KOZHIKODE, Kerala: Seventy-four-year-old KR Ramani died on 9 September without securing a permanent postal address. A former resident of Cheranallor village of Ernakulam district, she was evicted from her home along with her husband Pitambaran and two children in 2008, when Kerala state government acquired land from 326 families for rail-road connectivity to Vallarpadam International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT), India’s first such cargo hub.
As the Rs. 3,500 crore terminal started functioning in 2011 attracting cargo to the tune of 3.12 lakh TEU (20-foot-containers), Ramani’s family remained relegated to a rented accommodation at Kaloor where she passed away earlier this year. The attention of Kerala’s political leaders has now shifted to Maradu, where 343 waterfront flats are due to be demolished on October 11 after a Supreme Court bench found the buildings violate Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. Meanwhile, around 280 out of the 326 families evicted for rail-road connectivity to ICTT between 2008-09 are yet to be rehabilitated. Ironically, even as the five residential apartment towers had come up in Maradu in 2006, falling within the Coastal Regulation Zone-III (in which is not allowed 200-meters from the coast), the families due to ICTT had been refused construction permission at seven sites ear-marked for their rehabilitation, with municipal administrations citing CRZ violations.
Even as the Supreme Court has ordered an interim relief of Rs. 25 lakh to Maradu flat owners, in the latter case, 25 of the beneficiaries most of whom hail from low-income families have died so far without being able to construct their own homes. This list ranges between displacement victims like Ramani who lost five cents of land and Joseph Celestine who had surrendered 70 cents of his patrimony to the government. The rest of ICTT victims are still awaiting either building clearances, land or compensation listed under what is referred to as Moolampilly package dated 19 March, 2008.
Forced evictions and broken promises
After the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for ICTT in 2005, residents of villages including Moolampilly, Mulavukad, Kothad, Cheranallor, Vaduthala, Kalamassery, Eloor, Manjummal and Edappally were asked to forfeit their land as per the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, a colonial legislation which had no rehabilitation clause. As just a meagre compensation was offered under this act, the families had refused to submit the title deeds of their lands to the government. On 6 February 2008, at least 10 families from Moolampilly village were evicted forcefully, no compensation assured.
“The families were vulnerable and the Ernakulam district administration felt that they could be easily evicted. Those evicted on that night included an 85-year-old immobile man and pregnant women. The strike called after this forceful eviction made the government issue what is referred to as the Moolampilly package,” said CR Neelakandan, an environmental activist who is part of the Moolampilly coordination committee. The Moolampilly rehabilitation package assured by the government included a promise of a job for one member of each family and 4.5 to 5.5 cents of land to each evictee (one cent is 1/100th of an acre). The package also included a rental allowance of Rs. 5,000 per month for those evicted. The state government had also agreed to pay a compensation of Rs. 75,000 for piling work required at the construction site. A Kerala High Court order issued by Justice Pius C Kuriakos dated 2 July, 2008 had extended these benefits to all 326 families.
While two more High Court judgements and four government orders have so far supported the Moolampilly agreement, relief has eluded most parties, and the plight of evictees was recorded in three visits made over 11 years by the people’s inquiry commission headed by Justice K Sukumaran.During its first visit to Moolampilly on 6 May, 2009, the five-member commission found that the displaced families were left in the lurch to deal with a “cruel limitation of living space” and “lack of basic amenities” including “a protective roof or privacy”. Three years later, when the commission visited the aggrieved families on 10 February, 2011, its report observed that the families, “have lost hope in the goodness of civil society” and that only four families were rehabilitated out of the 326. While the commission is currently in talks with the affected parties, it has already observed that the lack of rehabilitation has reduced the evictees to a “subhuman existence”, as the promised land still eludes several beneficiaries. Speaking to Huffpost India, Kabeer who along with his two brothers had lost around 15 cents of land said, he has not yet been allotted a plot. “I was in Dubai when the land allotments took place. When I came back, I was given just a title deed but the land was not measured and allotted to me,” he said. So far, over ten other displaced people have approached the commission with the same complaint.
