India blows up illegal luxury high-rises

India blows up illegal luxury high-rises

Controlled implosions in Kerala a rare example of environmental law being enforced

An illegally built apartment complex begins to buckle and collapse during a controlled implosion ordered by the Supreme Court for violating coastal construction regulations in Kochi, India on Saturday. (AFP Photo)
An illegally built apartment complex begins to buckle and collapse during a controlled implosion ordered by the Supreme Court for violating coastal construction regulations in Kochi, India on Saturday. (AFP Photo)

KOCHI, India: Two luxury waterfront high-rises in southern India were reduced to rubble in controlled explosions on Saturday in a rare example of authorities getting tough on builders who break environmental rules.

The 19-floor H2O Holy Faith complex of 90 apartments — overlooking the famous lush backwaters of Kerala state — was the first to go down, collapsing in  a matter of a few seconds.

A thick grey cloud of dust and debris cascaded down after officials detonated explosives drilled into the walls of the building, which had been occupied for several years until the Supreme Court ruled last May that it was constructed in violation of coastal regulations.

Minutes later, the twin towers of Alfa Serene — separated by a narrow stretch of water — tumbled down with an ear-splitting noise. The remaining two complexes are scheduled to be razed on Sunday.

A crowd of onlookers who flocked to nearby terraces and roads watched the demolition, after officials onboard helicopters conducted aerial surveys.

India has seen a construction boom in recent years but developers have often ridden roughshod over safety and other regulations, and with the connivance of local officials.

The inhabitants of the razed apartment blocks in the well-off Maradu district of Kochi city had bought their 343 flats in good faith and now face a lengthy legal fight to recoup their money. Some had invested their life savings.

Sirens went off on Saturday warning people gathered for the demolition to remain at a safe distance while ambulances and fire engines stood on standby.

Ahead of the work, nearby residents told AFP they were worried about the impact of the demolition on their homes.

“When they were demolishing the swimming pool, some of the houses in our neighbourhood developed cracks, we are really worried,” said Divya, who has moved into temporary accommodation.

Over 2,000 residents living in the neighbourhood were evacuated as a part of safety measures.

The demolition capped a saga that began in 2006 when a local governing body granted permission to private builders to erect the high-rises.

But last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the builders were in breach of rules about construction in an ecologically sensitive coastal zone, calling it a “colossal loss” to the environment.

“It’s a high-tide area and hundreds of illegal structures have come up in the coastal zone,” the court ruled as it ordered the buildings razed.

Kerala is famed for its backwaters, brackish lagoons and lakes that run parallel to the Arabian Sea — creating an environmentally fragile region.

In 2018, the state was battered by its worst floods in almost a century that killed more than 400 people.

Experts blamed the disaster on the government’s eagerness to build houses, hotels and resorts with little regard for coastal planning regulations.

The residents of the Maradu apartmets initially refused to vacate but moved out after local authorities cut water and power supplies.

They have been given interim partial compensation by the state government while the builders are in the process of providing a refund.

Shamshudeen Karunagapally, who bought a unit for $145,000, said his wife and children did not watch the buildings go down as it was “too painful for them to see their dreams shatter before their eyes”.

“We are suffering without any fault,” he told AFP.


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