The Kochi Corporation issued building permits for 10 high-rises on the banks of the Chilavannur lake between 2003 and 2008 without seeking the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance from the Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority (KSCZMA). The Corporation admitted to this violation in a response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by The Hindu.
The Chilavannur backwater is part of the Vembanad lake, which is listed as a Ramsar site. Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.
Interestingly, the local body issued stop memos to the builders only after an expert committee, constituted by the authority in November, 2010, asked the Corporation authorities to freeze reclamation of filtration ponds and tidal marshes in the region for real estate development.
Work on all these high-rises was almost over when the Corporation issued the stop memos.
The information was received in a written reply dated March 11, 2013, from the Assistant Executive Engineer, Town Planning section of the Corporation at Vyttila.
The green signal for constructing the high-rises was given by the local body when it had in its possession the coastal zone management plan for the entire State specifying the areas coming under the coastal regulation zone.
The Department of Local Self Government had also issued stringent directives that the local bodies concerned should ensure that the CRZ norms are not violated while issuing building permits especially in ecologically-sensitive regions.
The Corporation ignored the government orders in this regard and gave building permits without ascertaining whether the builder had received the CRZ clearance.
The Corporation issued building permit to even high-rises located within 20 metres of the high-tide line (HTL). As per the CRZ notification, 1991, 100 metres from the HTL or the width of the water body, whichever is less, will be a no-development zone (NDZ) in backwater islands.
Even though the NDZ was reduced to 50 metres in the CRZ notification, 2011, it was clearly mentioned that no new construction will be permitted in the region. Only fishermen were allowed to set up their dwelling units beyond 50 metres from the HTL on the landward side of the backwater islands with the prior permission of the concerned village panchayat.
In its reply to the RTI petition, the corporation admitted that it was yet to submit the details of building permits issued for buildings on the banks of Chilavannur Lake from 1996 to 2005 to the KSCZMA.
An expert team of the authority had submitted a report that large-scale reclamation of filtration ponds and tidal marshes had taken place on both the banks almost all along the entire stretch of the backwater.
A question on the total number of building permits issued by the corporation on either sides of the Chilavannur Lake generated a vague response that it could be given only after examining the permit files issued between 1996 and 2005.
“The details could be given, if you could furnish the permit file number of buildings constructed in the area. The building permit register during this period is available in this office,” it said.