On Sunday, thousands in India turned up in Noida city’s Sector 93A, some 50 kilometres from the capital New Delhi, while millions were glued to their TV screens, as two mammoth buildings – nicknamed the “Twin Towers” – exploded.
The dramatic buildup and explosion of the nearly 100-metre towers – India’s tallest structures to be demolished – is being lauded as a rare success for activists against powerful and wealthy builders who bend local laws and allegedly pay off officials to construct illegally.
A group of four elderly men took the real estate developer Supertech Limited to court for illegal construction nine years ago. India, the world’s largest democracy, ranks high on the global corruption index. The country’s builder mafias are often blamed for risky constructions that end up costing lives. Government officials have been accused of enabling such illegal deals.
“This is a victory for all middle-class people who don’t suffer injustice in silence,” 80-year-old Uday Tewatiya, one of the men who led the court case, told the media last year when the verdict to demolish the buildings came out. “Big builders will now think 100 times before conning common people.”
Top Indian political leaders applauded the destruction of the “building of corruption.”
“Notwithstanding the spectacle of seeing the Supertech Twin Towers go down, the demolition strikes at the heart of builder-bureaucrat-politician nexus, which first encroaches, then regularises illegal constructions, to the detriment of law abiding citizens,” tweeted Amit Malviya, an Indian politician who serves as the national convener of the IT cell of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Officials placed 3,700 kg of explosives in the towers, which had never been occupied but were worth $87.5 million or INR 7 billion. Officials also evacuated thousands of residents from the vicinity. At 2:30PM on Sunday, a controlled explosion brought down the condominium of nearly 1,000 upscale apartments, thus concluding a nine-year legal battle after the Supreme Court ruled that the towers were illegal.
In 2004, Noida’s authorities had allotted the land to Supertech Ltd. to construct 14 10-storey buildings. Instead, the company built the two towers – illegally – with 40 floors each. The towers also ended up occupying plots designated for gardens, and were too close to each other, violating building rules. The plaintiffs sued Supertech in 2012, and the company’s pleas were quashed last year by the Supreme Court, which also ordered Supertech to return the home buyers’ money with interest.
In Noida, over 50 city development authority officials were investigated for enabling the illegal construction. During the course of the investigation, some officials mysteriously retired, while a few were suspended.
Supertech still maintains the towers were legal. On Sunday, they claimed they lost $62 million in land and construction costs. Despite paying for the demolition, too, the company still wants to continue building. “The order of the Supreme Court will not affect any other ongoing project and all other projects will continue," they said in a media statement.
For now, the blast has left over 80,000 tonnes of rubble, which authorities said will take up to three months to clean up.
The demolition comes at a time when several countries are taking a tough stance on illegal or neglected structures. Last year, China demolished 14 high-rise buildings that were left incomplete after developers ran out of money. In 2020, Singapore demolished one of its oldest buildings due to high maintenance costs. The same year, Dubai set a world record for demolishing a 144-storey building to make way for a port area.
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