Five giant waterfront residential towers in Kochi’s Maradu, which were once home to 344 families, turned to dust over Saturday and Sunday. The buildings, which were in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules, were ordered to be demolished by the Supreme Court. However, while the buildings are now gone and the debris is being cleared – has justice been served? The losers in this saga are clearly the residents who lived in these buildings for over 10 years – but who are the villains, and will they be brought to book?
The four apartment complexes – H2O Holy Faith, Golden Kayaloram, Jain Coral Cove, and the twin towers of Alfa Serene – were constructed after the local body, the then Maradu panchayat, granted permission to the four builders back in 2005-06. According to the apex court, these permissions were granted in violation of CRZ rules.
Though three of the builders were arrested, along with three former staff members of the Maradu panchayat, the political leaders behind these permissions are yet to face any music.
According to advocate and environmental expert Harish Vasudevan, the case against builders will not stick in court since they did their due diligence in getting the permission from the local body. “The case will only stand strong if it is stated that such a particular rule was violated wilfully, with criminal intention. Particularly, it is hard for the case to stand against the builders, since they constructed the building after getting permission from the local body,” Harish tells TNM.
Harish points out that the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority should ideally be taken to task for not effectively completing the updated Coastal Zone Management Plan – which marks what zones each region belongs to.
“But if you ask who the real culprits responsible for the whole mess are – that is the government. Though the central government had directed the state government to form a committee headed by the Chief Secretary of the state to revise the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP), it has not been done, and the government itself has accepted it. Even in the already existing CZMP, the scales are marked in a way that is not comprehensible to the people. Under all these circumstances, it will be difficult to prove that the accused persons had a criminal intention. Only if that is proved, a criminal case has a possibility to stick,” Harish says.
Further, the men who gave the permissions for the buildings – the leaders of the Maradu panchayat – have not been booked. The president of the panchayat at the time the permissions were given is KA Devassy, who belongs to the CPI(M). Currently, Devassy is a councillor in the Maradu municipality. On Monday night, members of the Congress party in the region held a protest march in Maradu, demanding Devassy’s arrest. Though some of the then panchayat members were questioned by the Crime Branch in the past months, the protestors allege that KA Devassy has not even been questioned.
Reacting to this, a top Crime Branch official who heads the case told TNM that the possibility of booking the then political leaders of Maradu panchayat cannot be eliminated.
Meanwhile, the investigation officers are awaiting the required government nod to move ahead to the next phase of investigation. And, as per the officials, the chargesheet in the case, is expected to be filed a month after.