Demolition orders for Banyan Tree luxury resort

Tuesday 06 August 2013

Seven-star deluxe villa resort was built on an islet in Vembanad backwaters, a Ramsar site, with full cooperation of state agencies

The luxury resort, promoted by Muthoot group and Kuwait-based Kapico group, filled up surrounding backwaters and reclaimed land before commencing construction (Photo by P N Venugopal)

A well-know chain of luxury resorts has been caught on the wrong side of the law in Kerala. “Located on the private island of Nediyathuruthu, surrounded by the exotic and hypnotic beauty of the emerald backwaters in Kerala's Alleppey district, the luxurious all-pool villa, Banyan Tree Kerala, is the first Indian outpost of the award-winning resort group.” So says the website of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, a developer and manager of premium resorts and hotels in Asia-Pacific. What the website does not mention is that the resort has been constructed in the Vembanad backwaters, which is a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance and protected by the Ramsar Convention.

Now the resort, an hour from Kochi airport, faces demolition. The Kerala High Court, July 25, ordered the demolition of all 59 villas and other constructions on the tiny island in the backwaters within three months. A division bench of the high court, comprising justices K M Joseph and K Harilal cited violation of various laws and norms like the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), EIA Notification-2006, Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act-2008 and Wetland conservation and Management Rules-2010.

Nediyathuruthu is one among the seven tiny islets in the Vembabad backwaters in Panavally grama panchayat in Alappuzha district. According to revenue records, most of the land measuring 11.5 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) was paddy fields and water-logged areas. This land named “island farm” was acquired by a chartered accountant from various owners and sold to Mini Muthoot group, a leading non-banking financial corporation in Kerala. Kuwait-based Kapico Group, a privately owned international corporation with more than 40 subsidiary and joint venture companies in 11 countries, joined hands with Mini Muthoot to form a joint venture, Kapico Kerala Resort pvt ltd with Mini Muthoot chairperson Roy M Mathew as the managing director, in 2007. The project was to construct a seven star resort in the island, which would be operated by Singapore-based Banyan Tree group. The company also availed financial facility to the tune of 165 crore from a consortium of banks, led by the State Bank of India.

One of the first acts of the company after obtaining sanction from the panchayat (application made on 5. 10. 2007 and sanctioned on the same day, notes the high court judgment) was the construction of a private jetty without the permission from the irrigation department. Hundreds of tonnes of sand was dumped to fill the paddy fields, roads, and retaining walls were  constructed after filling up the surrounding back waters.  It is alleged that as much as 10 acres was thus added, even though a survey conducted by the Alappuzha district collector confirms encroachment of only 2.04 acres. (While announcing the project, Muthoot chairperson had said the resort was to be built on a “sprawling 20 acres”.)

Google map shots taken at different points of time show the land filling undertaken for construction of the resort

According to the Kerala Building Rules which became effective from June 2007, permission for construction in inland islands could be accorded only in conjunction with coastal zone regulations. The regulations specify construction at a distance of at least 50 metre from the shoreline, maximum height of nine metre for a structure, 20 metre distance between two buildings and on so on, all of which have been violated. Clearance from the Ministry of  Environment and Forest is mandatory if the investment is above Rs 5 crore. In the case of this resort, investment is computed to be around Rs 250 crore, and no such permission was obtained. (When the project was first announced in 2007, it was to be completed in 2008 and the estimated cost was Rs 150 crore).

Thirteen licensed stake nets of fisher people were dislodged for the project. One of them, Ratheesh, filed a petition, demanding restoration of nets, damages and demolition of the illegal structures on the island. State of Kerala, Panavally Gram Panchayat, Coastal Zone Management Authority and Kapico Kerala Resorts (pvt)ltd were among the respondents.  Simultaneously, the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi (TUCI, fish workers' union)  launched an agitation; their front organization, Vembanad Lake Conservation Forum, impleaded itself in the case.

Despite the agitations and the numerous violations, no one in authority halted the work and the construction went ahead full steam. Even though the Coastal Zone Management Authority admitted in the court that the Kapico company had obstructed the flow of the current and that the constructions were not in adherence to the coastal regulations, the authority did not intervene. The resort was all set to commence business when the High Court’s verdict came.

