Meet the senior citizens who waged legal war against illegal twin-towers in Noida

By PTI

NOIDA: It was the relentless pursuit of justice over a decade by a group of senior citizens that resulted in the Supreme Court’s order for demolition of the illegal 40-storey twin towers of a real estate group in Noida.

These senior citizens, including former central government and paramilitary officers, often travelled unreserved in trains for hearings in the Allahabad High Court and even had to collect donations to continue their legal battle against the builder.

Now, with the top court’s decision on Tuesday, residents of Emerald Court in Sector 93 of Noida are full of praise for these senior citizens and their perseverance for justice for over 12 years.

In 2009, four residents went up against Supertech’s plan for twin towers, which were coming up in violation of building bye-laws, and formed a core legal committee that moved the court.

UBS Teotia (80), S K Sharma (74), Ravi Bajaj (65) and M K Jain (59) have been credited with bringing down the company to its knees.

Jain was the only exception in the senior citizens’ club but he passed away earlier this year due to COVID-19, while Bajaj withdrew from the committee last year citing personal reasons, said Sharma who had retired as deputy director general from the Telecom Department.

“These were old men who fought this case.

Teotia, who was a DIG in the CRPF, led the battle with all of us by his side,” Sharma told PTI, while also crediting their lawyers Jayant Bhooshan and Aneesh Agrawal for skilfully presenting the case in courts.

Teotia said nobody believed that an order like this could be passed against the builder and more than half of the residents of the building’s society were also not convinced.

“But we were sure and had facts and rules on our side,” Teotia said.

He recalled the whole legal battle as a “tough journey” involving 30 hearings over a period of seven years in the Supreme Court alone.

“Before that we would travel to Allahabad for high court dates.

Travelled 3rd class in trains,” the former DIG said, adding that collecting documents from local, state and national authorities was also “very tough”.

Teotia, who turned 80 on August 30, said the legal and related expenses cost them about Rs 1 crore, for which they had to go door to door for donations from society members.

Rajesh Rana (62), the current president of Emerald Court resident welfare association (RWA), said the original team of four was extremely involved in the case.

“We had a good legal team but these senior citizens left no stone unturned. From following case details, gathering documents to managing day to day activities, they really made the team work,” Rana, who retired from the corporate world two years ago, said.

Asked about the long-drawn battle, Sharma recalled that their case started in 2012 in the Allahabad High Court and on every date at least two of them made sure they attended it.

“Often we had to travel unreserved in trains to Allahabad. There were also times when we resorted to donations in order to keep the legal battle alive. We went door to door for donations from the residents,” he said.

He said the conflict was clear.

The builder was developing two more high-rise towers in the housing project in violation of rules.

The new towers impacted ventilation, sunlight and response to emergency situations for other residents of the 15 towers, he claimed.

“Every time we discussed the legalities of the matter with residents, there would be some with a differing opinion. But by and large, we got full support of all residents,” Sharma said.

Jain’s wife said her husband was a “brave man” who pursued the case legally.

“We have often seen how some people withdraw themselves from legal cases, which most of the times tend to be long-drawn processes. But he never got scared. He would have been very happy today with the court’s decision,” she told PTI.

In a setback to Supertech Ltd, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed demolition of twin 40-storey towers of the realty major’s Emerald Court project in Noida for violation of building bye-laws “in collusion” with the local authority officials.

Both the towers — Apex and Ceyane — were under construction when the Allahabad High Court had ordered their demolition.

After Supertech Ltd approached the apex court against the high court order, a status quo was ordered.

The top court said the case record is replete with instances which highlight the collusion between officers of the Noida Authority with Supertech Ltd and its management and involvement of the planning authority with the developer in violation of laws.

The apex court directed that the entire amount of home buyers be refunded with 12 per cent interest from the time of the booking and the Residents Welfare Association be paid Rs 2 crore for the harassment caused due to the construction of the twin towers.

