The ordinance passed by the Kerala government for regularizing the unauthorized constructions on or before July 31, 2017 on payment of a fee, is a decision akin to a double-edged sword.
There are special ordinances for making amendments in the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and Kerala Municipality Act. While a council comprising the District Town Planner, Deputy Director, and the Secretary of the concerned local self-government are authorized to take the decisions in panchayats, similar council for urban units will consist of the District Town Planner, Regional Joint Director (Urban Affairs) and the Secretary of the concerned local self-government. The proceeds from the fine will be divided equally between local self-government bodies and the government. K T Jaleel, Minister for Local Self-Government says that those who constructed buildings by reclaiming the farm lands and fields would receive no concessions. Those violating the Paddy Land and Wet Land Act will not be eligible either. Stringent punishments will be given to those who engage in corruption by approving buildings that violated the regulations. If unauthorised buildings are constructed in the state, the licence of the engineer concerned would be cancelled for life. He also issued warnings such as blacklisting the architects and publishing their pictures on the website of the Local Self-Governments. The very fact that a huge amount of money is expected to be collected by the state exchequer in the form of fines, proves the extent of illegal constructions in Kerala.
It is the finding of the Comptroller-Auditor General that thousands of buildings have been constructed across the state without the permission of the local bodies and in violation of provisions of their approval, that is said to have prompted the state government to pass such an ordinance. The new ordinance will benefit the thousands of people who made constructions that do not involve major environmental violations, or buildings constructed on their own land falling short of full compliance with regulations, or additions to constructions without obtaining the permission of local self-government bodies. However, there also exists a possibility of misusing this amendment for legalising the high profile encroachments and illegal constructions that took place with or without the support of the bureaucrats. Though the stance related to the agricultural lands is clear, the ordinance is silent on the repercussions of the ordinance in the hilly areas. There is also lack of clarity on whether the constructions that took place fully violating the construction guidelines would be regularised. There are also loopholes in the ordinance for misusing the amendment as shortcuts to secure legal validity for hotel complexes and apartments built without regard to any provisions and which impact the environment. It would enable the encroachers and illegal builders to legalise their constructions. Environmentalists have raised criticisms that it would cause a setback in court hearings. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has also alleged corruption behind the decision in regularizing the constructions of buildings and multi-storey structures constructed illegally across the state by imposing of a fee.
Such matters with environmental and social ramifications are subjects that the Assembly should have debated and decided. Implementing decisions on things that are not urgent and on which deliberations are essential through ordinances and thereby making the legislative house mere spectators do not bode well for democracy. The State government has to be extremely vigilant to ensure that in the name of the needs of common people the bigwigs do not commit violations on environment. And the new ordinance should not be a reason for the government losing its case in legal disputes related to land grab and unauthorized construction pending with various courts. And in the National Green Tribunal (NG) verdict the other day that annulled the central government notification granting environmental waiver for large buildings, there is a lesson for Kerala as well.