The death toll in two building collapses in Chennai and Delhi over the weekend has climbed to at least 27 with more victims still trapped in the rubble. While the 11-storey building in Chennai was under construction, the four-storey building in Delhi was reportedly in a run-down condition. In Chennai, chief minister J Jayalalithaa herself visited the spot, giving a spur to rescue efforts and five people, including the promoters and engineers of the building, have been arrested and charged with alleged irregularities and compromising on quality.
In Delhi, an inquiry has been ordered into the building collapse. These cases seem to form a sinister pattern when seen against the background of similar incidents earlier. Building collapses in India are all too common and have killed hundreds of people. These tragedies underline the weak enforcement of the laws which regulate unauthorised and sub-standard constructions. To make easy money, builders construct extra floors without permits, creating hazardous conditions, while the agencies tasked with the enforcement of laws either look the other way or are bribed to issue fake certificates.
It is necessary to take deterrent action not only against the builders and their promoters who violate building regulations or use material of poor quality, but also book officials of enforcement agencies who have neglected their supervisory tasks. While the growing affluence of the middle class has led to the construction boom, it is also responsible for illegal acts on various counts. These include the violation of environmental norms and disputatious land acquisitions which have led to confrontations between builders and peasants. Unless development takes place within a legal framework, it is the hapless buyer, who has invested all his savings in a flat, who suffers. To protect him, the first step for the government is to break the link between the builders, the land mafia and the corrupt civic employees.