The Supreme Court on Friday directed demolition of flats built on the coastal zone of Kochi's Maradu within 138 days, a timeline given by the Kerala government, and asked the state to pay Rs 25 lakh interim compensation to each flat owner within four weeks.
The top court said that it was not against anyone but the primary concern is illegal constructions in Coastal Regulation Zone areas, which eventually lead to natural disasters.
It also ordered setting up of one-member committee of retired high court judge to oversee the demolition and assessing of total compensation payable to affected flat owners.
A bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhat, directed freezing of assets of builders and promoters who were involved in the construction of illegal buildings in the coastal zone areas of Kochi.
The bench further said the government may consider recovering the interim compensation amount, which will be paid to flat owners, from the builders and the promoters.
Kerala Chief Secretary Tom Jose was present at the hearing. The court said his presence would not be required during the next hearing on October 25.
The chief secretary in its affidavit had said, "There are 343 flats in the four multi-storeyed apartment buildings covering an area of 68,028.71 square metre. The municipality has an area of 12.35 sq km and is densely populated with a population of 3,619 sq kms.Two national highways namely NH-47 and NH-47(A) pass through this area."
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Kerala government, informed the bench that power and water supply were disconnected to the four apartment complexes in Kochi on Thursday.
The apex court said there should not be any reason for the delay in carrying out the demolition and gave the example of Kant enclave in Faridabad, where illegal structures were razed on its order, and modalities of recovering the money from those responsible for such constructions has been worked out.
The bench clarified that the court's primary concern was that no construction should have been carried out at the eco-fragile coastal zone and the question was not regarding any individual.
"Question is not to evict everyone from an area. We are not against anybody. Our primary concern is the illegal construction in the coastal zone area, which lead to natural disaster," it said.
While Salve was making submissions relating to the nitty gritty of demolition exercise that has to be carried out, the bench said, "If you cannot do it, we will think of involving some other outside agency."
Salve said the state government has submitted a plan under which in 138 days the structure would be demolished -- including 90 days for demolition and 38 days for removing of debris.
He said the buildings need to be brought down through implosion and expert agency will be appointed by October 11 to carry out the work.
The bench, then asked Salve about the proposal of state government and what he thinks of compensation to be given to the flat owners.
Salve suggested that an interim compensation of Rs 25 lakh each to the flat owners should be paid by the state government, which shall be recovered from the builders and the promoters.
"Whatever, they have paid to the builder, government will pay back to them. The government will later recover it from the builders. It will be better if a committee is constituted headed by a retired High Court judge, a technical person and a civil person, who would assess the total compensation payable to them as well as supervise the demolition work," Salve said.
The bench, then asked Salve to suggest a name of retired high court judge and said that it will be a one member committee as the committee should not create hurdles in the exercise.
It said that Maradu Panchayat was also hand in glove with the builders and promoters in allowing the illegal construction and "we should also hold them liable under the law of tort (law of civil wrong and the liabilities thereof)".
Salve said that they have called for the report and accountability will be fixed.
The apex court on September 23 had said that illegal construction in coastal areas of Kerala is a "colossal loss" to the environment, and had expressed shock over spate of unauthorised structures coming up at Kochi's Maradu.
Tt appears the authorities, rather than preventing the violations, were trying to mobilize the public opinion and time has come to hold them responsible for their active connivance in such activities of degrading the environment and violation of the coastal zone regulations, the court had said.
It had also sought a concrete plan from the Kerala government on the removal of illegal structures.
On May 8, the apex court had directed that these buildings be removed within a month as they were constructed in a notified CRZ, which was part of the tidally-influenced water body in Kerala.
The court had passed the order after taking note of a report of a three-member committee, which said when the buildings were built, the area was already notified as a CRZ and construction was prohibited.
Earlier, the court had rejected a plea filed by the residents of the area against the demolition order and taken a strong exception to an order passed by a vacation bench during the summer break of the apex court, which had stayed the demolition of these buildings for six weeks.