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India blows up luxury high-rises over environmental violations
TWO of four luxury waterfront high-rises in southern India were reduced to rubble in controlled explosions last Saturday in a rare example of authorities getting tough on builders who break environmental rules.
The 19-floor H2O Holy Faith complex of 90 flats - overlooking Kerala state's famous lush backwaters - was the first to go down, collapsing in just a matter of few seconds.
A thick grey cloud of dust and debris cascaded down after officials detonated explosives drilled into the walls of the building, which had been occupied for several years until the Supreme Court ruled last May that it was constructed in violation of coastal regulations.
Minutes later, the twin towers of Alfa Serene - separated by a narrow stretch of backwaters - tumbled down with a ear-splitting noise. The remaining two complexes were razed on Sunday.
A crowd of onlookers who flocked to nearby terraces and roads watched the demolition, after officials onboard helicopters conducted aerial surveys.
India has seen a construction boom in recent years but developers have often ridden roughshod over safety and other regulations, and with the connivance of local officials.
The inhabitants of the razed apartment blocks in the well-off Maradu district of Kochi city had bought their flats in good faith and now face a lengthy legal fight to recoup their money. Some had invested their life savings.
Sirens went off on Saturday warning people gathered for the demolition to remain at a safe distance while ambulances and fire engines stood on standby.
Ahead of the work, nearby residents told AFP they were worried about the impact of the demolition on their homes.
"When they were demolishing the swimming pool, some of the houses in our neighbourhood developed cracks, we are really worried," said a resident named Divya, who has moved into temporary accommodation.
Over 2,000 residents living in the neighbourhood were evacuated as part of safety measures.
The demolition capped a saga that began in 2006 when a local governing body granted permission to private builders to erect the high-rises.
But last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the builders were in breach of rules on construction in an ecologically sensitive coastal zone, calling it a "colossal loss" to the environment.
"It's a high-tide area and hundreds of illegal structures have come up in the coastal zone," the court ruled as it ordered the buildings razed.
Kerala is famed for its backwaters, brackish lagoons and lakes that run parallel to the Arabian Sea - creating an environmentally fragile region. AFP