Maradu Flat Demolition

DEMOLITION OF BUILDINGS VIOLATING COASTAL REGULATION ZONE (CRZ) NOTIFICATIONS IN KERALA, INDIA, 2020

Executive Summary

The Kerala State is the biggest violator of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, which regulates construction activities in the sensitive coasts of the sea and the backwaters in India.  According one report, there are 1800 buildings, including star hotels, luxury apartment blocks, shopping malls and tourist resorts constructed in violation of the Notification.  On 08 May 2019, the Honourable Supreme Court ordered the demolition of four illegal luxury apartments with a carpet area of 80,000 square meters in Maradu Municipality, near Kochi on the shore of the Vembanad Lake, which is a Ramsar Site.  The Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) is the appellant and the Government of Kerala (GoK) is the respondent.

The demolition is done by the GoK and the Maradu Municipality. They have not published any study report or document related to this project. No information or data is available on any website of the Government.

  1. History in Brief

During four months since the May 8 order, the KCZMA or the Government of Kerala did not inform the apex about (a) the impossibility of demolishing the buildings within 30 days, and (b) the need to conduct an environmental impact assessment.  On 4 Sep 19, some 12 weeks after the expiry of the one month deadline, the SC initiated a suo-motu case against the Government of Kerala (GoK) for non-compliance of its order. In the affidavit, GoK submitted that “the demolition process requires appropriate technology and machinery and expeditious disposal of debris; as on today, there are space constraints for the proper disposal of the waste/debris without proper study and planning”.  As the Court was not impressed by this ‘lame’ excuse, on 27 Sep 19, the GoK submitted a schedule of 138 days demolition and clearance of debris.  The schedule did not include studies of the site characteristics and environmental impact analysis.

FINDINGS

2       Environmental Impact Assessment

Earlier in 2017, the KCZMA had decided that environmental impact assessment would be done before the demolitions of buildings constructed in violation of the CRZ Notification.  No EIA has been done in this case. Three weeks after the Apex Court’s order, Dr Usha Titus the Chairwoman of the KCZMA said that “the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT M) has been asked to advise on the best possible method to demolish the buildings with little environmental impact and cost of restoration of the said places in CRZ.” IIT M submitted the report on 17 Sep 19.  The report mentions the potential environmental hazards and states that “the team did not get enough time and background information for a detailed study” on environmental issues.”  The IIT’s Feasibility report authored by eight civil engineers has been repackaged as the EIA report in the affidavits submitted in the Supreme Court.

3       Doing without knowing the consequences

Since the middle of October 2019, two demolition contractors have been doing the pre-implosion works like removing non-load bearing walls and structures.  The buildings under demolition are 50-65 m high, and have about 40 years of design left.  Since no such tall, strong building has been demolished in the country, this can be considered as an experiment.  All the four buildings are within a line of 3 km.  An in-depth study of impacts is warranted because of (a) the hazards involved in the demolition process, (b) vulnerability of the eco-system, (c) high population density and (d) critical and strategic infrastructure around the buildings to be demolished. Besides, there has been no discussion on the merits and demerits of different types of demolitions like deconstruction, demolition by a combination of manual labour and machines, and implosion demolition.

4       Site Characteristics

The soil type is ‘water saturated mud’ and the site falls in seismic zone-III.  The area has 3600 people and 1000 buildings in one sq km.   There are also critical strategic assets like underground oil and gas pipelines in the impact area. These illegal water-front apartments are on Champaraka Canal and the Nettoor stream.  The four apartment is almost on a 3 km long North-South straight-line.  The distance between apartments No 1 and 2 (from North) is 1.8 km, No 2 and 3 is 300 m and 3 and 4 is about 600 meters. In the circles with radii of 1000 m drawn from all the four buildings, there is an overlapping area of one square kilometre within the circles of apartment No. 2, 3 and 4.  Assuming that the impact would be felt within a radius of 1000 m, this overlapping area will be subjected to vibrations from three implosions.  This area has an estimated population of 3500.  It appears that the importance of the geology, and demographics and the inter-implosion interactions have not been factored by the expert committee in charge of demolitions.

5        Engineered Earthquakes

Pre-implosion preparatory works like removal of separation walls and other non-load bearing structures etc are done by men and machines.  According to the Rule Book, these works are to be done with least impact on population and properties nearby. Vibration from falling debris and operation of heavy machineries was a serious issue during November- Dec 2019.    Walls and staircases of 16 building were damaged due to vibrations.  Damaged buildings are located within radii of 150 meters from the apartments.  The house damages are similar to the ones sustained in a moderate earthquake with a Mercalli index of VI.  These engineered quakes rocked the area for nearly six weeks.

6     Seismic Monitoring

Monitoring of vibration is a pre-condition in demolition works of this dimension.  If the monitoring shows levels above the permissible limits or the nearby structures are affected, the activities have to be suspended.  Seismic monitoring was not done during the six weeks of pre-implosion preparations, when the near-by buildings suffered damages.  Had this been done, all damages after the first one could have been avoided.  Incidentally, seismic monitoring is to be organized by the demolition contractor.  Since the seismographs are the only evidence to prove that the damages occurred due to the contractors’ actions.  According to media reports, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras will do the seismic monitoring during the implosions.

7       Evacuation and Insurance Coverage

During the implosions, the neighbourhoods will have to be evacuated to a safer distance.  There must be provision for third party insurance coverage, in case of injuries or damages to the properties. Insurance policy is also the responsibility of the contractors. As the contractor did not do this, the GoK has paid the premium, two months after the award of contracts.  Details of seismic monitoring and finalization of insurance policy must be completed before signing of the demolition contracts.  There is conflicting reports about the radii of insurance coverage and evacuation.  In the beginning, the officials said evacuation zone was 500 m, and then they changed to 50 and 100 meters.  According to the latest announcement, the radius of evacuation zone is 200 m and the insurance coverage is 50 m.

