On the morning of November 10, 2019, Nettoor-Melpalam native Harichandra Sai felt a thunderous clap which left deep cracks on the walls of his house. "The noise and the tremors were so loud that it made us spring up two inches in the air, along with the beds, furniture and utensils. My ears rang loudly and my heartbeat quickened," he tells TNM. he tells TNM.
The loud nose and tremors weren't because of an earthquake, but due to a demolition exercise that was being executed hurriedly as per the directions of India's top court.
Barely 50 metres away from his house in Ernakulam's Melpalam junction, Chennai-based firm Vijay Steels had just blasted the swimming pool in Tower 1 of Maradu's Alpha Serene apartments. Out of Maradu's 4 river facing apartment complexes that the Supreme Court ordered to be demolished for violating CRZ norms in October, Alpha Serene is set to bite the dust first.
The Supreme Court has set January 11 as the date for Alpha Serene's demolition. And with the deadline approaching in just 5 days, over 650 kilograms of explosives have been stored near the building in order to control blast the towers.
However, within a 50 metre radius of the Alpha Serene towers, over 42 families are living in fear and trepidation. Though the government has said that people living within a 200 metre radius would be evacuated on that day, they fear that their houses will not withstand the demolition exercise.
"We couldn't handle it when a tiny swimming pool was blasted. The foundation of my house has cracks and there is a deep fissure on my staircase landing. I had pieces of debris fly into my house. We are scared our houses will crumble to dust with the impact of the explosion," Hari tells TNM.
Fissure formed on the staircase of Harichandra Sai's house
According to Melpalam junction's protesting residents, cracks formed in at least 7 of the houses surrounding the Alpha towers when the swimming pool was demolished. Residents here allege that the officials overlooking the demolition have refused to offer any safety assurances to them with regard to the controlled explosion planned next week.
"The structural engineer who is a part of the technical expert committee led by the sub-collector marked the area within a 50 metre radius of the apartment as 'emergency distance'. This means that anything could happen to structures within this distance during the explosion. There are over 150 of us living within this distance," R Shaji, a resident of Melpalam and chairperson of the protest committee tells TNM.
Protest by residents living next to Alpha Serene towers
On Wednesday morning, the 42 families living near Alpha Serene launched a protest march against the control blasting. Retired judge MR Shashi inaugurated the protest which also condemned official apathy. Three of the residents also began a hunger strike on the same day.
Can't hear each other, children cannot study
Since November 2019, families living around the Alpha Serene towers have been finding it difficult to perform daily chores, thanks to the continuous ear-splitting noises of drilling and blasting of the towers.
"When we speak, we can't hear each other. We can't hear the doorbell if someone rings it. Moreover, there are about 8-9 students living here who are about to give their 10th std board exams. These kids have been finding it extremely difficult to study with the demolition happening next door" Shaji says,
Initially the tearing apart of the building was happening only in the night. However, after several complaints from these residents, it was shifted to morning hours.
Melpalam's residents have also petitioned the Chief Minister, the High Court judges and the Governor multiple times over the last 50 days to ask for any of the 3 other apartments to be demolished first.
"Coral Cove is located next to a graveyard. Our question is, why has Alpha, which has the most number of residential units within close proximity of the towers being blasted first? Why is the apex court and the Kerala government keen on putting our lives at risk and carrying out the exercise? We feel there is a conspiracy behind picking the complex in the most populated area first," Harichandra says.
According to Shaji, while officials have not given any safety and security assurances, they have promised to strip down the towers as much as possible before control blasting them.
"The issue they cite is that stripping down the entire structure to its skeletal form and then blasting it would take at least a month to do so, missing the deadline set aside by the SC. However, the expert committee has promised to reduce the load of the building as much as possible before blasting them," he says.