Almost every month, the Chennai Corporation council approves demolition of buildings that are in a poor shape. When some buildings that are over 100 years old continued to stand strong, why did structures that had been in existence for just three or four decades crumble. Much depended on the quality of construction, said engineers.
This is a problem with many structures built by government agencies. More than 10 years ago, a priest was reported to have fallen through a hole in the staircase of a building constructed by a government agency.
When asked why quality suffered, contractors blamed the government. They said that construction and labour rates prescribed by the Public Works Department did not match market rates. As a result, quality suffered.
For instance, this year, PWD fixed the rate of cement at Rs. 260 per bag while it sells at Rs. 330 in the open market. Similarly, sand was priced at Rs. 10 per cubic feet whereas it is priced between Rs. 30 and Rs. 35 per cubic feet, outside. Labour charges are between Rs. 261 and Rs.291 whereas in reality, they charge anything between Rs. 500 and Rs. 600.
Chennai Corporation council recently ratified rates fixed by the PWD but contractors are not happy about it. “Despite several requests, there has been little change in the rates over the years. Other government agencies such as the Central Public Works Department and the National Highways Authority of India, allow profits, overheads and supervisory charges,” said a contractor with the Chennai Corporation.
Another contractor said that apart from interests on capital, and sales tax and income tax, contractors also have to pay ‘cuts’ to councillors and other politicians. “We are forced to pay bribes to get the work done. We pay nearly 12 per cent of the project cost as bribes to officials, councillors and political bigwigs,” said a contractor.
To set right the anomaly in the schedule of rates, the Builders Association of India (southern centre) urged the State government to rework the basic data used to arrive at the rates each year. The rates of construction material, payment for workmen and transportation charges are calculated using a base formulated at least 30 years ago.
“The findings of the Ramanathan Committee (for road rates) and Sivaraman Committee (for building rates)should be made public. Many contractors have left the business as they found it unviable to work with such rates,” said L. Moorthi, former state chairman.
A PWD official said the rates were fixed based on recommendations made by the finance department. He said the issues raised by the contractors would be looked into.