Sending a strong message to violators of environmental norms, the Supreme Court ordered demolition drive against four illegal waterfront apartment complexes in Kochi was completed on Sunday with the last two high rises pulled down using controlled implosion method.
In perhaps the first of its kind drive in the country against illegal residential high rises, the four concrete colossuses housing nearly 350 flats were reduced to piles of rubble in seconds one after another over the last two days.
Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas and Kochi Police Commissioner Vijay Sakhare said the demolition drive was successful and said everything went as planned.
Explosives, weighing totally nearly 750 kgs, were used in a controlled manner to bring down the lakeside structures in Maradu, eight months after the apex court ordered their demolition for violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone norms.
The Kerala government stuck to its time line of 138 days given to the Supreme Court in September last year as the meticulously planned operation was successfully carried out in a precise manner amid tight security and after people in the neighbourhood were evacuated as a precautionary measure.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was imposed in the evacuation zone of 200 metre radius from 8 am to 4 pm on both days to ensure there was no movement in the area.
The government, which made it clear that it will implement the court orders, had managed to evict the owners of the flat, who staged protests, saying they had invested their hard earned money in buying the flats. The Supreme Court had ordered payment of Rs 25 lakh as interim compensation.
On the eve of the demolitions, one of the owners had said: "It is injustice done by a state against its citizens. The government is responsible for this situation."
The drive was completed at around 2.30 pm on Sunday with the demolition of the 55-meter high 'Golden Kayaloram' building, the smallest among the four complexes, after an about half-an-hour delay due to some technical reasons, official sources said.
Earlier in the day, 'Jain Coral Cove', which is also 55 meters high, was brought down at around 11.03 am.
On Saturday, two complexes -- H2O Holy Faith and the twin towers of Alfa Serene -- abutting the backwaters were destroyed in the similar implosion method in which explosives filled in the structures blasted in a controlled manner.
Areas in the 200 metre radius of the buildings were kept out of bounds for people and all kinds of traffic during their demolition.
In a precise sequence, explosives filled in the structures were blasted in a controlled manner at the end of the third warning siren.
The towering buildings that took several months to build and had housed 100s of families collapsed inwards into a pile of rubble like a house of cards in seconds, triggering mammoth 'clouds' of dust.
Just in a few seconds, the towering buildings, whose interior walls had been removed in pre-demolition work over the past weeks leaving them concrete shells, became mounds of debris.
Following the blasts, clouds of dust billowed out around the wreckage, enveloping nearby spectators.
The stunning spectacles were witnessed by a large number of people who perched themselves on top of houses and other buildings in vantage points just outside the evacuation zone even as police and district officials kept a vigil.
"It was a perfect implosion. Not a single debris have fallen in the lake," Suhas said after visiting the site on Sunday.
Sakhare said the operation was executed as planned.
"It was an absolute success. No damage has happened to the building adjacent to the demolished one. And no harm to any human life or any animal life. No properties in adjoining area damaged," the police officer said.
Suhas said demolition of Golden Kayaloram was the most difficult exercise as an 'anganwadi' was located close to it, but in the end it was also successful.
Not a single window of the building suffered any crack in the explosion.
"That is the level of accuracy these technical experts have maintained," he said lauding the companies involved in the work.
Saakhare said it was the success of the team work and appreciated two junior officials -- sub-collector Snehil Kumar Singh, the nodal officer for the demolition drive, and deputy commissioner of police G Poonkuzhali -- for planning and executing the operation.
While Mumbai-based Edifices Engineering carried out the explosion with the assistance of experts from South Africa-based Jet Demolition, the twin towers of Alfa Serene were demolished by Chennai-based Vijay Steels.
A total of 343 waterfront flats were built in the complexes, violating the Coastal Regulation Zone norms.
The Supreme Court had in September 2019 directed demolition of the apartment complexes within 138 days after the Kerala government submitted the time line for carrying out the operation.
On May 8 last year, 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, it had rejected a plea filed by the residents of the area against the demolition order.
"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," the court had said in its September 27 last order.