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Lessons from Maradu

The Golden Kayaloram apartment complex at Maradu crumbles following an implosion on January 12, 2020.

The Golden Kayaloram apartment complex at Maradu crumbles following an implosion on January 12, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

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The demolitions in Maradu municipality in Kerala will help builders guard against future violations

When there is weak enforcement of environmental laws, corruption, and undue political influences, violations become common. Such violations have been questioned, and strict action taken by the authorities concerned, on very few occasions. The four high-rise luxury apartment complexes in Maradu municipality in Kochi, which violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notifications, were demolished on January 11 and 12 following a Supreme Court order. This incident points to the need for a paradigm shift in our environmental consciousness.

Supreme Court order

The apex court stated that these apartments had been built on the shores of Vembanad wetland, renowned for its rich biodiversity. The wetland is a part of the strictly restricted zone for construction under the provisions of the CRZ notifications, which aim to protect the ecology of the coast. Hence, the violations cannot be lightly condoned. The illegal constructions in Maradu might have hindered the natural water flow of Vembanad and resulted in severe natural calamities such as floods, which Kerala witnessed in 2018. Following the court order, residents, about 350 families, started to protest. Despite this, the court gave strict instructions to the State government to speed-up the demolition process.

After the court order, a house owner said, “We are innocent buyers who are frightened about losing our homes for no fault of ours”. The rising demand for waterfront apartments has encouraged many builders to violate norms and construct apartments on the banks of rivers and lakes. It is quite difficult to believe that builders and buyers — the upper class community in Kerala — were unaware of the legal norms they are supposed to obey.

The crime branch found that the builders had constructed the apartments after conspiring with panchayat officials in 2006. This indicates the gravity of institutional and policy failures. According to the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, constructions had taken place in critically vulnerable coastal areas which are notified as CRZ-III, where no construction should be permitted except repairs of authorised structures.

Builders and local body officials who supported the illegal constructions have been arrested. Builders’ bank accounts have been frozen and their properties confiscated. The court ordered that a compensation amount of ₹25 lakh be paid to to each household. The demolition costs should be paid by the builders to the government.

Cost of violations

The overall cost of violation is immeasurable. The house owners who lost their flats not only suffered financial losses but were also under mental pressure. There were major administrative challenges in demolishing the apartments. Expert consultations had to take place, the public needed to be made aware of what was happening and a safe demolition strategy had to be drawn up. Families in the neighbourhood were anxious about their life and property. The safety of public assets such as roads and bridges was also a concern. Besides, there were environmental costs of the demolition including air and noise pollution, contamination of the lake, and safe disposal of the debris.

If an industry discharges effluents, the enforcement agency can fine or tax them (polluter pays principle) and/or insist that they install pollution control measures or follow safe waste disposal strategies. But if someone violates the law and constructs apartments in an ecologically sensitive zone, the removal of these buildings is the only solution; no heavy fine will fulfil the purpose of complying with the law.

The apex court order to demolish the Kapico Resorts, also located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha, is another landmark judgment. We don’t know what will happen to other illegal constructions in India. But there is no doubt that the Maradu incident will help builders guard against future violations.

Prakash Nelliyat is a Chennai-based researcher working in the areas of environment and sustainable development

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 3:14:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/lessons-from-maradu/article30551073.ece

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