New Delhi: The controversial 31-storey Adarsh building in downtown Mumbai will be pulled down under the orders of the ministry of environment and forests.
The ministry on Sunday instructed the demolition as the structure did not meet coastal development norms. In a statement, minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh said the Adarsh housing society had “violated the very spirit” of the 1991 coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification and had not even sought clearances that are mandatory according to the notification. “Ignorance of the law can never be an excuse for non-compliance,” Ramesh said. Also, the building was originally cleared for only six storeys.
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The Maharashtra government will have to demolish the building in case the society does not do the job.
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Adarsh has been in the spotlight after revelations that a project originally conceived for widows of the Kargil war casualties eventually housed several senior Maharashtra politicians and bureaucrats and their relatives. Ashok Chavan was forced to resign as chief minister over the project, while several senior bureaucrats are also facing the heat from his successor Prithviraj Chavan.
The environment ministry had issued a show-cause notice to Adarsh on 12 November. Hearing a petition filed by the housing society in late December to challenge the decision of the state government to stop water and electricity supply to the building, justices B.H. Marlapalle and U.D. Salvi were unsparing: “Everyone who was supposed to clear the file has been gifted (a flat).”
Photograph: Abhijit Bhatlekar
The Adarsh decision cements the reputation of environment minister Ramesh as a no-nonsense administrator out to stick to the letter and spirit of India’s green regulations. In the recent past, Ramesh has issued a number of show-cause notices to companies for flouting these laws. Those at the receiving end include the mammoth Lavasa township in Maharashtra, the Mundra port and special economic zone in Gujarat and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd’s power plant in Orissa. The ministry he heads also gave a negative order against the bauxite mining project of Vedanta Resources Plc. in Niyamgiri, Orissa.
“But what I am doing here is plain and simple—implementing the laws that Parliament has passed,” Ramesh had told Mint in a recent interview, reacting to the charge that his decisions could harm India’s economic growth.
The ministry, according to Ramesh, had three options in the Adarsh case: to demolish it completely; remove part of the building; or recommend that the government take it over for public use, which could be determined later. The latter two options were rejected as they would be tantamount to regularizing or condoning an “egregious violation” of the CRZ notification.
In Mumbai, the Maharashtra government said it would soon take a decision on the environment ministry’s direction.
“We will read the order issued by the environment ministry on the Adarsh society and decide soon on what is to be done,” state environment minister Sanjay Devtale told PTI.
Counsel for the Adarsh society Satish Maneshinde said the order would be challenged in the high court once its copy was available.
He alleged that the contents of the order were “leaked” to the media earlier this week while the order itself was issued on a Sunday.
“I think it is totally malafide and we will challenge it as and when we get the copy of the order,” he said.
The environment ministry had recently issued a new notification on coastal zone norms but the Adarsh case pertains to the earlier 1991 notification, which was amended 25 times. Ramesh, while changing the regulations, had asserted that no violations under the earlier notification would be regularized except those involving fisherfolk. This is the first such case after the new notification was issued and Ramesh, in his statement, reiterated that the new notification makes no difference in such cases.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
PTI contributed to this story.