"The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed," Mahatma Gandhi
The demolition of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in the United States of America 21 years ago was deemed as an act of terrorism. Conversely, the recent demolition of SuperTech’s twin towers was an act to end terror and instil deterrence among builders and developers.
On August 31, 2022, the final hope of SuperTech came to a ruinous end when the Supreme Court of India upheld the decision of the Allahabad High Court and found that the construction of its two towers were in gross violation of multiple Acts. While ordering the demolition of the Supertech twin towers, the Supreme Court in Supertech Limited v. Emerald Court Owner Resident Welfare Association & Ors held:
“When regulations are brazenly violated by developers, more often than not with the connivance of regulatory authorities, it strikes at the very core of urban planning, thereby directly resulting in an increased harm to the environment and a dilution of safety standards.”
This article intends to understand the genesis of the entire case from a legal perspective by analyzing the violation of laws by SuperTech that eventually led to the demolition of its twin towers, as a result of which it incurred a loss of about ₹500 crore.
The beginning of the chronology of events can be traced back to 2004, when New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) allotted a plot of land admeasuring 48,263 square meters to SuperTech for the development of a group housing society, by the name of Emerald Court. In 2009, four residents raised the alarm against SuperTech’s violation of building bye-laws by building the twin towers.
The original building plan consisted of fourteen towers, each with a ground and nine floors. Over the years, NOIDA sanctioned three revised plans, the cumulative effect of which was the construction of additional towers at an increased height.
The conflict began when the developer modified the plans, which earlier in 2012 was a complex of fifteen buildings instead of fourteen. Later, every building was supposed to have eleven stories instead of nine. The changed plan also included two additional towers - Tower 16 and 17 - that would rise to 40 floors above the ground. These towers became the heart of the decade-long legal battle between the residents and Supertech.
The Residents Welfare Association of Emerald Court challenged the revised plans of NOIDA, as these led to construction of additional towers which also compromised on the minimum distance requirements between buildings. Moreover, these two towers were constructed in front of Tower 1, an area which was reserved to be a green area containing parks and gardens.
The Court held that SuperTech Developers was guilty of violating the sanctioned plan for Tower 16 and Tower 17 as it breached the Uttar Pradesh Ownership of Flats Act, 1975, NOIDA Building Regulations and Directions, and other related Acts.
UP Ownership of Flats Act, 1975
Under Section 5(2) of the said Act, the percentage of the undivided interest of each owner of a flat in the common areas and facilities, as expressed in the declaration, shall not be altered without the consent of all the owners of the flats expressed through an amended declaration which shall be executed and registered under the Act. In the present case, no consent from the residents was obtained by SuperTech before beginning the construction of the towers. Apartment purchasers in Tower 1 were promised a splendid garden view, but were betrayed when Tower 17 was erected over the land reserved for gardens and parks without their consent.
NOIDA Building Regulations and Directions (NBR 2006, NBR 2010, NBC 2005)
As per NBR 2006, the distance between two adjacent building blocks should not be less than half of the height of the tallest building. Tower 1 (37 meters) and 17 (73 meters) were adjacent to each other, thus, the minimum distance between these two towers ought to have been 36.5 meters. Contrastingly, the actual distance between these was mere 9 meters, which prima facie was in violation of NBR 2006.
Declaring the developer to be in clear contravention of the minimum distance requirement, the Supreme Court held,
“The rationale for the distance between building blocks is to ensure fire safety evacuation, light and ventilation. It cannot be left to the builder to designate groups of buildings as one building block since the purpose of maintaining the minimum distance would be seriously compromised.”
As per NBR 2010, the minimum distance between buildings above 18 meters shall be 16 meters. In 2012, when the third revision plan was approved, SuperTech further increased the height of these towers to 121 meters. Thus, in order to be within the limits of NBR 2010, the distance between two towers ought to have been at least 16 meters as against the actual distance of 9 meters.
The purpose of prescribing a minimum distance requirement between two buildings is to prevent transmission of fire for safe escape during calamities, to ensure ventilation and to receive natural daylight.
The Supreme Court noted the observations made in K Ramadas Shenoy v. Chief Officer, Town Municipal Council and remarked,
“This Court held that an unregulated construction materially affects the right of enjoyment of property by persons residing in a residential area, and hence, it is the duty of the municipal authority to ensure that the area is not adversely affected by unauthorized construction.”
Collusion between builder and authority
The Supreme Court further observed that the illegal sanctioning of the revision plans were being obtained by SuperTech in collusion with the officials of NOIDA, which led to the illegal construction of these two towers.
In this context, the Supreme Court held:
“Unfortunately, the diverse and unseen group of flat buyers suffers the impact of the unholy nexus between builders and planners. Their quality of life is affected the most. Yet, confronted with the economic might of developers and the might of legal authority wielded by planning bodies, the few who raise their voices have to pursue a long and expensive battle for rights with little certainty of outcomes. As this case demonstrates, they are denied access to information and are victims of misinformation.”
By directing the razing of the unauthorized constructions, the Supreme Court has laid down a strong precedent for builders who seem to take the law into their own hands and indulge in unlawful construction without hesitation. Reliance was placed on the Priyanka Estates International judgment, in which the Supreme Court, while ordering the demolition of an unauthorized construction, held,
“Such activities are required to be dealt with by firm hands otherwise builders/colonisers would continue to build or construct beyond the sanctioned and approved plans and would still go scot-free…Such unlawful constructions are definitely against the public interest and hazardous to the safety of occupiers and residents of multi-storeyed buildings. To some extent both parties can be said to be equally responsible for this. Still the greater loss would be of those flat owners whose flats are to be demolished as compared to the builder.”
An unauthorized construction destroys the concept of planned development, and places an unbearable burden on basic amenities provided by public authorities. In this context, the Supreme Court held that it was imperative for the public authority to not only demolish such constructions, but also to impose a penalty on the wrongdoers involved.
Vikrant Rana is Managing Partner and Nihit Nagpal is an Associate Partner at SS Rana & Co.
Zehra Naqvi, Junior Associate at SS Rana & Co, assisted in the research of this article.
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