The Supreme Court order to demolish five apartment buildings along the coast of a lake within Maradu Municipality, Ernakulam district, and to submit a report by 20 September has created a highly complicated situation. The apex court had issued an order on 8 May for the said demolition based on a petition arguing that the apartment complexes of Holiday Heritage, Holy Faith, Jain Housing, Kayaloram Apartments and Alfa Ventures were constructed in violation of building rules under Coastal Regulation Zone laws. The court summarily rejected all subsequent writ petitions against its order.
Most recently, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra ordered that the demolition should be completed before 20 Septembe, asked the state government to submit a report and directed that the state chief secretary should appear before the court in person when the case would be heard next. With this, it looked like all the doors being closed against the state government whereas until then there was an uncertainty about on who the onus of compliance with the court order lay. When Maradu municipality took the stand that it did not have the capability to execute the demolition - estimated to cost a minimum of Rs 30 crore - the state government was also caught in a bind. At the end, when all related parties have bowed before the court fiat, the chief secretary reached the site and reviewed the situation and Maradu municipality have now invited tenders for the demolition. Even now there are unanswered questions: if the demolition can be accomplished with the estimated 30 Crore, which companies would be prepared for the execution that needs state-of-the art equipment, and how to face the environmental fallout of the demolition even after all preparations are put in place.
But more complex and serious is the reabilitation of the 300-plus families currently residing in the five apartment complexes. Even as the government says that it would take measures to accommodate them temporarily, there are no clear answers on where and how that would be done. The consternated occupants of the apartments have launched a resistance with a stubborn stance that even at the risk of lives they will not vacate the flats. The resultant crisis is perhaps more grave and severe than the temporary accommodation of flood-affeced families. For, these unfortunate residents are faced with burning questions like where flats similar to the demolished units can be built, who will bear their cost, and even if an urgent plan is made for that, how long it will take to materialise. Further, what baffles them is the question of humanity and morality in the actions of the municipality and the government. For, the owners had taken possession of the apartments after completing all formalities and paying due price while at no stage of the construction did the government or municipality interfere, and those agencies one fine morning woke up and ventured to evict them alleging violations. If at all there has been any violation, that was committed by the owners who sold the apartments, with the collusion of the government and its officials. When the court intervention came, none of them is in the picture. It has to be remembered that the hapless apartment owners who will lose everything and face the prospect of being homeless, are people who have been leading a decent law-abiding life so far, and for whom the demolition will definitely be a bold from the blue.
However, on the other hand is the issue of consistently violated environmental rules and resultant problems. There are strict restrictions and controls in force on construction activity in coastal zones. These were enacted by governments in response to protests and agitations by environmental activists in order to stem the ever increasing destruction of environment. Those regulations have therefore to be complied with, at least after long periods of so much of destructive impact. If a licence is given to violations through rank corruption, people's life is bound to be rendered unbearable through tsunamis, floods, heat waves and similar disasters. Sometimes, even normal life will be under threat. Therefore, the determination of the Supreme Court to strictly enforce the buildng regulations in coastal zones cannot be questioned in any sense. If governments, municipalities and panchayats will henceforth stop compromising with such violations as a result of this stern acton, that would be the most positive outcome of the court order. At the same time, there is no escape from the urgent need to find satisfactory means of rehabilitation and compensation for the evicted families. And if there is a legal elbow room to suspend the demolition until such alternatives are found, the state government and Maradu municipality should lose no time to explore and avail them. The hope and prayer of the people is that the apex court will be seized of the complexity of the situation, and judges will act with a humane and broad-minded approach in the context.