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What about compensation for Marad flat victims?
Commentary

What about compensation for Marad flat victims?

K. Gopalakrishnan

Supreme Court has rightly ordered to demolish five multi-storey flats in Marad, Kochi. There is no denial that in Kerala some builders have managed to construct flats violating relevant laws, particularly relating to environment, and managed to sell them to insouciant citizens. How they manage to thrive while indulging in such frauds is known to all in Kerala. But those involved in the game being powerful, few raise questions and come out openly against them. Being major advertisers, a section of the media look the other way, while some admirable and courageous media persons and organizations do expose them, unmindful of the consequences and revenue losses.

In the case of those citizens who bought flats in Marad, where the builders built flats violating the laws governing construction adjacent to sea, backwaters, etc , are those with mostly ordinary means who managed funds through loans, life savings, selling family silver and property and small loans from near and dear ones. The overwhelming majority of these flat owners are not the rich and mighty. Only a few may be from the upper middle class.

There are many responsible for this construction. Some in authority knowingly, and some unknowingly, unaware of the changing provisions of relevant acts; some due to lapses on the part of administrators like publishing the relevant demarcated areas in time; blunders due to ignorance is also a possibility. Even the house owners may have failed in not taking the legal remedies promptly. Maybe the advice they got was incorrect. For all you know there may be some legal remedies even now as courts in this country are very considerate and help the victims wherever possible within the four corners of law.

Now this looks similar to a Greek tragedy. But what is relevant at the moment is not to go into how this happened or who are responsible, but to provide humanitarian relief to the victims, numbering around five hundred. Where would they go in a day or within a week when the demolition will start with their near and dear ones, with children and senior citizens some with health problems? To these hapless house owners, who paid from Rs.70 lakh to Rs.1.5 Cr to the builders, the situation is perhaps worse than a natural calamity. Those who moved out to camps after the flood could go back to their houses with partial relief to meet the situation which was provided by the state government and voluntary agencies, media houses and philanthropists.

The state government should treat these aggrieved flat owners like victims of a natural calamity and provide them with houses and all assistance as immediate relief. The state government should also proceed against those responsible for their predicament legally.

But that alone will not do. They need to be provided with compensation. Some may argue that they should have known the law, checked up with concerned authorities, etc. before investing. Many who desperately need houses blindly trust the literature and assurances given by the builders and may fail to check with government authorities or civic bodies. Even for those in authority some of the changing provisions were grey areas. Perhaps those who need to be sure in this case was the builder who should have ensured of the relevant laws before embarking on the project and definitely before selling the flats to the citizens. They have a major responsibility. The local authorities, who failed to take note of these illegal constructions and failed to act on time too, should share the blame. Above all, the concerned departments under the State government cannot escape their own failures. How the civic authorities failed to act when a few hundred families moved in to live here also needs to be looked into and proceeded against if found guilty. But these are not the immediate need. What we must do is to look into the immediate need of these families facing a calamity in their lives, though some may point to their lapses too.

Here what we see is that the victim is the flat owner. The only act they did was to manage funds and pay and move into the flats. As a humanitarian act they need to be compensated. It can be from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund or a separate Relief Fund can be floated. To throw them onto the roads would be a shame. If none, at least the civil society should respond.

Be that as it may, the union and state governments should also examine the problem as there are many cases of ordinary citizens facing such problems, a number of them victims of builders, some of whom have duped these poor citizens. To give them due compensation is the responsibility of the authorities. How such situations should be handled in a humanitarian way needs to be examined. The sad aspect is that the number of such victims is increasing as days pass by. Some legal measures taken by the Modi government in the recent years have effectively checked some of frauds.