In 2019, the Supreme Court gave directions to demolish the flats to not only set a legal precedent but to create a lasting impact in the real-estate sector in Kochi.
Who does not like to live in a house or apartment overlooking a lake or the sea! The tranquil atmosphere is often considered a cherished luxury or an aspiring dream for many. In Kerala, however, particularly in Kochi — a region rich in backwaters — the real-estate sector has been going through a lull for the past one year, as far as waterfront apartments are concerned. And according to realtors, demolition of four luxury waterfront apartment complexes in Kochi’s Maradu has propagated reluctance among buyers.
January 11 and 12, 2020, marked a year since people in Kerala, and other parts of the country, witnessed the unforgettable sight of five high-rise residential buildings crumbling down in the wink of an eye, like a stack of cards. The demolition was the result of a 2019 Supreme Court order, which found that the structures were constructed in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. The apex court gave directions to demolish the buildings to not only set a legal precedent but to create an evocative and lasting impact in the state’s real-estate sector, especially in Kochi.
Several realtors in Kochi, to whom TNM spoke, revealed there has been a drastic decrease in the sale of waterfront apartments after the demolition of the Maradu flats.
“It’s almost as if there are no buyers for such apartments at all. Post-Maradu demolition, people are scared and skeptical. They have ceased to even believe government officials, considering what happened in the case of the apartments in Maradu,” a veteran realtor in Kochi who does not wish to be named, told TNM. When Maradu was a gram panchayat (it was upgraded as a municipality in November 2010), two local government officials had sanctioned the permit for the construction of buildings. As per the Supreme Court order, these constructions were in violation of CRZ. They were arrested by the Crime Branch in October 2019.
Watch: How 4 high rise buildings were demolished in Maradu
Joseph Nivin, another real-estate professional in Kochi, noted that people have stopped enquiring about the availability of waterfront apartments. “Earlier, I used to get considerable traffic from online advertisements, enquiring about waterfront apartments. But now, it’s negligible,” said Joseph.
As per the realtors, most of the waterfront apartments cost over Rs 1 crore. “Though the pandemic has generally affected the sector, the dip in sales of waterfront flats are unlike never before,” he noted.
There has also been a considerable change in attitude among the buyers, they said. People, especially non-resident Indians (NRIs), no longer rely on the stylish brochures of these apartments.
“People are now cautious. While prospective buyers approach us, the first thing they enquire with us now is about the required environmental clearances and if there is a NOC (No Objection Certificate) for the building,” said another realtor from Kochi.
Some realtors have also raised concerns that the ‘cautious’ attitude of people is “overboard”. “It’s not that all apartment complexes are constructed in violation of the norms. People tend to generalise these things and that is a problem,” he added.
Meanwhile, people who own waterfront properties are also finding the situation inopportune to put their plots up for sale. “For the past one year, I have been trying to sell my plot but buyers are very reluctant. Another major issue is that the land value has also dropped drastically after the Maradu issue,” said an NRI who owns a plot of land in Arookutty in Alappuzha, another region known for its backwaters.
A positive trend: Environmental activists
While the lull has affected the real-estate sector, including the realtors, environmental activists said that this new-found awareness among people is a positive approach.
“The dwindling demand for waterfront properties is equivalent to protecting the water resources. People are more aware of the CRZ norms and other environmental laws,” environmental activist Advocate Harish Vasudevan Sreedevi told TNM. According to him, this will pave the way for builders to not make temporary arrangements or tweaks to get away from laws, just to promote sales.
People now know that they cannot get away with such violations; that is the impact of Maradu demolition and it’s the best for the environment, said Cheshire Tarzen, an RTI activist based out of Kochi.