A waterfront apartment is something most people dream of, and if it is in Kochi (Ernakulam), what more can one ask for? It is this obsession that real estate developers are cashing in on, with hundreds of housing projects in various stages of construction coming up on the shores of lakes in and around the city.
While much of this land was originally owned by local fishing communities, it has gradually passed into the hands of business groups, as indicated by the presence of numerous large buildings mushrooming up along the shorelines over time. Many of these developmental projects were launched breaching coastal regulation laws, causing alarming damage to the surrounding environment.
One such lake in Kochi now under threat is the Chilavannor Lake located on the outskirts of the city. The water body, which is a part of the Vembanad backwaters, is a critically vulnerable coastal area according to a 2011 Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) notification.
The lake, which was earlier rich in multiple species of fishes, has been affected by large-scale reclamation of filtration ponds and tidal marshes on its banks, which has affected the flow and circulation of water in the lake. The situation is also being acerbated by alleged dumping of waste in the lake.
In December 2014 the Kochi Corporation issued notices to 19 builders for violating CRZ norms on the banks of the Chilavannor Lake. In the same month, the Kerala High Court ordered the state government to demolish a DLF apartment complex that had come up on the banks of the lake. It also came down heavily on the Corporation for allowing violations of rules in CRZ areas in the first place.
According to reports, the court observed, â€śBuilding permits were issued in violation of the 1991-CRZ notification and the first respondent i.e. the Kochi Corporation has violated the law of the land, by issuing building permits in the CRZ area. Any construction made in violation of the CRZ notification cannot be regularized.â€ť
The DLF complex was the most controversial case among the buildings along the banks of the lake.
â€śThe area where the DLF apartment was located was originally marked as paddy fields. According to the law, such areas have to be maintained as such and construction of any kind is prohibited. Moreover, DLF had encroached into a huge part of the lake itself for its illegal construction. The building was built violating all norms,â€ť says environmental activist and advocate Charles George, who is spearheading efforts to protect the lake.
â€śAmong the buildings there are private houses, big flats and other residential apartments. A former chief ministerâ€™s wife also happens to occupy one such house that was built in violation of all laws too,â€ť Charles alleges.
As per rules, buildings near water-bodies must be located at a specific minimum distance from the waterline, and should also be separated from the water body by a road.
â€śThere are about 23 buildings in Chilavannor which have not followed any of these rules. Some of them have even been issued legal orders for demolition. Some cases are pending in the Supreme Court,â€ť adds Charles.
While the DLF case is still pending in the Supreme Court, all of these buildings continue to exist in areas which have allegedly been encroached upon.
â€śI had some land, handed over to me by my father, on the banks of this lake. Because of the existing laws, I could not build a house there and was forced to sell it. Now see how many huge buildings have come up here,â€ť rues Balan, a fisherman preparing his boat to go fishing in the lake.
â€śEarlier we used to have plenty of fishâ€¦now we have to spend the whole day in the sun and still end up catching very few fish,â€ť he adds.