New Delhi: Upholding orders for demolition of twin 40-storey towers in Supertech Ltd’s Emerald Court project in Noida, the Supreme Court Tuesday directed action against Noida officers citing “collusion” between them and Supertech’s management.
The bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah noted that the “record of this case is replete with instances which highlight the collusion between the officers of NOIDA with the appellant and its management”, and asserted that the “case has revealed a nefarious complicity of the planning authority in the violation by the developer of the provisions of law”.
The judgment, which came after a seven-year wait, is a result of a long legal battle fought by the resident welfare association (RWA) of the project, and is expected to provide a fillip for rights of flat buyers across the country.
The court was hearing appeals challenging a judgment passed by the Allahabad High Court in April 2014, directing demolition of Emerald Court’s towers 16 and 17, situated in Sector 93A, Noida. The cost of the demolition and removal was to be borne by Supertech. The HC had also directed that the amount invested by buyers who had booked apartments in the two towers be refunded to them.
The high court had also directed grant of sanction for prosecution of Supertech’s officials and New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (Noida) officials for possible violations of the Uttar Pradesh Urban Development Act 1973 and Uttar Pradesh Apartment (Promotion of Construction, Ownership & Maintenance) Act 2010.
The Supreme Court has now upheld these directions, ruling that the two towers violated building regulations and the requirement of mandatory distance between building blocks, affecting the rights of the apartment owners and their safety.
It, therefore, directed the demolition to be carried out within three months at Supertech’s cost. It asked the purchase amount to be refunded to the flat buyers within two months, with an interest amount of 12 per cent per annum. Supertech has also been ordered to pay Rs 2 crore as costs to the Emerald Court Owners Resident Welfare Association, which fought the case in the high court and the Supreme Court.
Violation of building norms
The petitioners had alleged that the two towers violated the minimum distance required between the two buildings.
According to the New Okhla Industrial Development Area Building Regulations and Directions 2006, two buildings should have a minimum distance of half the height of the building, and according to Noida Building Regulations 2010, there should be a distance of 16 meters between buildings, the heights of which are more than 50 meters.
The distance between tower 1 of the project and tower 17, in this case, was 9 metres. This was flagged by the Chief Fire Officer of Gautam Buddha Nagar as well in April 2012, but the letter received no response from Noida officials.
In its defence, Supertech had contended that the towers in fact formed a part of a single building block, instead of two separate towers, to bypass the need of maintaining the required minimum distance between them.
The court, however, rejected this argument and opined that such an interpretation “will deprive the residents of urban areas of the amenities of light, air and ventilation which are essential to maintaining a basic quality of life”, and will have serious ramifications on fire safety.
It further concluded that 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. These laws require such consent to be taken if any alteration is made to the undivided interest of each flat owner in the common areas and facilities in the project.
‘Collusion and illegal construction’
Under the sub-head “collusion and illegal construction”, the court listed down several instances that showed “complicity of Noida” officials in the violations.
For instance, it pointed out that the revised plans for the project were sanctioned in breach of building regulations. It also noted that Noida authorities had refused to share the sanctioned plans with the RWA, after Supertech’s objection to it, and also did not respond to the chief fire officer’s concerns on violation of the minimum distance requirements.
The court further noted that the construction of the two towers began in July 2009, five months before the sanction was granted by Noida officials in November 2009. But Noida authorities did not take any action on this. It, therefore, concluded that “there was collusion between the developer and the planning authority”.
The court also spoke about the rights of flat buyers, asserting that “a breach by the planning authority of its obligation to ensure compliance with building regulations is actionable at the instance of residents whose rights are infringed by the violation of law”.
“Their quality of life is directly affected by the failure of the planning authority to enforce compliance. Unfortunately, the diverse and unseen group of flat buyers suffers the impact of the unholy nexus between builders and planners”, it observed.
The Emerald Court project began in November 2004, with Noida officials allotting the plot to Supertech for development of a group housing society. The project initially consisted of 14 nine-floored towers. The two towers in question weren’t a part of the original plan and were sanctioned later through revised plans. They were initially proposed to be 24-floored, but the height of the towers was increased to 40 floors in 2012.
Complaints were subsequently filed by members of the resident welfare association in 2012, alleging violation of the law and misrepresentations made to the owners by Supertech.
The RWA had initially sought cancellation of the layout plan of the two towers, in a communication addressed to Noida authorities. However, with no response from Noida authorities, the association went on to file a writ petition with similar demands in the high court in December 2012, demanding demolition of the two towers.
The high court then ordered demolition in April 2014, when the towers were still under construction. The Supreme Court had ordered the status quo to be maintained in May 2014, after Supertech appealed against the high court judgment.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)