Kochi: Keralites will hold their collective breath at 11am on Saturday, January 11, as explosives rip through a high-rise apartment abutting the picturesque Maradu waterfront area in the state’s commercial capital, Kochi.
When that building collapses in a heap creating a mountain of debris, it will also blast the dreams of dozens of local residents and NRIs who had bought their homes in the building, Holy Faith H2O, many of them putting their life’s earnings into those flats.
That demolition will be followed by that of Alfa Serene the same day, and the Jain Coral Cove and Golden Kayaloram the following day. Together, the four building complexes have 346 apartments.
Crux of the matter
The demolitions, ordered by the Supreme Court of India, have mostly to do with the buildings violating the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) rules which prescribe norms for the distance that buildings need to have from water bodies.
Some of the buildings began construction even prior to 2000, and the Maradu panchayat had in 2006 given permission to the builders to construct the buildings. However, some months later the panchayat served notice on the builders following a directive by the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA).
According to KCZMA, the construction sites fell in the CRZ-III zone, the vulnerable category of land where no construction is allowed 200 metres from the coast as per CRZ rules.
The CRZ norms are framed with the intention of promoting sustainable development based on scientific principles.
Long road of litigation
As is the case in India’s courts, the matter then wound through time-consuming litigation. The builders and then the residents got into the act, and were enthused initially when they successfully argued their case in the lower courts.
They even got a favourable interim order from the Kerala High Court. But the KCZMA approached the apex court in 2016, arguing that the panchayat gave permission to builders without their concurrence. In May 2019, the apex court ruled the panchayat’s permission to builders illegal and ordered demolition of the buildings.
Shock of their lives
Apartment owners mostly believed that under no circumstance would they be evicted, going by the tradition in India where minor transgressions of the law are regularised. However, the apex court stuck to its stand, and the residents in the four apartment complexes were served with eviction notices in September, and their buildings marked for demolition.
The apartment owners have been given Rs2.5 million each as interim compensation, which is only a fraction of the market value of the flats. Residents say that the going rate for apartments in Maradu of comparable quality is in the range of Rs7.5 million to Rs12.5 million.
For the remaining part of their compensation, residents are facing years of litigation. “A lifetime of litigation in the offing”, C.M. Varghese who owned an apartment in the Golden Kayaloram told Gulf News.
More than just money
Every resident of the four apartments being demolished have lost about Rs10 million or more, but more than just money, many say they feel like losing part of their life’s experiences.
For many, their children were born while living there and grew up in those apartments, while some of the senior couples spent the best years of their married lives there.
Said Malayalam movie director, Major Ravi, to a television channel: “I lived there 10 years, and when I look at the building now, I feel a shudder”. Like others, Ravi is extremely critical of how things have turned out. “The Maradu panchayat is right here. Didn’t the officials see the building coming up? Why didn’t they serve a stop memo then?” asks the director.
That is the same question that echoes in the hearts of every other apartment owner in the four buildings.
Preparations for the blast
The district administration in Ernakulam and the local authorities in Maradu have drawn up detailed plans to ensure that the demolition of the four buildings passes off without any untoward incident.
No one will be allowed to enter a ‘no-entry’ zone which will be an area of a radius of 200 metres around the building in the Maradu municipal area on January 11 and 12, the dates fixed for demolishing the illegal structures using controlled implosion method.
Roughly 500 police personnel would be deployed at every demolition site. The 19-floor Holy Faith H2O building is to be razed first at 11am, followed by the Alfa Serene complex which has 17 and 12 floors in its twin towers.
On January 12, the Jain Coral Cove apartment complex will be imploded at 11am and the Golden Kayaloram building will be brought down at 2pm.
Entry and travel in the water bodies around the flat towers are also prohibited during the two days, and media have been advised not to stand immediately on the exclusion zone boundary. Camera equipment should ideally be set up some distance beyond the exclusion zone boundary, authorities have said.
Flying drone cameras within the exclusion zone is also banned because the entire exclusion zone is a no-fly zone.
Experts from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation will conduct an inspection of the sites 24 hours before the blast, along with the Ernakulam district collector, and police officials.
If you buy a flat in Kerala, be ready to lose it, too, says Maradu flat owner
As heartbreaks go, it is difficult to beat the disappointment of apartment owners of the four buildings in Maradu, Kochi that are being razed on January 11 and 12 for having violated the CRZ norms.
The buyers of the apartments had no reason to disbelieve the builders because they all had permissions to construct, and the local administration was collecting taxes on their apartments.
With only hours to go for the demolition of his apartment in the Golden Kayaloram building, apartment owner C.M. Varghese opened up to Gulf News: “My learning from the entire episode is not to trust the Kerala government or other authorities and buy an apartment in the state. If you buy one, be ready to lose it, too”.
Varghese, who has briefly worked abroad, and is also the president of the Golden Kayaloram Residents’ Association, says the case of his apartment building is particularly significant in the matter of owners of being short-changed.
“The construction began in 1995, there is no water body touching the building and there is a government building on each side of the building near the water body, and yet we were marked for demolition”.
He feels the costly mistake that the apartment building owners made was to club a case it had about some municipal rule violation, with that of the cases of the other three buildings in order to save litigation costs. This led to Golden Kayaloram also being ordered to be demolished.
Many owners who have lost their apartments feel the dreadful deal they got was a result of corrupt bureaucracy, a passive state government and a miscarriage of justice.
However, an official of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India (Credai), refused to comment on the demolition order.
“No comment. Enough has been said about the matter, and the Supreme Court of India has given its final verdict”, V.S. Jayachandran, Credai’s Thiruvananthapuram Chapter president, told Gulf News.
C.M. Varghese feels that if an apartment building for which the local authorities have been collecting taxes for two decades is not safe, no apartment building in the state is safe from a demolition order.
“In Kerala, flat owners are considered rich, and therefore punishable. Fact is that people buy flats because they cannot afford a plot of land and build a house. Apartment buildings are expensive because permissions are costly and there are maintenance costs. If you own one, be prepared to lose it, too, is the lesson from the Maradu case”, he says.
January 11, Holy Faith H2O (11am), Alfa Serene (11.30am)
The countdown begins with a siren at 10.30am
At 10.55am, five minutes to the blast, second siren
At 10.59, a minute before implosion, the third alarm goes
Fourth siren to sound after the blast, when fire tenders enter the blast site
This process will be repeated for the remaining buildings
On January 12, Jain Coral Cove to be imploded at 11am and Golden Kayaloram at 2pm
A calendar to forget
It isn’t a Happy New Year for Kerala yet. The early days on the calendar are all forgettable ones.
A schedule of events in the second week of the new year that is doing the rounds has gone viral on social media.
It reads: January 7 — Businessman George Alexander Muthoot attacked with stones, January 8 — National strike which brings Kerala to a standstill, January 9 & 10 — Investors’ Meet in Kochi to attract businessmen to Kerala, January 11 & 12 — Implosion of four apartment buildings in Kochi.