Many buildings redeveloped without adhering to safety measures, enforcement of rules lax

Sporadic accidents at building sites in congested localities, especially in the old city limits, have repeatedly brought to fore the absence of safety measures where old buildings are redeveloped in Tiruchi.

Thursday’s accident at the site on Old Madurai Road, where a saw mill had been in existence for decades, had brought into focus the dangers posed by unauthorised structures, essentially put up as extension of commercial space by traders and shopkeepers in many parts of the city.

In December 2007, four persons of a family were killed when a building under renovation on East Andar Street, a congested and densely populated area, collapsed. A few years earlier, a multi-storeyed building started tilting dangerously in Woraiyur as a new construction was taken up after an adjacent old building was demolished. In most parts of the erstwhile Tiruchi Municipal limits, buildings exist side by side without the mandatory open space requirements.

In most of these construction sites, steps to ensure the safety of adjacent of buildings are not taken care of. Labourers could be seen working without even basic safety gear such as helmets. Construction workers risk their lives working in unsafe environment and primitive scaffolding, using bamboo poles tied together.

Corporation officials at the accident spot on Old Madurai Road said the kitchen shed behind Sri Krishna’s Hotel had been built as an extension, probably in violation of building rules. Corporation Commissioner V.P. Thandapani said it was unlikely that permission had been obtained for the extended structure although the main hotel building had plan approval.

Enforcement of building plan approvals was notoriously lax in a city where many multi-storeyed buildings use their basements, shown as car parking area in building plans, as commercial space to get good rental income. The civic body had for long turned a blind eye to the problem, except for the eviction drives taken up periodically to remove unauthorised temporary structures put in front of shops.

After a recent survey to identify unauthorised buildings, the Corporation had issued notices to owners of such buildings. “We have issued notices with respect to 350 unauthorised structures though action is yet to be initiated against them,” Mr. Thandapani said. But in many cases when notices were issued, officials say, the owners approach the courts, leading to prolonged legal processes. Many commercial buildings along the Old Madurai Road could be seen with temporary structures with tin or fibre roofs. Some multi-storeyed buildings even had temporary structures atop their roof.

Collector Jayashree Muralidharan, who was supervising the relief efforts, instructed the corporation officials to demolish such unauthorised structures.

Commissioner of Police Shailesh Kumar Yadav said cases would be booked after investigation to fix culpability in Thursday’s accident.