Noida: “Come have laddoos, we won today.” Anyone entering Supertech Emerald Court at Noida’s Sector 93 Tuesday was greeted by Resident Welfare Association (RWA) members with these words, and big smiles. It was a day of victory for them indeed.
After a nine-year fight against real estate major Supertech — over two new towers that violated building distancing rules and fire safety norms — the Supreme Court had ruled in their favour.
The company was asked to demolish the two towers in three months as the Supreme Court upheld a 2014 Allahabad High Court order on the RWA’s plea against the towers, which were added to the complex through revisions in the original plan, and built on an area residents were told would be a green space.
Supertech was also directed to pay a sum of Rs 2 crore to the RWA, with the Supreme Court issuing an emphatic order in favour of existing residents’ right to light, air and ventilation, and thus quality of life.
The court said the construction of the two towers violated provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Ownership of Flats Act 1975 and UP Apartments Act 2010 because consent from existing flats owners of the other towers was not sought, and held officials of the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) guilty of collusion.
For 80-year-old Uday Tewatiya, one of the oldest residents of Supertech Emerald Court, a complex of 15 eleven-storey towers (excluding the two contentious ones), the order was something he didn’t expect to come within his lifetime. He lives in one of the towers that will be worst affected by the construction, and it was he who decided to start a legal fight against Supertech in 2012.
“Socha nahi tha ki marne se pehle ye din dekhunga… par yeh humaari nahi sabhi un middle-class logon ki jeet hai jo nainsafi ko chupchap nahi jhelte (I didn’t think I would live to see this day. This is a victory for all middle-class people who don’t suffer injustice in silence),” he told ThePrint.
“Bade builders ab buyers ke saath dhokadhadi karne se pehle 100 baar sochenge (Big builders will now think 100 times before conning common people),” he added.
In its order, the Supreme Court observed that “availability of housing stock, especially in metropolitan cities, is necessary to accommodate the constant influx of people”. But observed that “it has to be balanced with two crucial considerations — the protection of the environment and the well-being and safety of those who occupy these constructions”.
The order has not just been cheered by the existing residents of Emerald Court, but also those of the under-construction towers.
Supertech, however, has defended the construction, saying they will file a review petition against the Supreme Court order.
When promises came undone
The construction of the new towers began in the end of 2009. Supertech Limited had started handing over Emerald Court flats to buyers by early 2010. When the residents started moving in, they noticed construction work going on in an area marked as a green space in the building plan given to them by the builder at the time of purchase.
On inquiring, they were told that two 24-storey towers were coming up, a height revised to 40 floors in 2012.
The residents complained to the NOIDA authorities and to local police but claim they did not receive any help. In 2011, they reached out to the urban minister in the then UP government, but “never heard back from anyone”, residents told ThePrint.
In the meantime, the families residing in towers adjacent to the under-construction towers — built at a distance of less than 10 metres from the closest towers — found themselves cut off from sunlight.
“The builder cannot just take away our green space and access to sunlight to benefit himself. I decided as soon as we shifted here in 2010 that I am not going to take this injustice lying down,” said Tewatiya.
In December 2012, the chairman of the RWA’s legal team decided to knock on the doors of the Allahabad High Court.
“For the builder, it was about earning more money by illegally constructing two more towers, but, for us, it was about our only house that we bought with all our life savings,” he said.
“Whatever money we had, we put in this because the building had space, green cover and a good amount of sunlight, which is a necessity for senior citizens, but for more than 10 years now, forget about sunlight or greenery, we have been living under fear of accidents,” he added.
“Imagine in case of a fire, there will be a stampede because there’s hardly any space between the twin towers and our building. No norms were being followed. If something falls from a 40-storey building, anyone can get severely hurt. We did not sign up for this,” Tewatiya said.
Other residents said the prices of their flats fell substantially due to the illegal construction.
“I reside in one of the towers facing the 40-storey buildings. All the buyers were told that it will be a green zone, and now there is barely any space between our tower and the twin towers,” said Rajpal Tandon, 78.
“We wanted to sell our house and move out long back, but, due to the construction of the twin towers, the area became so congested that nobody wanted to take a house here. We were not even getting any tenants to rent out our apartment.”
‘Did not want to live in a house born of injustice’
Among other things, the Supreme Court has ordered Supertech to repay within two months the entire amount paid so far — plus 12 per cent interest per annum — by people who bought flats in the “twin towers”.
One such buyer told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that he was sad his house would be demolished, but happy the other residents got justice.
“I put my money on this project in 2012. There was no case at the time. My family of 6 and I have been living in a rented apartment in Delhi. We have been waiting to get our own apartment for the last nine years,” he said,
“I thought many times in all these years that I should withdraw my money and move out, but I was waiting for the court’s decision, so that I can also claim my compensation,” he added.
“It’s very unfortunate to see my own house getting demolished but I am also happy with the decision because it was wrong and unjust on the part of the builder, and even my family would never have shifted to a house that is the cause of so many problems for others. We are satisfied to get our entire money plus interest back.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)