Supertech said it would file a review petition over the order, while Noida Authority said it will ensure full compliance of the SC’s verdict and ensure action against its officials who are found guilty of violation in the case.

Residents of the realty firm’s Emerald Court on Tuesday said the truth has prevailed and their faith in the apex court has grown stronger.

Buyers who have invested their money in these towers, however, hoped their interest would be protected, even as the Supertech Group said it would be filing a review petition in the case.

Emerald Court residents heaved a sigh of relief that their decade-long legal battle came to an end with the top court ordering the demolition of the two illegal high-rise towers on their premises.

Residents said the housing project has 660 flats across 15 towers but in 2009 work started on the twin towers, coming up in the violation of building by-laws but they were told the construction was part of a separate project.

“We, however, insisted on seeing drawings and approvals of the project which appeared to be huge and against rules stipulating a certain distance between two such structures.”

“After several efforts, we got to see the drawings and were shocked after realising that we were being taken for a ride by the builder with brazen violation of rules,” S K Sharma, former president of Emerald Court’s RWA, told PTI.

After this, some of the residents in 2012 moved the Allahabad High Court, which ordered the demolition of the two towers two years later but the realtor challenged it in the Supreme Court.

An apex court bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah Tuesday said the April 11, 2014 verdict of the Allahabad High Court does not deserve any interference.

“Truth has prevailed and our faith in the Supreme Court has grown stronger. We had knocked all other doors over the years as we went against the influential builder,” the 74-year-old Sharma said.

Another resident of Emerald Court whose husband was part of the RWA’s legal committee said the top court’s order has come as a victory for all residents who stood against wrong being done.

“There’s no doubt that my husband would have been very happy with this decision of the court,” she said, recalling her husband as a “brave man” who “fought injustice” for around a decade before succumbing to COVID-19 this year.

Hailing the verdict, the RWA’s current president Rajesh Rana, said the top court’s order has sent residents of Emerald Court on “cloud nine” after a long-fought legal battle.

“We had knocked the door of the judiciary with hope for justice and justice has been done. We are thankful to the court and have our faith reaffirmed in judicial system,” Rana told PTI.

While the Supertech Group said it would file a review petition in the case, investors of the twin-towers hoped their interests would be protected.

“On the one hand, while it looks like a closure of a long-pending issue, on the other it is going to be a big loss for those who have invested in these towers. I hope their interests and their hard-earned money invested in these flats are protected,” a buyer who bought an apartment in one of the towers in 2009 told PTI.

Meanwhile, Noida and Greater Noida residents’ bodies hailed the top court order, which slammed the local development authority for colluding with the builder.

Noida Federation of Apartment Owners Associations (NOFAA) president Rajiva Singh hailed the SC order as “indeed a landmark judgment” and a great win not only for the Emerald Court’s RWA team but the families of the entire home buyers’ community.

“The judgment leaves the buyers with immense confidence in the legal system of the country. This should be the beginning for the much-needed corrections in the system, the way our developers and the governing bodies operate,” Singh said.

Manish Kumar of the Noida Extension Flat Owners Welfare Association (NEFOWA) said the order is in favour of the residents and a “great blow” to Supertech Ltd and Noida Authority.

“The order also states that action is to be taken against erring officials of the Noida Authority and whosoever is found (or named) guilty, must be prosecuted and penalised heavily,” Kumar said.

The apex court has directed that the twin towers be demolished within three months and all demolition expenses are borne by Supertech.

The Noida Authority also said it would ensure full compliance of the SC order and ensure action against its officials and those of the real estate group who are found guilty of violations in the episode that occurred between 2004 and 2012.

The Supreme Court Tuesday pointed out multiple incidents of collusion of NOIDA officials with realty major Supertech Ltd and violations of norms by the builder in construction of twin 40-storey towers in its Emerald Court project.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and MR Shah directed that the twin towers be demolished within three months and refund be made to all the existing home buyers with interest of 12 per cent.

