Recently delivered judgment by the Supreme Court in Supertech case is a landmark one that straightened many curved lines and also gave clarifications on several issues. The SC bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah has directed demolition of twin 40-storey towers of the realty major’s Emerald Court project in Noida for violation of building by-laws “in collusion” with the authority officials. The SC observed that the construction of Supertech’s twin 40 storey towers having 915 flats and shops was done in collusion with Noida authority and the high court was correct in holding that view.
Apart from this, the judgment has touched upon some other important issues too, thereby clearing the long pending confusion.
As per the original plan, the project was to come up on a plot of land admeasuring 48,263 sq. mtrs. which was allotted to Supertech in June 2004 for the development of a group housing society, by the name of Emerald Court. In June 2005, NOIDA sanctioned the building plan for the construction of Emerald Court consisting of fourteen towers, each with ground and nine floors (G+9). However, later on the plan was changed several times with which the height and number of buildings too were raised. In 2012 Emerald Court Resident Welfare Association filed a writ petition before the High Court seeking an order to quash the revised plan approved by NOIDA among other things. The HC observed that plan sanctioned by NOIDA was contrary to: (a) the building regulations; (b) the mandatory distance between building blocks; and (c) the movement space required. Subsequently, the SC upheld the HC’s decision and ordered the demolition of twin towers within three months.
Distance between two buildings
During the course judgment the SC bench delved upon some interesting and related issues too. For example, it stated that the purpose of stipulating a minimum distance is a matter of public interest in planned development. The residents who occupy constructed areas in a housing project are entitled to ventilation, light and air and adherence to fire safety norms. The purpose of stipulating a minimum distance comprehends several concerns. These include safeguarding the privacy of occupants and their enjoyment of basic civic amenities including access to well-ventilated areas where air and light are not blocked by the presence of close towering constructions. The prescription of a minimum distance also has a bearing on fire safety. In the event of a fire, there is a danger that the flames would rapidly spread from one structure to adjoining ones. Moreover, the presence of structures in close proximity poses serious hurdles to fire-fighting machinery which has to be deployed by the civic body. While talking about the necessity to regulate the distance between two buildings the judgment said “If a developer is left with the unbridled discretion to define the content of the expression “building block”, this will defeat the purpose of prescribing minimum distances, leaving the health, safety and quality of life of flat buyers at the mercy of developers.” The Court also observed that buildings in close proximity to each other would deprive the residents of urban areas of the amenities of light, air and ventilation which are essential to maintaining a basic quality of life. It will also have serious ramifications on fire safety. “The developer cannot be allowed to subvert the requirement of maintaining minimum distances prescribed in the Building Regulations by unilaterally designating independent towers as building blocks.”
Dead end sides of buildings
The “dead end sides of buildings” is another phrase which is often used in the real estate construction but doesn’t find a clear definition in any building byelaws or guidelines. The SC has discussed the topic in its judgment in detail and has come out with the following observations:
- The phrase ‘dead end side of the block’ would mean that any building does not have an egress;
- An egress in a non-habitable room like the bathroom or the storeroom will be considered as a non-dead end side;
- For the ‘dead end’ exception to be applicable, it is necessary that the sides of both the buildings facing each other must not have any egress;
- It is not necessary that all the units in the building facing the other building must have an egress. Even if some of the units have an egress, that side of the block will not be considered as a ‘dead end side’; and
- The minimum distance required between two adjacent blocks must not be measured through direct line positions of the units but along the ground.
The judgment also observed “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. 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. 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. Hence, the law must step in to protect their legitimate concerns.”
On a larger note, the court ruling said that 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. The regulation of the entire process is intended to ensure that constructions which will have a severe negative environmental impact are not sanctioned.