They are behind the changing skyline of the city. Almost every modern building that has come up in place of old structures reflects their meticulous labour.
Building demolition contractors have become an integral part of the real estate industry with the growing need for space. They are in great demand, yet have difficulty in getting work owing to stiff competition.
Though they have grown out of the days of hammer and chisel to pull down a building, manual labour is still essential to bring down the structure to pieces.
P.M. Mustafa of Parrys' Corner learnt the nuances of business when he began visiting demolition sites for removing debris. “When I began, demolition was carried out manually. Now use of conventional tools such as spade, earth-mover and those for digging is limited,” he said.
Until a decade ago, it used to take one month to demolish a 1,000 sq.ft. building and one more month to clear the debris. This can now be done within two days with the machines available for different purposes, he said.
Compressors and breaker machines are the commonly used equipment, which have made demolition an easy task. However, breaker machines have their own limitations as they are huge and cannot be taken through small lanes. The rent for hiring the machines varies from Rs.300 to Rs.2,500 per hour.
M.J. Mohideen, who has been a contractor for nearly three decades, said complaints of noise pollution have reduced after machines took over. “But, we still have to stay awake through the night to finish the projects due to fear of residents' complaints and police intervention,” he said.
Removal of debris is a major difficulty as it cannot be dumped within the city limits and it is in demand only in suburban localities, he said. Though perceived as a dull, mundane job requiring a lot of physical labour, it is challenging, according to the contractors.
Mr. Mohideen recalled how he had to spend sleepless nights for over a month to demolish an old seven-storey building surrounded by thatched huts in Parrys without any accident.
Many of them also take up small tasks such as digging trenches for road work and demolishing parts of buildings. C.K.R. Gupta of Triplicane developed interest in the trade after he took on rent equipment for demolishing his house. “I get small projects throughout the month as many of them want to rebuild parts of their house on the advice of astrologers,” said Mr.Gupta, adding that the machines have minimised damage.
Though there is an uncertainty about the job, a word of appreciation and co-operation still keeps them in the profession, say the contractors.