Hours to go for demolition of apartment complexes, all eyes on Maradu in Kerala

Vishnu Varma
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The demolition of the four apartments will be carried out through controlled implosion on January 11 and 12. (Source: Vishnu Varma)

"I walked across the bridge and bid goodbye to it. Because it won't be there tomorrow."

Thomas Philip, a retired Gulf-returnee, has an almost sentimental attachment to the H20 Holy Faith apartment, one of the four residential complexes in Kochi ruled by the Supreme Court to be demolished for violation of coastal regulation zone norms.

"I didn't want it to be demolished. So many families lived there. There could have been an arrangement to avoid it (demolition). But it is what it is," Philip sighed, as he smoked a beedi.

His single-storey modest home, underneath the Thevara-Kundannoor bridge, is outside the 200-metre exclusion zone of the demolition. So he doesn't have to relocate on Saturday when the building gets razed by high-grade explosives.

On Friday, officials of the district administration, police and contractors conducted a successful mock drill of the demolition exercise, making sure their security apparatus was tight for the much-anticipated event on Saturday. According to the final schedule, the 19-storey H20 Holy Faith apartment will be the first to be pulled down at 11 am, followed by the twin towers of the 16-storey Alfa Serene at 11:05 am. The demolition of the Jain Coral Cove and the Golden Kayaloram, completing the quartet, are scheduled for 11 am and 2 pm respectively on Sunday.

If there was heavy anxiety and unease among the public residing close to the residential flats in the weeks preceding the demolition, such fears have been swept aside to a large extent thanks to the intervention of the police, district officials and demolition experts. Around 2,000 people staying close to the apartments would be relocated to shelter camps. A comprehensive insurance package has been put in place for those suffering damage to their homes in case of a mishap. Door-to-door awareness campaigns were launched to relay the safety of the exercise. The authorities sought to send the message that while they were duty-bound to implement the orders of the Supreme Court, they would not do anything to compromise upon the safety of the public.

A member of the demolition team from Jaipur at the Alfa Serene apartments, who did not want to be named, said, "They (residents) have nothing to fear at all. It's completely safe. In fact, they wouldn't even know there was a blast."

On Friday, scores of men, women and children parked themselves in the vicinity of the residential complexes and the serene backwaters to get one final glimpse. The apartments themselves, heavily barricaded and multiple floors plastered with black cloth, were a pale shadow of their former luxurious antecedents.

Over the past two months, demolition agencies had chipped away at the buildings, reducing them to a bare skeletal frame. All it would take is a few seconds over the weekend and their work would be done.

In the backdrop of the demolition, there are academic experiments at play too. With no baseline surveys attempted in India to gauge the after-effects of a demolition on the ambient air and water quality of its surroundings, Prof CT Aravindakumar and his students of the School of Environmental Sciences at MG University are trying something new. They have a truck parked outside the exclusion zone of the H20 Holy Faith apartment which will continuously monitor PM2.5, PM10, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide levels in the air.

"If there is greater humidity in the air, the settlement of the dust would be faster. We're not expecting a major change in air quality levels, but we will have the first baseline data for such an event," said Aravindakumar.

There are also teams of the state pollution control board evaluating air and water quality levels post demolition. A team of experts from IIT Madras will also be studying the effect of the vibrations caused by the demolition on neighbouring homes.