CHENNAI:According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in figures recently released, Tamil Nadu has topped in the number of buildings that collapsed in the year 2014. Despite this, the State government has not moved to put in place a proper mechanism to ensure that buildings are built as per required parameters, which places buyers, sellers and residents at the mercy of developers.
While there is much hue and cry over the rise in the number of constructions violating development regulations, monitoring the quality of construction has been left to benign neglect.
According to former chief planner of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), NV Raghunath, a recommendation made by the Public Works Department (PWD) Committee headed by a chief engineer to certify work being carried out on construction sites was never implemented. The recommendation called for a stage-by-stage certification of buildings under construction. “This includes basement-level certification (profile of building as per plan column size), ground-floor certification, terrace-level certification and interior certification,” Raghunath explained.
There have also been no safety-checks on existing structures despite recurring incidents of structural collapse. Even after the George Town All Merchants Welfare Association directed that all dilapidated and unsafe buildings in George Town be razed, neither the CMDA nor the Chennai Corporation have followed through on the Association’s recommendation. Government buildings, too, are unsafe. A technical committee identified 34,000 tenements built by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board as being unsafe.
After a building collapses, “there is no one to take responsibility,” says a former engineer on the condition of anonymity. Take the case of an apartment complex in Manali New Town which collapsed resulting in a woman dying and two children getting injured. The building was constructed in the 80s by Tamil Nadu Housing Board and was handed over to CMDA, but both agencies have refused to take the blame. A senior CMDA official blamed the owner.
“The building was constructed in the 80s and since the last 30 years no repair work has been undertaken,” he stated. Buyers who invested in the apartment complex in Moulivakkam, which collapsed just over a year ago, have not been compensated and they do not know who to approach for bailing them out.
Private developers suggest certification by an independent vetting consultant. The guidelines were evolved by city developers following the Moulivakkam tragedy. However, it is too early to say whether third party consultants for validating structural designs and soil-testing for multi-storied buildings and commercial buildings on over one lakh square feet is viable and can be accommodated by CMDA in its development regulations.
The State housing board, meanwhile, is planning to demolish more than 2,000 dilapidated flats of Tamil Nadu Government Rental Housing Flats in 17 locations in the city and construct new ones. Sources said the tenements have become structurally weak and the rods in the slabs are corroded due to saline action, posing danger to the lives and properties of the residents of these tenements. However, TNSCB does not have resources of its own to meet the capital cost of reconstruction of dilapidated tenements.
Independent researcher Vanessa Peter says that the fault lies with the failure of the authorities to come out with its own housing policy. “We have only policy notes whereas many other States have their own housing policy. We also lack a quality control mechanism on housing projects for economically weaker sections,” she said highlighting the need for a strong set of guidelines and monitoring of the quality of structures built for the poor. It is time the State government evolve a set of guidelines for monitoring structural safety, or else ‘realty will bite’.
A Few Structures that Crashed Recently
June 28, 2014: 11-storey newly constructed apartment tower in Moulivakkam crashes, 61 workers killed
July 6, 2014: 11 migrant labourers killed when compound wall a construction site collapses in Thiruvallur
October 27, 2014: Building near Motcham theatre Kilapuk collapses due to rains
January 19, 2015: House, shop in Shenoy Nagar sinks a foot-and-a-half and cracks
March 29, 2015: 5 killed, 18 injured in Tiruvarur at an under-construction staff quarters of Central University
April 13, 2015: 9-foot wall at Avvai Home School in Besant Nagar crashes killing 2 schoolgirls
May 27, 2015: Under-construction church in Tirunelveli crashes, killing 3 workers, injuring 14 others
June 26, 2015: A section of the road next to GH sinks due to Metro Rail construction work
July 18, 2015: Compound wall on Arcot road collapses killing 1, injuring 2