At 11:18 am on Saturday 11 January 2020, Holy Faith H20 - a 60 meter high 19 storey building - in Kochi's Maradu municipality was reduced to rubble using controlled implosion method. A few minutes later, two towers of Alfa Serene were also knocked down. The demolition of the high rises, constructed on the banks of Vembanad lake, were necessitated following the Supreme Court's September 2019 order which directed he demolition of the apartments built in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone, CRZ, rules. It was a rare sight for people to witness luxury real estate projects - residential complexes - being demolished using controlled implosions.
According to reports, around 8 am, prohibitory restrictions were imposed within 200 metre radius of these apartment buildings. Residents in the immediate areas of Holy Faith H20 and Alfa Serene buildings were evacuated. Traffic restrictions, too, came into place just a few hours before the demolition. National Highways, NH 966B and NH 66, which pass through Kundanoor near the two apartments were closed 30 minutes prior to the demolition. Fire tenders and boats (near Vembanad lake) were on standby in case of emergency. The demolition process started with the first siren going off around 10.45 am. As soon as the second siren went off at 11.10 am, all vehicle movement nearby areas, even along the national highway nearby were stopped. And as soon as the third siren went off at 11.16 am, the building was brought down within a matter of seconds. Within milliseconds, a thick cloud of smoke spread to around 200 metres.
The demolition of the towering apartment complexes did not appear to have caused any major damage to nearby houses or public infrastructure. According to R Venugopal, Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives, PESO, on the face of it, everything went as planned and even the dust settled in a matter of a few minutes. Further, Utkarsh Mehta, managing director of Edifice Engineering, which carried out the demolition of Holy Faith H20, said that there was not a single stone from the building that went into the lake abutting the structure. However, in the case of Alfa Serene some debris fell into the water which would be removed later. Kochi's police commissioner and IGP stated that the implosion was executed in a manner to avert any damage to houses.
In yet another decision, the Supreme Court on 10 January 2020 paved the way for razing of the 7-star Kapico Kerala Resorts in Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha for violating coastal zone regulations. The order is in line with Kerala HC's judgement which had reflagged development of resorts in two backwater islands — Vettila Thuruthu and Nediyathuruthu, located in Vembanad Lake. While one resort was built by Kapico Group in Nediyathuruthu, the second, Green Lagoon Resort came up on the other island. The SC had in 2013 dismissed the plea of developer of Green Lagoon Island but the litigation against Kapico continued for around seven years after the HC order. In its 10 January ruling, the SC dismissed Kapico Group's plea and said that both sites are backwater islands of Kerala and come under CRZ rules, and resorts cannot be allowed there.
A Timeline of the Demolition Saga
While 'demolition tourism' in God's Own Country may have surged in the last few days preceding the knocking down of the residential complexes, the demolition saga was set in motion some 13 years ago. Back then the Maradu panchayat issued show cause notices to five builders including H2O Holy Faith, Alfa Serene, Golden Kayaloram and Jain Coral Cove for violating the Coastal Regulation Zone norms, Floor Area Ratio and other building rules. While one builder chose not to construct the apartment after the notice, others moved the Kerala High Court challenging the stay order. The single judge allowed the writ petition filed by the builders.
Undeterred, the Maradu panchayat went in appeal to the Division Bench which its appeal filed stating that the builders could not be taken to task. The Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority approached the Division Bench with the review petition; this too was rejected. Continuing its effort, the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority moved a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court, SC, against the Kerala High Court order.
The Supreme Court's decision shocked the residents; political parties and organisations rallied behind the residents and staged protest marches. However, the apex court refused to entertain another batch of review petitions filed by the residents and ordered the Kerala state government to execute the order. The dilly-dallying by Kerala government on the implementation order invited the SC's wrath which ordered that the buildings be pulled down by before September 20. Appearing before the court the state's chief secretary tendered unconditional apology and submitted the timeline for the demolition.
On 24 September 2019, the Maradu municipality issued notices to the residents of these apartments to move out of their homes, and the state government appointed Snehil Kumar Singh, the Fort Kochi RDO, as the special officer for implementing the demolition works.
When the residents refused to move out, the administration snapped the power supply lines to the buildings. As the pressure increased, the residents began the eviction and the buildings were taken into custody by the Maradu municipal authorities. Edifice Engineering, Mumbai, and Vijay Steel, Chennai, were picked up for demolishing the Maradu apartments.
The apex court ordered Rs 25 lakh compensation for all the apartment owners as interim compensation and appointed a committee led by a former judge of the Kerala High Court to oversee the disbursement of the compensation. The court also ordered that the bank accounts of the builders shall be frozen. The Crime Branch of the Kerala police booked cases against the builders and arrested the directors of the company who were later released on bail.
The Maradu municipality fixed January 11 and 12 as the dates for pulling down the apartments.
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