In an unprecedented order, the Union environment ministry on Sunday declared the controversial Adarsh Housing Society in Colaba in south Mumbai “illegal” and asked the project developers to demolish the structure and restore the site to its original form within three months.
If the society fails to raze the structure, the ministry said it would get it demolished.
The ministry said the 31-storey building, the scam around which cost former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan his job, violated coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms.
Hindustan Times was first to report on January 13 that environment minister Jairam Ramesh had declared the building illegal and the ministry is likely to order its demolition. ( Read: Ramesh speaks exclusively to HT )
“Adarsh society has violated the very spirit of the CRZ Notification 1991, by not even acknowledging the need for clearance under this notification...ignorance of law can never be an excuse for non-compliance,” Ramesh said in a statement.
It is unlikely that the building will be demolished immediately because the society plans to challenge Ramesh’s order in the Bombay high court.The minister had two other options — asking the government to take over the building for public use and declaring only unauthorised parts illegal. The notification allows the construction of six floors.
Ramesh opted to declare the entire structure illegal because the society had failed to take approvals for constructing a 31-storey complex under the CRZ notification.
Meant for war widows and defence personnel, Adarsh society came under the scanner following allegations that it had violated environment norms and had given politicians and bureaucrats flats in the building in return for clearances.
The ministry has found the Adarsh society guilty of violations on two counts.
First, the society failed to seek a CRZ clearance as directed by the environment ministry in its letter of March 2003. Second, the floor space index granted to the building was higher than that stipulated in CRZ regulations, despite the society’s claim that the FSI was within stipulated limits.
The society had claimed that CRZ approval was not required, an argument the ministry found untenable. “The society has said in its written admission that permission under CRZ was required quoting the ministry’s 2003 letter,” said Nalini Bhat, adviser to the environment ministry in her order in the case.
The ministry also held officials of Maharashtra’s urban development department responsible for “misinterpreting” its letter in 2003, which said approval under CRZ was required. The department had said the letter was a “no-objection letter” for the building. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority confirmed this.
The ministry has also found that the complex was initially meant for 50 people —19 civilians and 31 defence personnel — but the number was increased to 71 in 2004 and 92 in 2005.
The ministry’s order shows the builder-bureaucrat nexus in violating norms meant to protect the coast but it did not examine how the structure was built despite all these violations and who facilitated its construction. That is for the CBI to look into, Ramesh said.