The Supreme Court, on January 10, 2018, upheld a Kerala High Court order, imposing a fine of Rs one crore on real estate major DLF, for constructing around 180 luxury flats along the banks of the eco-sensitive Chilavannur backwaters near Kochi, in Kerala. A bench comprising justices RF Nariman and SK Kaul, however, set aside the findings of the high court, on the legality of the structures built by the real estate firm.
“In conclusion, we set aside the findings of the impugned order, while sustaining the fine of Rs one crore, with the direction for strict adherence to the norms in future and avoidance of such contradictions by the authorities. We also feel it appropriate that in view of the professed policy to have more single window clearance, the methodology of such processing of such applications should be endeavoured to be simplified, so that there is less uncertainty and better enforcement,” the bench said.
Initially, a single judge bench of the high court found irregularities and violation of various norms, required to be adhered for construction in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas and ordered demolition of the construction. The division bench upheld the finding, with regard to the irregularities in construction of the building, but saved the structure from the demolition. The larger bench directed its regularisation, subject to payment of a fine of Rs one crore, which was to be used exclusively for building up the environment and maintaining ecological balance in the area situated on the eastern side of the Chilavannur river.
The top court, in its verdict, said that “The battle of environment protection against development was a never ending one and the present dispute was primarily an offshoot of such a conflict. The dispute between the developers of a housing project and the environment authorities, is also one where different authorities have taken variant stands.”
The bench said it was not in agreement with the findings of the courts below, on the violations alleged against DLF, except to the extent that there was a question mark on the issue of not having obtained prior clearance and proceeding on the basis of a deemed clearance. “We feel that the direction contained in the impugned order, to deposit Rs one crore (stated to be already deposited), can be treated as a fine for the said purpose,” the bench said.
The Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority had moved the top court, challenging the Kerala High Court’s decision that permitted DLF to go ahead with its housing project.