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A file photo of Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala chief minister
A file photo of Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala chief minister

Kerala govt plans to approach SC to revisit decision to demolish Maradu flats

  • The SC had on 6 Sept ordered the demolition of the complexes in Maradu near the backwaters of Ernakulam as the construction had violated the Coastal Regulatory Zone rules
  • The SC has set 20 Sept as the deadline for the demolition. The deadline for eviction of the occupants ended on Monday without success

Bengaluru: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is in an unenviable situation—to go against overwhelming public opinion and tear down four apartment complexes housing about 350 families, or risk defying the Supreme Court.

The apex court on 6 September ordered the demolition of the four complexes in Maradu, a picturesque suburb near the backwaters of Ernakulam district. After a prolonged legal battle, the court decided that the construction had violated the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) rules.

The flat owners and a section of the public are, however, unwilling to move out of their homes. Holding placards and shouting slogans, they have been protesting the court’s order and have garnered support from the ruling communist party’s local boss, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, as well as Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala. Malayalam film actor Soubin Shahir is one of the homeowners facing eviction following the court order.

The court has set 20 September as the deadline for the demolition. The deadline for eviction of the occupants of the four complexes ended on Monday without success.

Following the political setback upon implementing the unpopular SC verdict on Sabarimala temple last year, Vijayan is yet again in a fix. While the Congress has requested governor Arif Khan to intervene, Vijayan has called for an all-party meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

The standoff due to the demolition underscores the complexities in the battle between people’s aspirations and ecological conservation in the flood-ravaged state. The densely populated state is landlocked between the environmentally fragile Western Ghats and the coastal banks of Arabian Sea, all bound by strict conservation laws.

The conflict between ecological conservation and economic development has intensified after Kerala faced back-to-back floods. In Maradu, the debate has focussed on the human cost of conservation.

The flat owners of the four apartment complexes alleged that they did not know about the violations at the time of purchase and were not party to the court case. “We were not served any notices, we didn’t know of any violation when we purchased the flats," actor Shahir told local reporters. “Whatever happens, we won’t move out."

The owners are planning to move Kerala high court on Monday.

The companies have literally washed off their hands citing the purchase procedures are over. One of them, Alfa Ventures wrote to Maradu municipality officials on Sunday: “We the company, M/s. Alfa Ventures Pvt Ltd has absolutely no physical interest in the project Alfa Serene as all the apartments are registered in the individual owners names through registered sale deeds and the municipality is collecting tax from those individuals."

The CRZ restrictions, which lies at the heart of the matter, is also a contested one. According to a fact-finding committee appointed by the state which submitted its report in the SC, Maradu falls under ‘CRZ-III’ category, where 200 meters from the high tide line is no construction zone. However, Maradu was upgraded from a panchayat into a municipality in 2010, when normally it should have become a lesser-restricted ’CRZ-II’ zone and the flats should be permitted.

The reclassification has not been applied yet, as the successive union governments chose to freeze all reclassification of CRZ areas for stricter conservation. So, the flats are technically still in CRZ-III, making them illegal, whereas if the government had completed its due process, they would have been legal.

“The 1991 CRZ Notification and 1994 EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification have been amended for more than 250 times. Several high courts have stayed many of their clauses. Some were cancelled by the courts. Even the central government wouldn’t know which all of them still exist. Same is the case with the Kerala government. For example, Kerala Municipality Building Rule doesn’t say building permits should be given after assessing CRZ laws. The first thing the government should do is to list existing laws, rulings, circulars, rulings, judicial verdicts everything in a website," said Hareesh Vasudevan, a Kerala-based lawyer and an environmental activist.

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