‘Nowhere to go,’ say Kochi flat owners as Supreme Court deadline to demolish 357 flats nears
Clock is ticking on the deadline set by Supreme Court to demolish 357 flats, housing nearly 1500 people, at Maradu near Kerala’s Kochi for flouting the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) guidelines even as the government scurries for possible ways out of the crisis and residents say that they have nowhere to go.
The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government had earlier approached the Attorney General and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to help ease the situation but both reportedly pleaded their helplessness.
“We don’t have anywhere else to go. We pumped in our life savings in our flat,” said a retired couple. Some of the residents have also threatened suicide if they were evicted forcibly.
The Kochi flat case dates back to 2007 when the vigilance wing of the state local self government directed the Maradu panchayat to cancel 31 building permits for various violations including coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms. But later the Kerala High Court had stayed its order and construction continued. The case reached the top court three years ago.
On September 6, the apex court had pulled up the state government for not implementing its previous order and directed it to demolish five flat complexes which violated coastal regulation norms by September 20. The court had passed severe strictures against the state saying it was repeatedly ignoring its judgments and summoned the state chief secretary on September 23.
With uncertainty looming large over the fate of the flats, firms have responded to the Maradu municipality’s tender notices floated for demolishing these apartment complexes.
The State government had called an all- party meet two days ago that pledged all support to the aggrieved flat owners. It also felt that it was unfair to punish only occupants leaving alone officials who gave permission and builders who constructed these flats. At least 17 MPs from the state have also written a letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention.
Last week the Maradu municipal corporation in port city had asked 357 families to vacate their flats by September 14 but they refused to move out saying they have no other place to move to. As the deadline for demolition drew closer all political parties in the state had rallied behind aggrieved flat owners. Earlier state government had approached the Chennai IIT to do a study on the impact of demolition. It said demolition of such huge structures in such a short time span will trigger enough pollution in the area.
Flat owners claimed that they were not heard by the court properly and they bought flats after obtaining all permissions and licences and it was wrong to punish them for the possible mistakes committed by builders and others. The permission to construct flats was granted in 2006 when Maradu was a panchayat and later it was upgraded to a municipality. Owners said the area never had a coastal regulation or land usage map when they bought flats and it was highly unfair to evict them after staying there for more than eight years.
”The panchayat had submitted an affidavit in the High Court saying the area comes under CRZ II. If there is any violation why the KSCZMA took so long to approach the court in 2016? It is purely a technical issue,” said P P Joseph, a retired bank employee, staying in one of the flats. It is sad builders, officials who gave permission and others go scot-free while people who bought flats with their hard-earned money were treated like criminals, he added.