Lessons From The Demolition of India’s Tall Towers

A nine-year-long battle against the illegal construction of two towers ended in a matter of nine seconds in the early hours of Sunday, August 28.

The demolition of ‘Supertech Twin Towers’ — the highest-ever building in the country to be razed to the ground — was carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court.

The nearly 100-metre tall structures were brought down in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida (near Delhi) with the help of over 3,700 kg of explosives.

The demolition, which involved technology by a South African firm, became a much-needed action. It has impressed us all that it can be carried out with such precision and the impact on the environment can be reduced to a great extent by careful planning and execution, involving experts, civic officials and law enforcement agencies.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often emphasised, it had to be established that any wrongdoing with the law of land will not be forgiven. Political connections may have helped many unscrupulous builders, officials and politicians to get away. But a new beginning had to be made. No matter how mighty real estate firms may think they are because of their clout due to various nexuses, they will have to obey rules that protect us all –the home buyers, honest builders and the environment.

That is why the August 28 event has gripped our attention.

However, the sheer size and value of the asset destroyed raise one question.

Has it sent a strong message to the builders and authorities who have been putting the interests and concerns of homebuyers at heavy risk?
Will it act as a deterrent against such illegal constructions?

Real estate firm Supertech began to develop the Emerald Court residential complex in Noida in 2005. It was supposed to have 14 nine-storied towers. However, in 2012, Supertech changed the plans and increased the number of complexes to 15 buildings instead of 14. Each building was supposed to have 11 stories instead of nine, and there were also two more towers included that was supposed to rise up to 40 floors above the ground.

However, the 40 floors of the twin towers became a mega legal battle between the residents and Supertech. The matter went from Allahabad High Court to the Supreme Court. At last, in August 2021, the Supreme Court declared the whole construction of the two towers “totally illegal.” It pointed out the “acts of collusion between the officials of Noida (Authority) and Supertech.” It also conveyed an unsaid message — home-buyers cannot be taken for granted.

It made it clear that the consent of individual flat owners is necessary because the common area was reduced by adding new flats. Additional towers had “necessarily reduced the undivided interest of the individual flat owners in the common area by adding new flats and increasing the number from 650 to 1,500,” the Court said.

After the Court ordered demolition, some people began to ask, “Why blast the whole thing? Why not just impose a heavy penalty on the builders? The affected residents could have been given compensation.”

However, the Supreme Court was firm that a big message had to go: You cannot play around with the building laws by bribing every authority.

First of all, we will have to understand that the two towers came up as a result of the collusion between the officials of the Noida Authority and the real estate company. The project was sold by the builders based on one approved plan. Then, the builders “persuaded” the Noida Authority to come up with a new policy that the FAR (floor area ratio) could be increased with the consent of buyers.

So Supertech went ahead, and paid for that extra FAR, but never took the consent of buyers. The Noida authority, without insisting on that consent, allowed that extra FAR and approved that revised plan.

That means FAR was purchased twice for a total of Rs 23 crore (Rs 8 crore for the first time and 15 crore another time).

It means the project, which was built on a green belt, was revised thrice for increasing the number of floors.

Now, after the demolition of the towers, Supertech company has claimed a loss of Rs 500 crores due to the demolition of the property. Those who had booked flats in the project will receive back their full amount deposited to Supertech. The home buyers will get their total refund. But for the time being, they will be paid from ₹1 crore, which will be deposited by the Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) of the firm, by September 30.

Our big question is: Despite the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, introduced by the government in 2016, we are finding that a big challenge is bringing fair practices to protect the interests of buyers.

Noida Authority CEO Ritu Maheshwari is confident that the Supertech case comes as a lesson, not only for builders but for government officials as well.

The unfolding of events, in this case, proves that if there is a violation of rules, its responsibility will definitely be fixed, if not today then tomorrow.

On measures to prevent such episodes in the future, the Noida Authority CEO says they have revised the norms for consent and made them more stringent in disbursal of FAR to builders besides streamlining payment methods.

But if the systems would have been “robust and transparent”, then we would not have reached this stage where we have to see the buildings being razed to the ground.

Certainly, the demolition of Supertech’s twin towers in Noida is a huge victory for flat owners. Yes, it has also demolished the ego of builders and officials who were acting in tandem. But prevention is better than cure by demolition. Errant builders must be told that there is a high price if they violate the law by hook or by crook. Comprehensive guidelines must be framed after an in-depth study of the issue, fixing responsibility and accountability for everyone involved.

(The author is a senior journalist and a well-known political commentator)

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