Are demolitions of illegal buildings that occur in collusion with sanctioning authorities a solution or a colossal and unimaginative waste of resources? Even if one were to argue that such blatant disregard for the rules should be punished, why are some buildings demolished and not others? Why is no government official ever punished for such wrongdoing when bribes are likely to have been paid by unscrupulous builders? Even bankers in serving and retired public sector units are rarely prosecuted when they collude with borrowers who scamper off with millions of taxpayers’ money.
It is difficult to determine whether this lack of public accountability is more reprehensible or the fault of the builders and their cohorts. Is it because there are powerful political figures operating through government officials and bankers and investigating the minions will expose the overlords? How much rot really operates in the system at the expense of the honest taxpayer and the common man?
Humpty Dumpty, the short, clumsy person from the original avatar, also a drink of brandy-mixed beer, and even an allusion to the hunchbacked King Richard III, wasn’t an egg at all at first. He was sort of a scapegoat who gets put down to protect other villains. Above all, he cannot be restored to his former stature, but not to be a broken egg. Humpty Dumpty may be an innocent rather than a “rotten egg,” a front for loot and public plunder with multiple shadowy participants. A political victim.
Supertech says it lost Rs 500 crore in less than 10 seconds as their twin towers in Noida, part of the NCR, were knocked down. Nearly 4,000 kg of explosives were used in the implosion which reduced the twin towers more than 100 meters high to 80 tonnes of rubble, over three floors. It will take months to clear the debris. Why is it described as a triumph instead of a tragedy? How much hypocrisy is absolved behind the arras?
It cost Rs 20 crore to accomplish the demolition itself and had to be done with the help of a specialist firm of experts from South Africa. Legal costs on both sides were extra. The time taken was over a decade. The human anguish caused to prospective buyers, their families, the builder, its suppliers, creditors, etc., is incalculable.
These were the tallest luxury residential buildings knocked down in India so far.
The foreign press took notice, describing the demolition as that of the Petronas Towers in India, the iconic buildings of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia: there, a proud monument featured in the movies, here, deliberately destroyed.
Previously, a similar court ruling for failing to meet standards had two high-end towers illegally built in the backwaters of Cochin too close to the waterline, also demolished in the same way. There are demolition threats in the tourist destination of Goa for buildings that are too close to the shore, under current laws, but some of its first five-star hotels built when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hosted CHOGM are were right on the beach. There was then no rule to stop it.
The Supreme Court ordered the demolition of Supertech months ago, upholding a similar ruling by the Allahabad High Court. The builders had been trying to find demolition experts who could do the job without damaging the electricity and gas lines, or even the nearby, fully occupied towers. It is ironic that the media continues to assure us that the destruction of buildings will in no way add to air or water pollution. How can he, when the Supreme Court ordered the destruction?
The petitioners were the concerned RWA, who discovered on a map, as the towers were rising, that they would have had a legitimate green patch where the illegal towers were located. The Residents Welfare Association pursued the case against the Supertech builders and the Noida Authority which approved the illegal structures, for over a decade, bearing their own legal costs. So obviously there were a lot of elated locals who fought against the illegal construction and ultimately won. People also came from afar to watch the spectacle of the towers falling on Sunday August 28, 2022, but from a safe distance.
Other moral campaigners felt it would warn other builders against such blatant illegality in collusion with approval authorities in the future. Meanwhile, there were harrowing images of the demolition engineers praying inside the condemned towers, with tears in their eyes, asking for forgiveness before pressing the button. Indians, even those employed by South African demolition experts, are not callous or irreverent atheists with legalese in place of their spiritual core.
Many buyers who had booked and paid for apartments in the old towers had been partially reimbursed in some cases, with 12.5% interest, but not in full.
The repairs included the allocation of plots or apartments in other uncontaminated Supertech projects in Noida. Others have not been so lucky and continue in limbo.
There is no one who cares about the fate of these buyers as it is, the legal situation being that the buyer must beware (Caveat emptor). “He should have done his own investigations before investing in the project,” we note. That this is ruthless does not seem to deter the Uttar Pradesh government, which has made no comment or issued any aid or relief measures. The Supreme Court also refrained from considering anything beyond the illegalities of the builder and the Noida administration to arrive at its confirmation of the High Court order.
There are said to be 22 Noida officials who allegedly colluded with Supertech almost two decades ago. Of these, two have since died and 20 others enjoy a comfortable retirement. There is no word on the punishment for these allegedly errant officials. No threat of demolition of their property. No famous bulldozers to punish them for their alleged perfidy.
So as it stands, this teardown seems like a very one-sided thing. The RWA sued the builder with its lawsuit, and the builder was duly reprimanded.
No one, including the current government of Uttar Pradesh, has prosecuted the officials who authorized and punished the illegal construction. These civil servants, now retired, allowed a set of twin structures of 35 to 40 stories to rise over a construction period of seven years.
Current Noida officials were defendants, co-opted with Supertech, and lost their case next.
The buildings have been mothballed since around 2010, when the RWA began its litigation. Some say they may have become dangerous anyway.
It is logically possible that there will be a phase 2 of the saga now that the structures have been taken down. But since the Noida administration as presently constituted has brought the case against the RWA, maybe they will be found guilty, and not just the retirees.
How did Noida officials give a revised sanction to a 35-40 storey structure when the original sanction was 14 storeys? How did they allow the buildings to rise only 9 meters, 30 odd feet from the other towers?
There is another notorious, still standing, 31 storey tall building, the Adarsh Housing Society in the Colaba Armed Forces area, close to various accommodations for naval officers and personnel in Mumbai. It was originally sanctioned for the families of Kargil martyrs. However, a number of senior government ministers including three chief ministers of Maharashtra, senior politicians, bureaucrats and professionals have managed to purchase apartments in this building.
There has also been talk of demolition in this case, but nothing untoward has been sanctioned so far. Violations of environmental regulations have also been committed. Perhaps due to the multiplicity of powerful people who sanctioned the project, bought and occupied the apartments, sometimes through family members and proxies, nothing was done. The case has been a scam since 2010, but apart from a few senior defense officials who have been arrested and released on bail, there is little progress in the case.
It is outrageous that wrongdoing at all levels is punished only selectively.
Admittedly, the government holding itself above reproach looks like a form of two-tier democracy with lawmakers placed above the law. Take it or leave it.
The author is a Delhi-based political commentator. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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