The top court noted that the two towers, Apex (T-16) and Ceyane (T-17) of Emerald Court Project of Supertech situated in sector 93A of NOIDA, together have 915 apartments and 21 shops.

Of these, 633 flats were booked initially.

Of the 633 people booking the flats initially, 133 have moved out to other projects, 248 have taken refunds and 252 home buyers still have bookings with the company in the project.

“The record of this case is replete with instances which highlight the collusion between the officers of NOIDA with the appellant and its management. The case has revealed a nefarious complicity of the planning authority in the violation by the developer of the provisions of law,” the bench said.

The complicity of NOIDA has emerged in several instances including in the sanctioning of the second revised plan on November 26 2009 in clear breach of the Noida Building Regulations 2006, it said.

“The refusal by NOIDA to disclose the building plans to the first respondent (Residents Welfare Association), in spite of a clear stipulation consistently in all the sanctioned plans that the plan would have to be displayed at the construction site of the appellant,” the bench said.

It said one of such instance of collusion includes NOIDA’s referral of RWA’s request to access the sanctioned plans to the builder, to seek its consent and upon the refusal of the latter, a continuous failure to disclose them to the residents.

“Even when the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) addressed a communication to NOIDA in regard to the violation of the minimum distance requirements in Emerald Court, it evinced no response and no investigation from them,” the bench said.

It said that in pursuance of the second revised plan of September 26, 2009, Supertech Ltd appeared to have built a foundation to support two buildings of forty and thirty-nine floors, while the sanction for the extension from twenty-four to forty or thirty-nine floors came about only on March 2, 2012 through the third revised plan.

“The construction for T-16 and T-17 commenced in July 2009 by the appellant, five months before the sanction was received for the second revised plan on November 26, 2009, in spite of which NOIDA chose to take no action,” the bench said.

It said the Allahabad High Court has dealt with the collusion between the officials of NOIDA and the Supertech Ltd.

“This is writ large from the facts as they have emerged before this Court as well. The High Court has in these circumstances correctly come to the conclusion that there was collusion between the developer and the planning authority”.

The top court said that NOIDA made no effort to ensure compliance of the UP Apartments Act 2010, as a result of which the rights of the flat purchasers have been brazenly violated.

“This cannot point to any conclusion, other than the collusion between NOIDA and the appellant to avoid complying with the provisions of the applicable statutes and regulations for monetary gain, at the cost of the rights of the flat purchasers,” it said.

The bench in its 140-page verdict said that once this Court has determined that the sanctioned plan for Apex and Ceyane (T-16 and T-17) breached the Noida Building Regulations (NBR) 2006, 2010 and National Building Code, 2005 and other provisions, it becomes its duty to take stock of the violations committed by the Supertech Ltd in collusion with NOIDA.

“The appellant (Supertech Ltd) raised false pleas and attempted to mislead this Court, while the officials of NOIDA have not acted bona fide in the discharge of their duties. The appellant has stooped to the point of producing a fabricated sanctioned plan,” the bench said, It said, “Therefore, we confirm the directions of the High Court including the order of demolition and for sanctioning prosecution under Section 49 of the UPUD Act, as incorporated by Section 12 of the UPIAD Act 1976, against the officials of the appellant and the officers of NOIDA for violations of the UPIAD Act 1976 and UP Apartments Act 2010”.

Illegal construction has to be dealt with strictly to ensure compliance with the rule of law, the apex court said.

NOIDA made no effort to ensure compliance of the Uttar Pradesh Apartments Act 2010, as a result of which the rights of the flat purchasers have been brazenly violated, it said.

“This cannot point to any conclusion, other than the collusion between NOIDA and the appellant to avoid complying with the provisions of the applicable statutes and regulations for monetary gain, at the cost of the rights of the flat purchasers,” said a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, upholding the Allahabad High Court verdict.

“The order passed by the High Court for the demolition of Apex and Ceyane (T-16 and T-17) does not warrant interference and the direction for demolition issued by the High Court is affirmed,” it said.

