench has also asked the errant developers to submit their banking details with the court.
The SC is also particular that the demolition should take place. Quashing a request by industry body Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), the bench said, "We are not going back from our demolition orders. This matter can't be agitated afresh. Our order is final." CREDAI had requested that the buildings be put to some other use, thereby, avoiding a demolition.
Fresh orders have also been placed by the court to assess proof of payments made by flat owners to the builders. So far, Rs 10 crores worth of interim compensation has been generated.
Some arrests have also been made in this regard. Paul Raj, director, Alfa Serene Ventures has surrendered before the court and the vigilance court has directed his judicial custody till November 5, 2019. The developer is facing probe in a cheating case by a homebuyer, in his project.
The Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court had dismissed his anticipatory bail plea. The crime branch has said that it will seek Raj's custody and preliminary requirements for this would be completed next week. Just a few days back, three people, including a builder of the Holy Faith apartment complex, have been arrested by the Kerala Crime Branch in connection with their alleged role in the irregularities in the construction of the four Maradu apartment complexes. Sanny Francis, the MD of Holy Faith Builders and Developers, former Maradu panchayat secretary Mohammed Ashraf and junior superintendent P Joseph were arrested on the basis of 'strong evidence' against them.
Earlier this month, the officials had seized numerous documents pertaining to the apartments that are now facing demolition.
Maradu Flats' Demolition Process May Be Completed By February 2020
The Supreme Court on September 27, 2019, said that these flats should be demolished within 138 days. Offering relief to homebuyers, the apex court also directed payment of Rs 25 lakh as interim compensation by the Kerala government to each owner within four weeks. The top court also said that assets of the builders, who were involved in the construction of illegal buildings in the coastal zone areas of Kochi be seized.
Authorities would pick a third-party entity and hand over the buildings for demolition on October 11. The government is constituting a committee of experts to oversee the demolition process. Those living close to these apartment complexes will also be evacuated from the neighbourhood to protect them from the controlled implosion. An estimated 9,522 buildings that are within one km-radius of these complexes will be issued an alert ahead of the demolition.
By February 2020, the whole process, including removal of debris, will be completed.
On September 25, 2019, the police registered FIRs against three builders, after homeowners filed complaints, stating that they were unaware of the violations committed by the builders. The police have charged the builders under IPC sections 406 and 420 and frozen as many as 60 bank accounts. So far, no complaints have been registered against the fourth builder, Golden Kayaloram.
Meanwhile, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) snapped the power supply to these flats on September 26, 2019. The residents also lost water supply a few hours later, a move that is being condemned by them.
"Authorities are trying to mobilise the public opinion"
Last week, Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhatt sought a plan from the Kerala government regarding on removal of illegal structures. Earlier, the Kerala government told the apex court it was shortlisting a specialised agency from the 15 which had applied to demolish the buildings.
Taking an adverse note of the delay, the SC had said "It appears that the authorities, rather than preventing the violations, are trying to mobilise 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."
The secretary of the Maradu Municipality was also directed to evacuate inhabitants as well as rehabilitate them in coordination with the district collector. "As on today, there are space constraints for the proper disposal of the waste/debris; without proper study and planning, if the entire structure is demolished in one go, it would result in a larger ecological disaster seriously prejudicing the inhabitants and environment of even the nearby places. This is one of the first instances of the demolition of buildings of this magnitude and nature,” the chief secretary’s affidavit in the SC read. However, the SC has asked for a fresh affidavit as this one was unsatisfactory.
Snubbing authorities for the delay in demolition work, the SC said, "You are in patent breach of law. Your attitude is of defiance. Thousands died in devastation. How many houses have you built for the victims? Yet, illegal structures continue to come up in coastal areas," the SC said. The apex court had directed the demolition to take place on September 20, 2019, and had asked the Kerala chief secretary to be present in the court on September 23, 2019 or face consequences.
A final order in this regard is expected on September 27, 2019.
Troubled times for homeowners
Homeowners are now resorting to silent protests while political parties have assured them of full support. However, the municipal corporation has issued notices asking residents to move out while the state government has initiated some steps to implement the SC’s order and has urged the municipal corporation to evacuate and rehabilitate home owners at the earliest.
State awaits RERA
The much-awaited state real estate law is expected to be notified soon. The authority will have a chairman and two members. All eyes are on this upcoming development especially after the SC has given its verdict in Marudu flats case.
As of now, the Kerala RERA website is operational but has no details for public use neither does it have a list of registered projects, developers or agents.
Undervaluation of properties rampant across Maradu
There are about 135 cases where the sub-registrar has identified undervaluation of properties. According to reports, these were registered after April 2017, and the government revenue has suffered an estimated loss of Rs 1 crore. Another 437 cases as old as 30 years are still pending. A government order in 2018 had made arrears compoundable for undervalued properties registered prior to April 2017.