8         Sequence of demolitions

The Maradu demolition is a first of a kind (FOAK) event in India.   In view of this the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras developed “a model for demolition of high-rises which could be tried at Maradu”.  In short, this is an experiment.  The Government’s initial plan was to demolish Holy Faith and Alfa Serene Apartments located on the East and West banks of the Nettoor Stream on the first day.  All complaints of dust and noise pollution and damages to buildings were reported with 150 m radii of these buildings.  The neighbourhood has been opposing the demolition as they fear that their houses could be destroyed due to vibrations during the implosions.  The people do not trust the official assurances safety and of insurance coverage.  They are demanding that the two apartment blocks, located in an area with low population density be demolished on the first day. Though the minister for local self government promised to consider the request, the technical committee in its meeting on 3 January 2020 decided to go with the original schedule.  The reported reason for not swapping the dates is the inconveniences of the contractors. Considering the experimental nature of the project and the vulnerabilities of the neighbourhood, it would be prudent to experiment with the building with lower risks, if the implosions cannot be postponed.

9     Violations

Besides the creation of a class of bystander victims, the implementation of this project also violates five Notifications/Rules/Standards from the Government of India, relevant for the current project. These are (i) EIA Notification-2006, (ii) Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2019, (iii) Hazardous and other Wastes (Management and Tran boundary Movement) Rules- 2016 (iv) the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016 and (v) Indian Standards for Demolition of Buildings.  Fundamental rights of nearly

300 families and children in an orphanage near the buildings under demolitions have been abrogated by the toxic dust, noise pollution and intermittent engineered earthquake.  The Supreme Court only ordered to remove the buildings; it did not ask to demolish the Constitution.

10       Playing games without Planning

An FOAK experimental project must be assigned to known contractors with proven capabilities.  Vijaya Steels and Explosives, the contractor who is demolishing the twin towers of Alfa Serene does not have a web site.  Is it a newly formed entity?  Incidentally, three important members in the demolition team had expressed their dissatisfaction against this company.  The officials have also attributed the engineered earth quakes to the safety lapses of this contractor.  There is no document on this mega project on the official website of GoK, KCZMA or the Municipality.  The names, qualifications and other details of the expert committee members are not known.   In response to the reports of damages to houses during demolition works, one expert said that they did not know that there are structurally weak buildings near the implosion sites.

12     Quantity of Explosives Not Finalized till 27 Dec 19

As the buildings were built on 5 m deep come crashing down will the marshy land be able to withstand the impact?  The safety experts raised this issue on 25 Dec 19 and decided to check the stability of soil in the areas surrounding the apartment to assess as to how the soil structure would take the impact of the demolition.  Two days later another expert said “We have a report on the soil quality, which will be considered while finalising the quantity of explosives.  On that day, about 75% of the drilling work was completed.  On 31 Dec 19, the first consignment of emulsion explosives reached the district.

13        Conclusion

Ankita a VI standard student from Maradu Municipality requested the Honourable Chief Minister of Kerala, Prime Minister of India and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to help in case her house is destroyed during the impending implosion demolitions.  Ankita is among dozens of children who could not prepare for their examinations due to the dust, noise pollution and shaking.  After the vibration caused damages to 16 buildings within 150 m of the apartments, it is quite natural for the people to be anxious about bigger damages during the implosions.  The third party insurance will not give them a home; it will only provide the market rate for the houses in case of total damage.  Are the collateral damages and injuries experienced by the people and the fear of bigger ones normal in implementation of a court order?  Injuries to bystanders in police actions may be tolerated depending upon the circumstances; but implementation of a judicial order which could be planned meticulously must not create collateral victims. Three months ago, 325 families were forced out of their homes due to the collusion the government and the builders.  This second stream victims are the product of the inept handling of the case in Apex Court after 08 May 2019 and starting the demolition works without a detailed study of the site and an environmental impact assessment.  Considering the unaddressed concerns about bigger shakings during the implosions, it would be wiser to postpone all implosion till detailed studies are conducted.

The four apartment blocks will be implosion-demolished on 11 and 12 Jan 20.  The house owners near the demolition sites scheduled for the first day are not co-operating with the officials, as their concerns about the safety of their houses have not been addressed.  These people were on the receiving end of all the damages and dust-noise hazards during the pre-implosion works.  Since this is an experiment, they demand to demolish the other two buildings with low density of population and buildings.  There have been no complaints from the neighbourhood of these apartments and they do not oppose the swapping.

Full Report can be read at:

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21844.35207

Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Violations in Kerala, India

VT Padmanabhan is a researcher in health effects of radiation. He has led epidemiological investigations among people exposed to high radiation in Kerala. He has also studied the occupational radiation hazards among workers of Indian Rare Earths, genetic effects of children exposed to MIC gases in Bhopal, health hazards to workers in a viscose rayon unit in Madhyapradesh and reduction of birth weight of babies near a beverage bottling plant in Kerala. He has visited several contaminated sites in Belarus and Japan and had extensive interactions with the survivors.His papers have been published in International Journal of Health Services, Journal of American Medical Association, International Perspectives in Public Health, the Lancet and Economic and Political Weekly. He is a member of the European Commission on Radiation Risk, an independent body of experts appointed by the Green MEPs in Europe. He can be reached at vtpadman@gmail.com


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