The top court directed that the work of demolition shall be carried out within three months from the date of this judgment.

“The record of this case is replete with instances which highlight the collusion between the officers of NOIDA with the appellant and its management. The case has revealed a nefarious complicity of the planning authority in the violation by the developer of the provisions of law,” the bench said.

The high court has dealt with the collusion between the officials of NOIDA and the appellant (Supertech Ltd), it said.

“This is writ large from the facts as they have emerged before this Court as well. The High Court has in these circumstances correctly come to the conclusion that there was collusion between the developer and the planning authority”, the bench said.

It added that the rampant increase in unauthorized constructions across urban areas, particularly in metropolitan cities where soaring values of land place a premium on dubious dealings has been noticed in several decisions of this Court.

“This state of affairs has often come to pass in no small a measure because of the collusion between developers and planning authorities,” the bench said, adding that from commencement to completion, the process of construction by developers is regulated within the framework of law.

It pointed out that the regulatory framework encompasses all stages of construction, including allocation of land, sanctioning of the plan for construction, regulation of the structural integrity of the structures under construction, obtaining clearances from different departments (fire, garden, sewage, etc.), and the issuance of occupation and completion certificates.

“While the availability of housing stock, especially in metropolitan cities, is necessary to accommodate the constant influx of people, 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,” it said.

The top court said the regulation of the entire process is intended to ensure that constructions which will have a severe negative environmental impact are not sanctioned.

“Hence, when these 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,” the bench said, adding, “Hence, illegal construction has to be dealt with strictly to ensure compliance with the rule of law”.

It said that the judgments of this Court spanning the last four decades emphasize the duty of planning bodies, while sanctioning building plans and enforcing building regulations and bye-laws to conform to the norms by which they are governed.

“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,” it said.

The bench, in its 140-page verdict said that their quality of life is directly affected by the failure of the planning authority to enforce compliance and lauded the efforts of home buyers in pursuing the litigation for their rights.

“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,” the bench said.

It said as “this case demonstrates, they are denied access to information and are victims of misinformation. Hence, the law must step in to protect their legitimate concerns”.

The top court said that the sanction given by NOIDA on November 26, 2009 and March 2, 2012 for the construction of T-16 (Apex tower) and T-17 (Ceyane tower) is violative of the minimum distance requirement under the Noida Building Regulations of 2006, 2010 and National Building Code of 2005.

“The appellant (Supertech Ltd) has raised false pleas and attempted to mislead this Court, while the officials of NOIDA have not acted bona fide in the discharge of their duties,” the bench said.

The Noida Authority on Tuesday said it will ensure full compliance with the Supreme Court’s order on demolishing Supertech’s two 40-storey illegal towers.

Noida Authority’s Chief Executive Officer Ritu Maheshwari said the Authority will also ensure action against department’s officials who are found guilty of violating rules in the episode.

The senior IAS officer, who joined the Noida Authority as its CEO in July 2019, said the violations in the Supertech’s Emerald Court housing project occurred between 2004 and 2012 after which the matter reached the Allahabad High Court and eventually the Supreme Court.

“The sanctions from the Noida Authority in this project were made from 2004 to 2012. In 2012, the high court had ordered the demolition of the twin towers on a petition of residents but in 2014, the builder had secured a stay on the high court’s order with the Supreme Court giving its final order to demolish the two towers today,” Maheshwari said.

“Once we get the order, we will have it studied for ensuring detailed action and full compliance of the Supreme Court order on the demolition of the twin towers in a time-bound manner,” she told PTI.

“Action will also be insured against the then officials of Noida Authority and the real estate group after an inquiry as per procedures,” the officer said.

The CEO also flagged that the matter was brought to the notice of senior officials later and a departmental inquiry has been initiated against an erring officer.

“An official had been attending court meetings for seven years but did not bring it to the notice of senior officers in time. Departmental action has been initiated against the official,” she said.