The court has indicted the state and various state agencies involved for their inaction and complicity. The government has been asked to take action against the island owners to ensure that the unauthorized structures are removed within three months. “The court when it enforces laws in protection of environment becomes the custodian of the interests of not only the present generation, but also of posterity,” says the judgment.

“The extent of the Vembanad lake has been reduced to 12,000 hectares from 42,000 hectares in the past few decades,” says Charles George, the state president of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi (TUCI.) “Unfortunately, it is the state and its agencies like the Kochi port are the biggest culprits in encroaching Vembanad. Private groups like Mini Muthoot are taking advantage of the situation.” This verdict is a fitting rejection of all such violations, he adds.

Unfortunately  this landmark judgment found space only in the local pages of the newspapers in Kerala and has largely gone unnoticed.



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  • Don't simply place blame on

    Don't simply place blame on the corporates involved. Blame the authorities and MLAs who granted them sanctions to go ahead with construction!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • True.. The corporates must

    True.. The corporates must reveal the names of all the government officials who were involved in giving permission. Incidents of bribery are sure to come out. Government officials have got a new opportunity for taking bribes for not taking action in accordance with court orders.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Wondering why any kerala

    Wondering why any kerala based news papers not published this news.... I think days are not far which we need to read international news papers to get indian news....

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • This is an apt reply .I fully

    This is an apt reply .I fully agree with what you have said.The project started some 6 years back.Where were the politicians and all these so called govt machinery who ought to have nipped it in the bud.Even demolition will do harm to the environment as in Munnar.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • finally some action takes

    finally some action takes place
    a great victory for future generations to come

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • It is known that the hon'ble

    It is known that the hon'ble Supreme Court also upheld the High Court judgement and asked to demolish the illegally constructed resorts at Nediyathuruth. It seems that the landmark judgement in this case is of extreme importance as corporate forces are trying their best to make money through their unscientific,anti people and illegal exploitation of nature. It is quite unfortunate that the rulers and bureaucracy at every level from the local body to the state and central levels have extended every help to the resort owners to fill the water body and to build the resort. A thorough inquiry into the corruption and violation of law involved in this wanton destruction of a Ramsar site is to be held and the culprits punished. The unpardonable inaction of media which chose to keep their lips closed in this issue should also be criticised thoroughly. The workers and their Union fought the case deserve all the support of people.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • The corruption and violation

    The corruption and violation of laws involved in granting sanction to the corporate owners of the resorts constructed at Nediyathuruth are to be inquired into and the culprits brought to book. The inaction from the part of media which chose to keep mum on this landmark judgement of High Court is highly deplorable. The fishermen and their union who fought the case deserve all kind of support from the society.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • This is a quite a landmark

    This is a quite a landmark decision and shows that bureaucracy can still work, but only after falling prey to corruption. An important "Ramsar" wetland needs the best protection and this incident shows how harmful tourism and hospitality can be if not properly checked.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • How come the visual media is

    How come the visual media is not going to town with this...or do they only do stuff which makes them happy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • the hotel should either be

    the hotel should either be taken over by the government or a heavy fine should be levied on the can the court ask to demolish a completed 150 room hotel...? as a resident of munnar the demolition drive did nothing....people who broke the rules then are doing the same now,, what it did do was scare away any potential good investment the town could have received ? its made munnar dirtier, filthier just a couple of tall buildings..the institution of government has failed the congress failed and marxists communist not even worth a mention,,,

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • If the project was just 10Km

