THE MARADU EPISODE
This is regarding the denial of justice for over 400 families who are affected by the Maradu flat demolition order passed by the Supreme Court on 6th September 2019. As per the order, around 400 flats in five apartment complexes located in Maradu are to be demolished by 20th September for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. While the deadline is nearing, these homeowners are not given a fraction of consideration on humanitarian grounds.
The fact is that in the year 2006-2007, Confident Group had also received plan approval for a high-end waterfront project named Confident Avior in Maradu along with these concerned builders. Out of 350 units in 6 acres land, we sold around 65 units within 45 days from the date of launch. Later, one fine morning, this episode started with the arrest of Panchayath secretary for taking a bribe. The vigilance force trapped him and they realized that there were a lot of unethical practices going on in Maradu Panchayath. Based on this, the secretary was sent to custody and got suspended from the service.
Subsequently, in RTP and CTP, their vigilance wing carried out a detailed scrutiny and found a lot of irregularities in building plan process such as a clear violation of CRZ rules as well as usage of agriculture land without proper orders. It is noteworthy that, until this incident, the Panchayats and Municipal Corporations in Kerala were not very serious about the CRZ norms/zoning regulations/ road width /master plan / structural plan or country plan except for the area near the sea shores. However, after this incident, the government departments became more vigilant and started scrutinizing all the building plans, especially in the case of high rise buildings. Another interesting part is that, till the beginning of 2007, KMBR or KPBR was not implemented even in the IT hub, Kakkanad, Kochi as well as in the majority of other Panchayats across Kerala.
After the suspension of the Panchayat secretary, the government revoked all the building permits in Maradu Panchayat approved during his tenure, including that of the concerned apartment projects which are now facing the threat of demolition. This was the time when Confident Group had just started the test piling job for the Confident Avior in Maradu.
As the government did not have the right to revoke the permit (only the concerned secretary has the power), we all decided to approach the High Court of Kerala to reinstate the permit. Subsequently, the court allowed the petition. It is on the strength of this HC order that these builders continued the construction process. After the completion of the project, the Municipality was initially reluctant to give the completion certificates to these buildings. Then the builders approached the court for justice, and the court directed the Municipality to provide Occupancy certificates etc. Since then, these apartment owners have been living there happily for many years.
Meanwhile, Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) was proceeding the cases in various courts, and the Supreme Court pronounced the existing orders. Since these projects had Occupancy Certificates and the relevant approvals backed by High Court judgement, naturally none of these builders or flat owners ever foreseen such a shocking verdict from the Supreme Court.
Even Confident Group had received a favorable order from the court as well as filling orders for which we had remitted fees. We have two existing old buildings very close to the banks of the Netoor thodu, numbered prior to 1991. However, keeping the criteria stipulated in CRZ rule, we had called off the project just because of insufficient road width in few spots as per the KMBR, as we did not want to take any risk when it concerned our clients. We had refunded the entire money with interest which we collected from our esteemed clients who invested in this project, and we are still holding it as a land bank.
Now let us talk about the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). Let's for a moment agree that these buildings are constructed without CRZ NOC. Back in 2006 - 2007, Maradu was a Panchayath, and it was in the category of CRZ-1 and 3. CRZ-1 comes under the ecologically sensitive category, and no construction is permitted in the CRZ-1. CRZ-1 is applicable in marshy land paddy field such as Pokkali field and area where mangroves dominated, etc. In CRZ-3 construction is permitted 200meters away from bank of the lake, river or thodu or the width of the water body which falls under CRZ criteria.
Majority of Maradu panchayath area comes under CRZ-1 and CRZ-3 zones. Subsequently, when Maradu became a municipality, later on it came under the CRZ-2 category and no construction was permitted within the 50 meters (as per the 2011 notification) from the HTL (High Tide Line) of the river, lake or thodu until and unless there are building or roads constructed or numbered prior to 1991 (before CRZ came into force). If this is the case, the landlord can do the construction in the landward side of the building or road. This rule is still applicable for entire Kerala.
It should also be noted that, the general public and some of our media friends, political leaders, etc., have confused that with 2019 notification. In this latest notification 50 mtrs criteria in CRZ -2 is reduced to 20 mtrs from the HTL of the water body, where construction can be carried out. The confusion is that as per the latest notification, Maradu falls under 20 mtrs so then why the Supreme Court is insisting for demolition?
We should understand that, we cannot enjoy these criteria cited in draft notice until we get the topographic survey and remappings done in tune with the latest amendments and submit for MOF approval. It may take many years for this to happen. For example, the 2011 draft notification came to reality only a few months back after the re-mapping process and MOF approval. Similarly, the latest 2019 draft notification which gives us drastic relaxation in CRZ cannot be enjoyed till it gets MOF approval which may drag till 2025 or even beyond. In order to make it happen soon, the government has to put pressure on the concerned departments.
This latest 2019 notification is also providing a lot of relaxation in CRZ norms. All the Municipal corporations and islands come under 20 meter brackets and all the densely populated Panchayats with get a privilege of 50 meters bracket. And again Panchayats in island category can enjoy 20 meters privilege.
Now let us take the case of DLF; it was almost a similar case like that of Maradu, but the Judiciary considered the plight of innocent people who invested their hard-earned money for their dream home and other such factors.
I think it is very obvious, even if I did not mention the biggest ever CRZ violation in Kerala history. Around 10 years back, Cochin port trust had reclaimed around 25 acres of Vembanad lake adjacent to the Bolgatty Palace island in Kochi. This terrific act was a sheer violation of CRZ -1 as the area was the breeding ground of a number of species and came under the ecologically sensitive category. According to the provisions in CRZ rules, ports have certain leverage for the development of the port establishment only, but not for any other purpose. However, in Kochi, it was not the case. During this period, there were numerous complaints, and finally, the Government appointed a high-level expert panel. Their findings revealed that it was a clear violation CRZ-1. Since it is a semi-government institution, no action was taken.
There are a lot of CRZ violations within the Cochin city, especially along the banks of Chilavanoor canal that also belongs to celebrities and rich community. This can be identified if the government take the stock of unauthorized building numbers (UA Numbering).
Let us all support our brothers, sisters and their children to save them from this mess. These innocent families had invested all their savings fully trusting the statutory permissions and details given by the builders. The builders are professionals, who knew what they were getting into, when compared to the buyers, who are laymen and are not experts to do the due diligence and deduce that such errors are if at all possible for a home they dreamt of. For several of them such a situation would have been impossible to foresee. It is a matter of hard-earned money of 400 homeowners and their families going straight down the drain. Where will they go after being pushed out? What will be their future? Since it is a Supreme Court verdict, there is no other option other than a special ordinance to be passed in this regard. If it was a criminal case, they could have approached the President for mercy petition. At such a time, we should show our solidarity as we proved during the time of floods.
Now I am afraid that if as a last resort, the court decides to evict the inmates after cutting the essential services such as water supply and electricity. Let us pray that such a situation does not happen.
We, at Confident Group, strongly think that all the violations should be considered in the same way. Preferential treatments to selected projects by the administrators and in certain cases even by the Judiciary is not acceptable. Let us stand along with these flat owners and show our support. Let us hope for the best.
T A Joseph
MD & Founding Director - Confident Group