The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Kerala government over the demolition of more than 300 flats in Kochi’s Maradu area, Live Law reported. The top court, which will pass a detailed order on Friday, cautioned state Chief Secretary Tom Jose, and said he will be held personally accountable if illegal constructions continue in restricted areas in the Coastal Regulation Zone.

“We are really shocked,” said Justices Arun Mishra and Ravindra Bhatt. “What action has the state government taken against illegal constructions? If some disaster happens in the coastal zones, the families residing in the buildings will be the first ones to get affected. Your officers should be held responsible.”

On May 8, a bench headed by Mishra had ordered the demolition of 400 flats in coastal apartment complexes in the area within a month. However, a group of residents approached a vacation bench of the top court on June 10, and claimed Mishra’s bench had not heard their arguments. The bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi stayed the demolition for six weeks.

In July, Mishra said the vacation bench should not have heard the matter and dismissed the review petition. Earlier this month, the top court gave the state time till September 20 to complete the demolition, and asked Jose to be present at the next hearing.

The bench on Monday also voiced its displeasure about an affidavit submitted by the state seeking more time to carry out the demolition. The court said the government was in “patent breach of law” and the “attitude is of defiance”. It referred to the devastating floods in Kerala in 2018, and said such violations would not be tolerated.

“Have you any idea how many people have died due to floods and devastation caused to the environment?” the bench asked, according to News18. “You are playing with nature. Thousands of people have died in devastations. How many houses have you built for victims? Yet illegal structures continue to come up in coastal areas.”

Senior lawyer Harish Salve, who represented the Kerala government, said the use of explosives for demolition might not be possible. In the government affidavit, Jose said tenders for controlled implosion of the buildings had been floated, and 15 agencies had applied for the project on September 16.

The chief secretary apologised to the court for his conduct, which “this court construes not to be in accordance with its order”.

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