After 14 years of legal battle, the demolition of a seven-star private resort, which has been constructed violating the Coastal Regulations Zone (CRZ) Act, began at Panavalli Island in Kerala’s Alappuzha district on Thursday, officials said.
The cost of demolition procedure of Kapico Resort complex with 54 high-end villas will be borne by resort owners, said Alappuzha district collector Krishna Teja.
The resort owners will also engage contractors to remove debris and strict instructions have been given to not cause any damage to the environment or pollute water. Since the resort is situated in a small island, it is likely to take six months to complete the demolition and subsequent removal of debris, district authorities said.
“We will take action against officials who were party to the violation,” said the collector.
On Thursday, two of the 54 premium villas were demolished. Officials familiar with the matter said some the villas have two swimming pools and the initial rent quoted for a night was ₹55,000. Though the project — spread over 36,000 sq feet and built at a cost of over ₹200 crore — was completed in 2012, it could not be rolled out commercially due to legal tangles.
When contacted, a spokesperson of the resort refused to comment.
For a small group of traditional fishermen, the move came as a happy ending to their long struggle to protect their river and livelihood.
“We never lost our hope and fought the giants without any fear. There were enough threats and tall promises, but we stood by our cause,” said P Sylan, a school dropout and one of the petitioners. “We want our lake to be protected. We moved the court in 2008-09 when they started flouting all norms.”
Five traditional fishermen were on forefront initially and later many activists and nature lovers joined in, he said.
“Some people thought if they have money, they could do anything and get away easily. It is a lesson for such people,” he said. “They ruthlessly dumped rocks and stones in the lake to expand land which was bought from a group of people at a throw away price.”
The petitioner recalled he had to suffer a lot for taking up the issue. Initially, protest began in a small way after big boats and canoe carrying construction material spoiled their fishing nets, he said, adding when they protested, they were shooed away. “We feel proud today. We really salute our judiciary,” said another fisherman, wishing not to be named. The backwaters in the region are known for their pearl spot fish and prawns.
The construction work for the project — promoted by Muthoot and Kuwait-based Kapico groups —began in 2007 and initially petitioners moved a local court, which dismissed their pleas. They then moved the Kerala high court in 2010. In March 2013, the high court ruled that the construction was a clear violation of CRZ regulations and other environmental laws and ordered demolition of all structures. However, the resort owners moved the Supreme Court against the HC order.
In 2020, the apex court upheld the high court’s verdict observing that construction on the backwater island violated coastal regulation norms and ordered its demolition. However due to Covid-19 pandemic, the demolition drive was delayed for over two years.
Last week, the district collector took the possession of the property and announced that the district administration would start demolition in a staggered manner without affecting the lake and adjoining areas. “After demolition, the government will go after officials and agencies who gave permission to the project,” Teja had said.
Violation of environmental laws, graft and forgery came to light during the trial, said another district official. Initially, the land was only 3.6 acre but when the project was completed in 2012 the size of property increased to 10. 3 acres, the official said, adding that many government agencies were party to the gross violation.