Two days before the end of Supreme Court’s deadline to demolish five apartment buildings in Maradu panchayat, a builder on Thursday moved the apex court to review its order, saying that the court was misled by the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) into passing the order.
On May 8, a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra directed the demolition of five apartment buildings in Kochi’s Maradu within a month. The court, based on a report submitted by its expert committee, concluded the buildings fell within the CRZ-III limits.
The committee submitted its report stating that as per CRZ notification of 1991 and Kerala Coastal Zone Management Plan 1996, the area in question came under CRZ III. As per the CRZ notification 1991, no construction is permitted within 200 meters from the coastal line in CRZ III.
But Holy Faith Builders, represented by advocates A. Karthik and Santhosh Mathew, submitted that the KCZMA hid a vital fact from the apex court — that is, a more recent Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) prepared pursuant to a 2011 CRZ notification was approved by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on February 28, 2019 by which Maradu area of Ernakulam was categorised under CRZ-II.
The builder said the apex court’s May 8 judgment to demolish 400 flats would render 400 families in Maradu area homeless.
The expert committee did not hear the apartment owners.
‘‘The apartment owners were not heard by the committee despite the direction of this court to hear all affected parties. All the 91 units in the petitioner’s (Holy Faith Builders) building have been sold. Thereafter, tax is being paid by them every year. The committee did not issue notice to the owners of the apartments who are residing there. They are the affected parties, if an adverse order is passed in the matter,’’ the petition said.
It said the Maradu panchayat was formed in the year 1953 was part of the Greater Cochin Development Authority and ‘‘hence is part of a legally- designated urban area.’’
The petition said it was factually incorrect to say that the Maradu area was situated in the shores of backwaters in Ernakulam district.
The May 8 judgment had blamed the “devastating effects” of unbridled construction activities in eco-sensitive areas with natural water flow. It said illegal constructions on river shores and “unscrupulous trespass” into the natural path of backwaters have led to natural calamities such as those seen in the recent floods in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttarakhand,
‘‘Considering the urban nature and rapid growth in the area, the structure plan of Kochi was extended to the Maradu grama panchayat. The Kerala Municipality Building Rules were also made applicable to the Maradu panchayat. The State government notified the Revised Structure Plan for Central City of Kochi and the same is made applicable to Maradu area also,’’ the petition said.
Despite this, the petition contended that the committee did not bother to conduct any site inspection to determine the status of the building and applicability of CRZ norms.
‘‘The committee ignored the fact that Maradu grama panchayat was a fully developed urban area and it was wrongly categorised in CRZ-III in the CZMP approved in 1996 and that this error was rectified by including Maradu area as CRZ-II in CZMP prepared based on 2011 notification approved on 28.2.2019,’’ the petition said.
Detailing the chain of events which led to the May 8 judgment, the builder said the expert committee had initially recorded that the CZMP of Kerala currently applicable was the one approved in 1996. According to that, Maradu falls in Category-III.
But the committee had also added that Maradu panchayat was upgraded to municipality in 2010 and shown as CRZ-II in the draft CZMP prepared as per CRZ notification of 2011 and submitted to MoEF.
‘‘It was further recorded that until the Government of Kerala/KCZMA receives a communication from the Government of India on the approval of the CZMP draft submitted, the CZMP 1996 stands valid… It is pertinent to note that the MoEF approved the CZMP draft on 28.02.2019. It was communicated to KCZMA by 01.03.2019. Despite the same, the said fact was not brought to the notice of the committee by KCZMA. Thereby, the committee was misled by KCZMA,’’ the petition alleged.
This lack of updated information had led the committee to record that CZMP as per the 2011 notification was still in its draft stage. ‘‘At the time of the hearing, KCZMA, despite the knowledge that the CZMP has been approved by the Centre on 28.02.2019, failed to bring this crucial fact to the notice of this court,’’ the petition alleged.