    If the project was just 10Km south, after the thannirmukkom bund, the CRZ rules do not apply. That is the complexity of all these rules. Conservation of wetland act was not even on the drawing board when this project was initially sanctioned in 2006. in that case,there would not have been such an issue. owners of the project would have checked with the concerned authorities before investing in such a project. they would have been assured that all sanctions required for the hotel will be available in due course and ultimatly there would be no unsurmountable issues.the officals probably didnt realise the perils that lay ahead.the consortium of banks that funded the project would have entrusted the lawyers for their legal opinion and got their sanction too. obviuosly, govt. officials & relvant people were in the know.
    think of the banyan tree group who have been advertising that the hotel would be ready for occupation from 1st quarter of 2013.if the project is demolished it would be great loss to the promotors and all the banks,that funded the project.
    it will also hurt the invest-in- kerala movement.
    investors will realise that neither the govt officials nor lawyers know the rules of the lands fully due to the extreme complexity of the laws and the many methods to overcome these hurdles. if the promotors had been wiser, they would have approached the envoirnment ministry for clearance and learned how to go about solving the issue without filling the land and pulling the watervillas back & not building a skyscraper.
    actually the governement should make clear simple understandable rules. people cannot fathom the difference between south and north of the the thanneermukkom will seem that no proper study was done while making the CRZ rules. Rules should be for the betterment of the people & the land and at the same time justifiable.
    We see vistas of new offshore city developements( hotels and housing colonies in the sea and rivers) in dubai, hongkong, japan, malayasia etc. and wonder why they do not have such rules.
    Governemnt, who are also responsible for this particular fiasco, should offer a solution to the promotors and banks without in any away destroying / hurting the envoirnment and the backwaters.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Respected sir, You

    Respected sir,
    You mentioned that the CRZ norms is not applicable to the southern portions of Thanneermukkom bund. If you don't mind plese inform me the notification issued by Govt of India/Kerala in this regard.
    Thank You

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Here there is a strong belief

    Here there is a strong belief that development means construction of concrete buildings without considering the natural resources. If foreigners want to stay in concrete buildings, they would not come here. They visit places to understand the cultural pattern, local architecture, local food etc of an area. But the black money holded tourism mafia is constructing concrete buildings throughout kerala by destructing the natural resources. They bribe the politicians, bureaucrats etc. These bureaucrats and politicians should be punished by the people. The supreme court took right decision at the right time. This should be a lesson to the destroyers of natural resources. The UN Tourism promotion council also uphold the view of cultural protection, social protection, environmental protection etc in its articles

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Now what is the status?

    Now what is the status? Resort is still not demolished by authorities...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • In Kerala, the Government

    In Kerala, the Government itself is the biggest violator of coastal regulations and other environmental protection statutes. We have also seen that the govt in most cases where orporates are involved connive with them to distort and bypass regulations and court judgements. Government nodal agencies like KCZMA looks the other way conviniently while resorts of such nature mushroom abundantly without care or fear throughout the coastal belt of the state.Case in Point- the DLF apartments in Kochi. The govvt of Kerala even acted as the laision officer for KGS group in the court in case of the Aranmula Airport scheme.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • We Citizens of India respect

    We Citizens of India respect the Judiciary of Great nation ie:INDIA. Corruption is high but we have justice although have to spend a lot for the lawyers. Come to Kannur Dist: Pallikunnu Grama Panchayat. It is CRZIII and from HTL to 200Mtrs is No development zone. It is full of resorts, Bunglows convention halls etc constructed by rich and political influenced lords. Panchayat has given Nos to many buildings and recorded prior to 1991!!.

    KANNNUR municipality - all multi-storied buildings are with out CRZ clearences. Illegal constructions are given opportunity to legalize by the ministry of LSG.

    Kannur Cantonment is not less. They have the highest rate of illegal constructions in CRZ.

    We have law. But who bothers about it. If any one has to fight against these illegal constructions have spend a lot of time and money in the court. Then why we need all these laws. Just for reading???

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • I was passing by the unoccupied resort on a boat ride to a nearby village visit program for tourists, I was told by the guide about this story and googled and got the information.

    I look at the 2 sides of the story, the corrupt and the mighty got away with going ahead with project though they were protests against their construction, how did the promoters go ahead then, what was the Kerala judiciary, sleeping, they could have come in and stopped the construction.

    Now the whole thing is built and demolition is a national wastage and imagine the amount of effort, time and money put in.Who is responsible for clearing this,the promoters would have lost heavily and would not spend further to demolish this huge construction.

    There the structure stands causing all the problems listed, this is really a Catch22 situation, it will status quo..

    Posted by: Dr.Simha Shastry | 8 months ago | Reply
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