Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

Viewers all over the country were glued to their television screens waiting with bated breath last Saturday and Sunday [11 and 12Deceber]. It was neither for an entertainment programme nor a major sports fixture featuring India. But they knew that they would be seeing one of the most spectacular sights in Indian television history from the Maradu Panchayat in Kochi- demolition of four posh multi-storied apartment blocks under instruction from the Supreme Court of India. These were unauthorized constructions that blatantly violated the Coastal Zone Regulations.

The Maradu story is 13 years old. Its genesis was when Maradu was a Panchayat in 2006 granted permission to builders of the four buildings which have now been demolished. They were Holy Faith H2O, Alfa Serene, Jain Coral Cove and Golden Kayaloram. The Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority [KCZMA] questioned the permission to the builders as they had violated the provisions of the Coastal Zone regulations. The Panchayat in turn issued show cause notices to the builders. A legal battle started with the builders promptly challenging the show cause notice in the Kerala High Court and got an interim stay and the Court ruled that the KCZMA, the government body had no power to issue such instructions to the Panchayat. KCZMA filed a review petition in the division bench which rejected the petition. It is later that that the Authority filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court. A division bench of the Supreme Court of Justices Arun Mihra and Navin Sinha ruled on 8 May 2019 the permission granted to the builders as null and void and the removal of all the structures within a month. The bench issued an ultimatum to raze the buildings by 20 September2019. A number of review petitions filed by the residents of the flats were rejected by the bench and finally the Maradu civic body [a municipality since 2010] started the process of demolition of the four building complexes. What the country witnessed last Saturday and Sunday was the finale of the Maradu story.

I had seen a Dileep starrer Malayalam film the climax of which was blasting and demolition of an illegally constructed multi-storied mall or commercial complex. Using cinematic techniques and perhaps borrowed footage, the film provided thrill and excitement for the viewers. That was not real but fictional, make- belief stuff. Some viewers wondered whether what they were watching was fictional like the Dileep film. We were watching was the real thing- live from Maradu, actual demolition of four apartment complexes. And, what we saw on our television screens was simply spectacular, thanks to the highly professional and precision job by the companies entrusted with the task. The police, the administration and other agencies had coordinated and worked fantastically well like a well-oiled machine.

All those mentioned above deserve kudos but the three companies, one South African and others Indian had made it possible. Jet Demolition, the South African Company and Edifice Engineering, an Indian company were ably supported by another Indian firm Vijay Steel of Chennai. The live coverage of the demolitions on both days, shown on many channels had the thrill and excitement of an event like that. A wee bit delay on both the days, in the actual process of bringing down the buildings seems to have added to the dramatic suspense. Further, the three sirens before the demolition of each one of the buildings were like death knell of tolling of a bell to mark someone’s death. The three sirens to me sounded like the three bells associated with death- the first bell like a warning about impending death, the second around death and the third, the corpse bell which is considered to be funeral toll. The third siren heralded the demolition.

I would not go into the details of the blasts but would first dwell upon the advancement and perfection of technology in such sensitive operations. I wonder how man is at his destructive best to bring down huge buildings according to a predetermined plan. They succeeded to a great extent, in ensuring that the steel and concrete debris did not fall into the lake. Similarly, when the last building was razed to the ground on Sunday as requested by the authorities, an Anganwadi hardly a couple of meters from the building and a multi-storied apartment block under construction, a few meters away were unscathed without even a scratch.

Such is modern man’s genius in destruction! It is the same genius of man exhibited in demolition which also planned and built those sixteen or twenty storey ultra modern apartment blocks. Of course construction work of the buildings would have taken a few years for completion but it took just a few seconds for each one of them to fall as just huge heaps of debris of steel and concrete! Now to clear the debris reportedly over 70,000 tons, will take at least seventy days. Already there are reports of residents of Maradu complaining about chest and lung problems because of the enormous quantity of dust generated by the demolitions.

When I watched each building crumbling down, I was reminded of ’Jengo’, which is a physically and mentally stimulating game for children and even grown- ups. Stacks of specially designed and 54 precision crafted wooden blocks are used to make tall and often unstable towers and then players take turns to remove a block each. At the end of the game the tower falls completely. The loser is the player who made the tower fall. Without understanding the nuances of the game my three grandchildren, all below ten laugh aloud and celebrate.

I was reminded of the children’s laughter when hundreds of bystanders who had assembled in Maradu to watch each building being brought down in seconds clapping and hooting in celebration. I felt that this was inappropriate as there was a human tragedy behind each one of the 350 or so hapless flat owners. They had lost their homes; most of them had invested their hard earned money and savings of a lifetime. The court of course has ordered the flat owners a payment of around Rs.25 lakh which is grossly inadequate to compensate their loss. The Maradu story indeed is about a major human tragedy. Even Justice Arun Mishra who ordered the demolition said in the Supreme Court yesterday [ 13 January] that it was a “painful duty” to issue the order.

One of the television reporters covering the demolition interviewed a lady who was weeping bitterly watching the homes of people crumbling. The reporter asked her whether one of those flats was hers. The lady replied no and said that she was lamenting for the human tragedy befallen on the residents of those demolished buildings. So there were empathetic and sensitive souls who were shedding tears for others; not rejoicing. It was pathetic to watch a child pointing at a building coming down and saying in a choked voice, ”that was my room’’!

Who should be blamed for this tragedy?- The people who invested, owned and lived in those flats who were either ignorant and invested in a property with dubious land record? The builders who probably took the flat owners for a ride? The revenue officials and Panchayat functionaries who probably manipulated the records of land allotted to the builders circumventing Coastal Zone regulations? Whoever may the culprits, our judicial system has exposed corrupt practices and many of the officials, elected representatives and builders have been found guilty and sent to jail; of course they are presently on bail.

The Supreme Court decision may be considered too harsh. But the Maradu demolitions are a warning to greedy builders and our corrupt political and bureaucratic systems. Illegal and unauthorized constructions all over the country are standing monuments of the all pervading cancer of corruption. With a fragile eco system Kerala is one of the worst affected as far as illegal constructions are concerned. The blatant misuse of natural resources, indiscriminate sand mining and quarrying, encroachment of forest lands Kerala are responsible for natural frequent calamities. Lessons are yet to be learned from the devastating floods of 2018 and a milder version of it last year.

The only hope amidst natural disasters is the active and alert civil society movements in the state taking up environmental causes and our judiciary which is the last refuge in correcting the misdeeds of the unholy nexuses of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, investors and builders. It is indeed gratifying that on the eve of the Maradu demolitions, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of Kapico Resorts at Panavally in Nediyathuruthu on the banks of the already shrinking and endangered Vembanad lake in Alappuzha in Kerala. Like the Maradu builders, the resort owners have also been found guilty of violating the Coastal Regulation Zone [CRZ] rules. This luxury resort with tie up with world’s leading luxury brand Banyan Tree boasts of 100 water villas, luxury house-boats, health spa and other paraphernalia with the tag-line “Life in a New Light”. Light seems to be fading for law breakers!