The Supreme Court on Monday consented to the appointment of a committee chaired by retired Calcutta High Court Chief Justice, Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, to conduct an enquiry to identify who is “responsible” for clearing the Maradu high-rise residential apartments, which were razed to the ground on the court’s orders for violating stringent coastal regulation zone norms.
The committee will also determine the quantum of liability among those responsible.
A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao passed the order as a follow-up to an earlier apex court direction on September 27, 2019 to form such a committee to zero in on the people behind the violation. On May 8, 2019, the Supreme Court had concluded that the high-rises overlooking the backwaters was an “unscrupulous trespass” which would have a “devastating effect” on the fragile eco-zone of the area.
The court said the committee should complete its enquiry and submit a report expeditiously while scheduling the next hearing for the third week of July.
Initially, the court had asked retired Kerala High Court judge, Justice A.M. Shafique, to head the enquiry committee. However, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, along with advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker for Kerala government, on instruction, sought a change. Following this, the Bench suggested Justice Radhakrishnan.
The turn of events which led to the formation of the committee was heralded by Kerala’s request to be reimbursed ₹61.5 crore it had distributed to the evicted residents of the flats on the orders of the apex court. Kerala had agreed to pay the flat owners on the basis of the September 27, 2019, order of the apex court that the amount would be recovered from those responsible for the violation.
After disbursing the amount, the State Government had filed an affidavit in October 2019, seeking reimbursement from the builders.
Subsequently, a Supreme Court-appointed committee chaired by another retired High Court judge, Justice Balakrishnan Nair, which was formed to portion out the payments was asked to direct the builders to reimburse the State. The committee, in its latest report in March 2022, determined the amount the builders have to pay.
But the builders, led by senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate Haris Beeran, argued that the September 27, 2019 order had specified the necessity to first find out the people “responsible” for the constructions. The entire liability could not be put on the builders alone.
“Yes, we did construct, but who gave the clearances…? It is necessary to find out this before the determination of the liability is done,” Mr. Sibal argued, leading to the formation of the current enquiry panel under Justice (retired) Radhakrishnan.
Meanwhile, displaced residents have also moved the Supreme Court saying a mere ₹25 lakh to ₹30 lakh payback did not give them even a quarter of what they may have to pay to buy a flat which had even a semblance to what they had lost at Maradu.
“I have not contributed to this negligence which led to the demolition of my shelter bought on my hard-earned money. Now everything is gone. I am not going to get an equivalent flat for the money given to me… I want something more,” senior advocate Meenakshi Arora submitted for the residents.