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Built on a house of cards

Jairam Ramesh’s battle against illegal construction cannot stop at Adarsh alone. You win some, you lose some. This seems to be environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh’s mantra.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2011 00:41 IST

You win some, you lose some. This seems to be environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh’s mantra. A week after he was criticised by the green lobby and the fishers’ community for not incorporating their views in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011, Mr Ramesh’s verdict against the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society might have a soothing effect.

In a strongly-worded directive, Mr Ramesh said that the 31-storey Adarsh must be demolished within three months and the area should be restored to its “original condition”. The society had flouted the CRZ Notification, 1991. Though this notification has now been replaced by the 2011 rules, the case will face charges according to the 1991 rules.

The CRZ rules govern the country’s 7,000-long coastline. From 1991, there have been more than 25 amendments to the 1991 law thanks to the pressure from builders and politicians, especially in places like Mumbai where the demand for housing outstrips supply. In places like Goa, the pressure comes from the tourism lobby.

It is important to have strong laws protecting the coastal areas because, first, the ecologically sensitive zones work as buffers for coastal cities against natural calamities and, second, they can ensure that those who depend on the seas for their livelihood are not washed away in this race to provide housing and entertainment for the haves. Along with grabbing the no-go areas, builders often flout the Floor Space Index norm, which is the ratio between the built-up and the plot area. By breaking them, as has been the case with Adarsh, more flats are built and sold for huge profits.

The now 31-storey building was originally planned as a six-storey housing project. But despite allegations, the state government had refused to move against it suggesting that links exist among politicians, bureaucrats and the violators (builders). Many are hoping that the Adarsh order will set the stage for the demolition of 13 other projects under construction in Parel and Lower Parel in Mumbai. Though the minister has acknowledged that the Adarsh order will be a precedent, only time will tell whether this is a one-off case or the beginning of a purge.

Since the 1991 CRZ norms were flouted so widely, the question now is whether the 2011 norms have been better designed. Environmentalists are adamant that the government has diluted the provisions but Mr Ramesh feels that the new norms have taken into account the requirements of today. Yet, what can’t be discounted is the need to increase monitoring at the ground level and also have a zero-tolerance approach towards violators. In cases of such serious violations, the violators (rightly so) end up at the receiving end. But what happens to the officials who facilitate such activities? No one knows, and post-Adarsh, it would still be business as usual.