Maradu municipality in Kochi is in the eye of a storm that has taken many shapes for homeowners in several parts of the country in the last few years. Four apartment complexes – where each apartment costs between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1.5 crore – may be demolished on the orders of the Supreme Court.
The apartments were built in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone rules – which prohibit construction within a certain distance from the coast, backwaters, river and lake beds. Of the 334 homeowners who have knowingly or unknowingly bought properties in violation of environmental norms, several may lose their life’s savings.
Though the events are panning out in Kochi, this has implications for homebuyers across the country.
The four apartments on the banks of Vembanad lake that the Supreme Court wants demolished are:
1. Jains Coral Cove built by Jain Housing and Construction Ltd. The building with 122 apartments was selling each unit at a base price of Rs 86 lakh.
2. Golden Kayaloram built by KP Varkey & VS Builders has 40 apartments and each unit costs between Rs 50-60 lakh.
3. H2O Holy Faith built by Holy Faith Builders and Developers Pvt Ltd has 90 flats and sells at a market price of Rs 1.25 to 1.5 crore each apartment.
4. Alfa Serene by Alfa Ventures Private Ltd has 80 luxury apartments that cost between Rs 1.07 crore and 1.33 crore.
What is CRZ?
The Environment Protection Act 1986 designates some areas as ‘Coastal Regulation Zones’ – CRZ, for short – where construction activity is restricted, and sometimes banned. According to rules first notified in 1991, the CRZ area is between the High Tide Line of the coast, and 500 metres inland. These zones are classified as CRZ I, CRZ II, CRZ III and CRZ IV, and each of these classifications have different rules.
CRZ I areas are ecologically sensitive and important, such as national parks/marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, etc. Area between the Low Tide Line and the High Tide Line is also classified as CRZ I. In CRZ I areas, no new construction is allowed.
CRZ II refers to urban areas including municipalities that have already been developed upto, or close to, the shore-line. In this classification, the rules are more relaxed – construction is allowed on the landward side of existing roads.
CRZ III meanwhile refers to relatively undisturbed and rural areas, and those that don’t fall under either CRZ I or II. Construction is allowed beyond 200 metres from the High Tide Line, however local rules must be followed. This is more stringent than CRZ II classification.
CRZ IV meanwhile applies to coastal stretches in the Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep and small islands.
Which category do these apartments fall under?
In the case of the apartments in Maradu – which is located on the backwaters of the Vembanad lake – the builders and residents contend that the place where the apartments are built are CRZ II classified.
But the Supreme Court has concluded that when the apartments were sanctioned and built (between 2005 and 2009), the area was CRZ III classified and therefore any construction was illegal. This means construction is allowed only beyond 200 metres from the High Tide Line.
Maradu was made a municipality from a panchayat in 2010. In 2011, the CRZ rules were modified to say that construction activities were only prohibited upto 100 metres from the High Tide Line. Further, for Kerala, the 2011 rules said that beyond 50 metres from the HTL on the landward side of backwater islands, dwelling units of local communities may be constructed with the prior permission of the gram panchayat.
However, the SC says that these new rules cannot be applied in this case because the 2011 notification was not approved by the Union government and the apartments were built much before.
The Supreme Court in November 2018 constituted a three-member panel to find out which claim was true; the committee, which included IAS officer K Gopalakrishna Bhat; Ernakulam District Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla; and Maradu Municipality Municipal Secretary Subhash PK; concluded that this was a CRZ III zone.
On the basis of this, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the apartments. The SC said that the 2011 notifications were not approved by the Government of India, and therefore, the older rules from 1996 would apply – and reclassification will not be valid.
What you should know while buying property
If the property you wish to purchase is near the coast or any waterbody, remember that the permission for construction cannot be given just by the panchayat or municipality if it falls under CRZ III or CRZ I classification. Permission needs to be given by Coastal Regulation Authority, in Kerala this will be the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA).
See if the entire plan is approved and not just parts of it.
For detailed reading: Buying a riverfront property or apartment? What you need to know before that