SC verdict on Apartment blocks demolition: Questions being raised

SC verdict on Apartment blocks demolition: Questions being raised

Agency News

Kozhikode, Sept 13 : Even as the Supreme court on September 6 gave authorities time till September 20 to demolish the illegal apartment blocks at the Maradu Municipality in Ernakulam District of Kerala for violating stringent Coastal Zone Regulations besides damocles sword hanging over the heads of 357 owners, questions are being raised now on how the bureaucracy and political bosses that permitted the construction of these high rise buildings can absolve themselves from their lapses.

Questions are also being raised on how the officials of the banks who approved these projects and facilitated housing loans can wash off their hands from acting without due diligence. Though the fact remains that the buyer is ultimately responsible for making due diligence, thanks to section 16 of the Sale of Goods Act that prescribes the doctrine of “caveat emptor”, a Latin phrase meaning ``let the buyer beware’, a clause that places the onus on the buyer to perform due diligence before making a purchase, there are much more than meets the eye in the case of the Maradu flats catastrophe.

In its earlier Order on May 8, the Supreme Court had ordered the demolition of five illegal apartment blocks in Maradu - the Golden Kayaloram, Alfa Serene, Jains Coral Cove, Holiday Heritage and H2O Holy Faith. A clear and strong verdict from a division bench of the court had observed that none of the five apartment blocks had obtained permission for construction from the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA), the implementing authority of CRZ notification in Kerala coastline. The then-Panchayat that permitted the construction should have had forwarded the application for construction to KCZMA but was not done.

Though the area where these blocks stand have since been re-classified under CRZ III, whereas it was under CRZ II zone prior to the recategorization affected in 2011, technically the areas was category III when these b were permitted, a former Municipal officer clarified. Even the report of the three-member committee, comprising a Government Secretary, Ernakulam District Collector and others, had given their unilateral report that confirmed its categorization, but without making consultation with the aggrieved parties.

Dereliction of duty

The officials of the Maradu Panchayat, which was upgraded to a Municipality in 2010, should have been aware of the CRZ Act when they scrutinised the application for construction in 2006. A place which has abundant reserve of mangroves and amidst the biggest wetland in the state, the Vembanad, which is also a Ramsar site as per the International Ramsar Convention, the panchayat authorities and officials should have been more responsible in dealing permits around the ecologically important lake. “Anything goes with bribing and it is the end user like the flat owners who suffer”, a Maradu resident said.

Though the then Municipal Chairman Mr Devassi has reported to have issued stop memo against the construction, the question remains how the construction went on overruling the memo. Some of the constructions are said to have been cleared by appellant authorities like the Chief Town Planner and the alike, with due political interference.

Builder's responsibility

The developers of these apartments who acquired permission to construct, by hook or crook, and its owners are also liable for cheating the flat owners. "Will there be any action against them,'' asks a social activist who feels many developers deceit the buyers by concealing facts or misleading statements.

Most of the developers had in fact told the prospective buyers that their property had nothing to do with CRZ. Proper No Objection Certificate from authorities including revenue has not been obtained by the developers who ventured into these multi-crore constructions, it is pointed out. All these attract criminal liability on the builders if the owners move legally on the strength of the SC order.

Bank’s approval

Many apartment complexes are pre-approved by various banks as to attract customers to avail home loans from them. The same has happened in the case of these five blocks also. An important question remains here as to how come these banks approve the projects without looking into the intricacies of its permission and extant building rules including CRZ.

The due authentication by bank acted as a strong influencer for many a flat owner to go for one, a flat owner staying in a nearby apartment submits. “Who will take action against the bank officials who gave approval of these projects. Are they not aware of the rules despite being in the Home Loan segment for years, he says. True, that a due diligence and responsible project approval would not have made many flat owners go for these posh apartments, on the banks of the backwaters.

Political backing

Having reached the flash point with the Top Court order, the deadline of which falls on September 20, political leadership of Kerala has paraded to "save" the victims of their own mismanagement of the local bodies and the officials of these institutions.

The nexus between the builders and people concerned have been wide and deep over these years and the Maradu episode was only a part of it. "Whatsoever be the foul play and the political opportunism, the ultimate victim should be given a humane approach to safeguard their interest and at the same time legally proceed against the officials and political bosses which facilitated the illegal constructions", said a lawyer.

Will this change the game

Though the fate of the hundreds of owners of these five blocks lies in the outcome of the curative petition filed in the SC or at the mercy of the President of India to whom the owners had submitted a mercy petition, would this hard reality of negating and diluting rules for political or monetary influence would end in the state.

The soon-expected notification of the constitution of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority in Kerala would also pave the way for a better protection to the home buyers as its norms are strong and stringent against violations by the developer. However, due diligence and reasonable care in the selection of projects and purchase of property ultimately lie on the customer.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah of Apex Court, while giving time to the authorities on September 6, also directed Kerala Chief Secretary to be present in the courtroom on September 23, the next day of hearing, after refusing Kerala Counsel G Prakash's plea to give the state at least four weeks to comply with the order. (UNI)