The wetlands in the Maradu panchayat disappeared due to urbanization. Study sponsored by Centre for Development Studies in the early 2000 shows that the area of the wetlands decreased from 1238 acres in 1970 to 300 acres in 2003.
Petitioners, Ramesh J. Tharkan and Arundhati Nayar, residents of Konthuruthy, are pursuing profession as Architects. They are occupying independent residential buildings in a serene and picturesque surrounding, facing the backwaters. A written petition was filed under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 - Section 3(1) and 3(2); Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1999 - Section 218; Development Act; Constitution of India - Article 21; Coastal Zone Regulations espousing public interest, as according to them, indiscriminate and illegal reclamation and encroachment of Kayal lands has taken place in the adjoining Maradu Panchayat and other vantage points. The PIL was filed in the High Court of Kerala in 2003 against the state of Kerala and others.
This case (WP(C) No. 21006 of 2003(S)) was settled in the High Court of Kerala in 2007. The court had directed the authorities to monitor the activities of unauthorized constructions, encroachment or reclamation as required under the statute and come to prevent it by employing appropriate service as the situation might demand.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests had issued a notification on 19-02-1991- the coastal areas could not be reclaimed except for permitted activities and it is submitted that the named authorities have a duty for enforcement of the regulations. Expert committee was constituted and subsequent modifications were done in 1994 and 1997.
A public interest litigation was filed by Shri S Jagannathan, Chairman, Tamil Nadu Gram Swaraj Movement, Kuthur under Article 32 of the Constitution of India praying for enforcing the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification dated 19 February 1991 within a stipulated time frame.
The chief engineer of Thiruvanthapuram on 26-11-2002 submitted that the reclamation of the wetlands was necessitated due to lack of space available for the buses to turn back for return trip on the Nettoor-Panangad route.
Studies showed that from 1238 acres in 1970, the wetlands reduced to 300 acres in 2003.On the opposite bank of the backwaters, the petitioners could see during June, very hectic activities, and truck loads of sand and gravel were being dumped night and day. They had thereupon alerted the district administration, police authorities, Corporation of Cochin and the Gram Panchayat about the reclamation process.
The filling up for bus terminal on the wetlands of the Maradu panchayat was carried out at the north end of Nettoor and it was almost completed during July 2003. Stacking of rubble and dumping was also carried out for side protection of reclaimed land.
On 01-07-2003, the petitioners, who are residents of Konthuruthy filed a petition in the High Court of Kerala against illegal construction in coastal areas. The court had directed the respondents to ensure that further reclamation activities are stopped. Village Officer on 04-07-2003 had issued a letter to the Secretary of the Maradu Gram Panchayat requesting to stop any further works.
The counter affidavit filed by the third respondent--Panchayat dated 26-09-2003 shows that the reclamation was not carried out on the instructions of the Panchayat. Their own enquiry revealed that the reclamation work is undertaken as included in the budget work of the state government. It was for the purpose of formulating a bus terminal. Though 5 buses were plying on the route, for want of parking facilities buses were not reaching the terminal. It was on the basis of the representations submitted by the local public and the panchayat member, that the government had sanctioned the widening of the PWD road, including construction of the terminal. The panchayat had nothing to do with those works. The superintending engineer, central circle, PWD Aluva had called for tenders for the above work, and the panchayat had no hand in any reclamation.
A statement filed by the Assistant Executive Engineer, PWD Roads Sub Division, Ernakulam on 06-11-2006. It was submitted that the reclamation was necessitated due to lack of space available for the buses to turn back for return trip on the Nettoor-Panangad route and the administrative sanction for the work was obtained from the Chief Engineer, Thiruvananthapuram on 26-11-2002.
The court directed the learned District Collector, Ernakulam to give a report as to how much of land would be necessarily required for turning of the buses where reclamation of backwaters had already been done. The report was directed to be filed within three weeks from the day of hearing.
A report was filed by the District Collector dated 01-12-2006. Reportedly the Assistant Executive Engineer and the Motor Vehicle Inspector had conducted a joint inspection and the total land required for terminal area for use of stage carriages was assessed as 21.201 per cent.
The petitioners, after the above order, have filed an affidavit on 15-12-2006 pointing out that the affidavit filed by the 5th respondent dated 12-08-2003 would indicate that only 3 per cent of Kayal alone had been reclaimed, but the subsequent reports showed that larger areas had been reclaimed. It had also been submitted that private parties adjoining the reclamation site have reclaimed ‘an area of more than 1 to 2 acres or more’.
In the affidavit filed by the 5th respondent-- Revenue Divisional Officer, Fort Cochi, it had been pleaded that they were not authorities under the Coastal Zone Regulations. Hence it may not be possible for them to take any action on the complaint lodged.
Judgement was passed by the court.No person would be entitled to violate the laws of the land. The authorities were directed to monitor the activities of unauthorized constructions, encroachment or reclamation as required under the statute and was asked to come to prevent it by employing appropriate service as the situation might demand.