Even those who have already received land from the government are woeful. Six out of the seven rehabilitation sites are marshy and requires landfilling. Out of the 46 families who constructed houses, four homes have already developed cracks, said Francis Kalathugal, general convener of the Moolampilly coordination committee, which was constituted 10 years ago. A Public Works Department (PWD) report dated 28 October, 2018 has also observed that the plots allotted to 169 families in two localities in Thuthiyoor village are water logged and that landfilling in these sites was done by dumping debris, including concrete and granite blocks, from the Kochi Metro project. Xavier, one of the evictees who constructed a house on the five cents of land allotted to him at Thuthiyoor, said that the walls of his house too have cracked as the marshy terrain is unstable. While he was given Rs. 4.81 lakh as compensation, he has had to avail a loan of Rs. 2.5 lakh to meet the construction cost. Piling cost of Rs. 75,000 that the government extended was also not sufficient to stabilise the soil, he said. “I am the only person who has constructed a house in this locality,” he rued. The other 112 families who were allotted land in the vicinity stalled construction fearing that their homes would develop damages which may incur further debt for repairs, he said. Besides, the lack of potable water and functional sewerage system has also been a major deterrent. The PWD-2018 report observed that the approach road to the plots is just as mud track.
CRZ norms delay construction
Even as most evictees battle the challenges posed by the marshy lands, several families have also not obtained building permissions. The Coastal Regulation Zone Management Authority (CRZMA) which oversees the implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone norms that are designed to ensure environmental and ecological stability, has been refusing construction permission to families covered under Moolampilly rehabilitation package, coordination committee members said.
Wilson, who is the convener of the Moolampilly Coordination Committee and an evictee from Kadamakudi panchayat, said that CRZMA denied CRZ clearance to his rehabilitation plot in Kothad. “I did not construct a house on the allotted plot because there is a threat of eviction. The CRZMA has been very strict about implementation of CRZ rules in this area,” Wilson said. Fourteen other families also face the same challenge, he said. “If such norms are slapped on those who are economically backward, why will anyone agree to give up land for development?” he asked. Wilson, who is aware that Ernakulam district administration and municipal authorities had given construction permission to four real estate companies in Maradu back in 2006, however, did not want to comment when he was asked why the same authorities denied him building permission in 2011. This, despite the 2009 Kerala High Court order saying land allotted under the Moolampilly package should be suitable for construction of a two-storey building.The Justice Sukumaran Commission had observed that unlike realtors who construct multi-storied apartments, the evictees who belong to low income families seldom build structures which pose any serious ecological threats. The commission’s report of 2009 which notes that all rehabilitation sites barring one falls under the purview of Coastal Management Zone reads, “District administration should ensure that the evicted families are permitted to construct their residential buildings”. Some members of Moolampilly coordination committee also pointed out that the district and municipal administrations and CRZMA have been following two different approaches for two sets of land owners—a lax treatment for owners at Maradu as against harsh measures for the Moolampilly lot.
However, Francis Kalathungal, general convener of the committee said that bureaucratic inertia is what has really marred rehabilitation of Moolampilly evictees. “In the Moolampilly case, despite support from the political class, judiciary and media, the rehabilitation process is still delayed. The elected representatives should understand that the bureaucracy lacks will and has been creating hurdles for hapless displacement victims. There should be one single authority which is made responsible for rehabilitation of displacement victims. Currently, the district administration is in charge of this,” said Francis Kalathungal, the general convener of the Moolampilly Coordination Committee.
Wilson’s observation regarding the approaches of the district administration and CRZMA, however, was more poignant. “I welcome the interim compensation of Rs. 25 crore that the Supreme Court allotted Maradu victims. No one should be evicted from their land without being offered proper compensation. But all people have human rights. Not just the flat owners at Maradu,” he said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, had referred to rehabilitation in Maradu as, “not just an obligation on the basis of Supreme Court order” but a “humanitarian issue”. The Moolampilly package awardees expect the state administration to step up for them too, a decade since they were evicted from their homes.