Taking a strong stand against the construction of the 31-storey Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society (ACHS) building in Mumbai, the Ministry of Environment and Forests on Sunday ordered its demolition, saying it had no authorisation and clearance.
Having considered and rejected two other options – part demolition in excess of the Floor Space Index (FSI) or takeover of the building by the government for public use – Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh exercised the option of removing it completely and restoring the area to its original condition.
The entire structure had to removed as it was unauthorised and no clearance whatsoever under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991 was obtained, said a Ministry order.
Explaining the rationale behind exercising the demolition option, the Minister said the fact that there may well be cases of similar violations provided no grounds for mitigation of the penalty attracted by such an egregious violation as that by the ACHS.
Mr. Ramesh felt any other decision would have diluted the strong precedents that were set in judgments of the Supreme Court and different High Courts.
The ACHS, he said, violated the very spirit of the CRZ Notification, 1991 by not even acknowledging the need for clearance under this notification.
“Whether they [the ACHS] were aware of such requirement or not is immaterial, as ignorance of law can never be an excuse for non-compliance,'' he said.
The building would have to be torn down within three months, failing with the Ministry would be constrained to undertake action in this regard, the order said.
The Ministry had granted three extensions to the Society to respond to its November 12, 2010 show-cause notice.
Mr. Ramesh reiterated that the CRZ Notification published on January 7 this year makes no difference to ACHS-like cases. In addition to the safeguards provided for such cases in the CRZ Notification, 2011 itself, this practice was substantiated by the principle enshrined in Article 20(1) of the Constitution that stated, “No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence...”.
Controversy over the building erupted last year following reports that the structure in which some defence officers, including three former Services Chiefs and others from Maharashtra, owned flats in the project intended to benefit Kargil war widows. The Navy objected to the high-rise in Colaba area on the grounds that it overlooks some sensitive defence establishment in the vicinity.
While the former Army Chiefs, General Deepak Kapoor and General N.C. Vij, and the former Navy Chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh announced the surrendering of their flats, a CBI probe was ordered to ascertain how the land in defence possession was transferred and establish the complicity of officials in the move.