The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Kerala government to comply with its 27 September order to demolish the waterfront apartments at Maradu in Kerala’s Ernakulam district within 138 days, while also agreeing to hear the review petitions of flat owners seeking relief.
The court had ruled that the apartments housing 350 families were built in violation of the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms and, therefore, should be brought down.
It had also said that the state government should pay an interim compensation of ₹25 lakh each to all the flat owners within four weeks.
On Friday, the state government told the court that it has taken steps to evict the residents in and around the apartment complex, and has partially demolished certain structures.
The Kerala government has been reluctant to raze the structure amid rising protests by residents.
When the Kerala government apprised the court that out of the total compensation of ₹61.5 crore for flat owners, ₹27 crore has already been disbursed, the Supreme Court said the remaining amount should be released at the earliest.
However, appearing on behalf of the flat owners, senior advocate Dushyant Dave urged the apex court to hear the review petitions in an open court.
On 27 September, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Ravindra Bhat had said that a three-member committee of retired high court judges and civil servants will be set up to supervise the demolition process and assess the compensation to be paid to flat owners.
The money can be recovered from the builders and promoters of the property, it added.
The case could have repercussions across the country, wherever construction activity and ecological conservation are in conflict.
The apex court’s judgement for the demolition of flats housing 350 families, including that of a popular actor, had triggered massive protests and snowballed into a major political issue in the state.
The homeowners alleged that they were duped by the builders. However, according to an earlier state government report, the flats were in coastal regulation zone-II, and the construction was legal. But since the reclassification of coastal regulation zone laws, which have not been applied anywhere in India, the site falls under the coastal regulation zone-III category, a no-construction zone.
Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress governments at the Centre had finalized the reclassification of CRZ areas for stricter conservation efforts, making the construction in Maradu technically illegal.
On 6 September, the court had asked the state to complete the demolition by 20 September and file a compliance report. Soon after the deadline, when the matter came up again, the court gave a dressing down to Kerala’s chief secretary Tom Jose.
“We are really shocked. What action has the state government taken against illegal constructions? If some disaster happens in the coastal zones, the families residing in the buildings will be the first ones to get affected. Your officers should be held responsible," Justice Mishra said.
The court did not take Kerala’s attempt to delay the demotion kindly and said the state had failed to learn a lesson from the devastating floods of 2018.