There is no let-up in construction activities in Kozhikode. Fingers are pointed at the quality of materials, though

Though around Rs.1,000 crore worth of business is done annually in Kozhikode’s construction sector, there is no mechanism to ensure the quality of building material used. Authorities say they cannot enforce quality without legal backing.

Thirty-one houses under construction caved in this monsoon — 15 in Kozhikode taluk, 10 and 6 each in Koyilandy and Vadakara. The building collapses cost the administration Rs.1,60,60,000 in compensation to victims.

In what is perceived as a knee-jerk reaction to quell public furore, the district administration called builders, engineers, revenue officials and building experts to the Collectorate. The intention was to collectively wrack their brains on why buildings collapse, and indeed, why so frequently. During the meeting on August 20, the participants raised various problems, primarily that 80 per cent of the sand available is adulterated and laterite stones used are “brittle”.

Subsequently, District Collector C.A. Latha decided to fix the norm for laterite stones, that they should be 40 cm long, 20 cm wide, and 15 cm high. The meeting also resolved to appoint an expert committee to monitor the quality of constructions. The officialdom mooted solutions like holding classes for construction workers, contractors, builders, and engineers.

Some participants admit the meeting was mere lip-service. That the committee is yet to be formed is proof enough, they say. Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO), Kozhikode, P.V. Gangadharan, calls the meeting a mere “idea”. “I cannot guarantee that the decisions made that day are practically possible,” he told The Hindu.

“Such meetings are sheer escapism. There is no sense in the government claiming lack of authority to check the quality of sand or the size of stones.

The Indian Standard Code specifies the benchmark for the quality of materials, from cement to sand. Based on it, all that the State government has to do is issue a circular and enforce quality in the construction sector… As for the meeting, there was no follow-up after that day,” K. Saleem, State president, Licensed Engineers and Supervisors Federation (LENSFED), an invitee to the meeting, says.

“PWD manual and Indian Standard Code have detailed specifications for building materials. But these are not followed by manufacturers. The manual, for example, even specifies the size and quality of laterite - a mineral found in Malabar.”

But officials say they can act only within the framework of the law. “Under Schedule 1 of the Kerala Minor Minerals Concession Rules, our department’s role is confined to setting the royalty to be paid as per the area to be mined. We have no authority to monitor the quality or size of the laterite or granite blocks used in construction,” says V. Divakaran, a geologist with the State Mining and Geology department.

He says the department is unable even to check unauthorised quarrying and transportation of minerals. “We have only one office in every district in the State. We need at least one office in every taluk to be effective,” Mr. Divakaran says.

The RDO agrees that laws do not exactly cater to the State’s scene, where construction activity is on the high, while raw materials are scarce. Amendments were proposed in the Kerala Building Construction Rules allowing bigger buildings on small plots.

“If the demand for sand is 1,000 tonnes in the district, only 100 tonnes are available,” Mr. Gangadharan says.

“Over a 1,000 residential apartments were delivered here last year. That is, 1.5 million square feet sold at Rs.3,500 to Rs.4,000 per square feet. We cannot say there is a boom in the construction sector, nor is it going downhill. I can safely say the sector is stable,” M.A. Mehaboob, president, CREDAI Calicut, said.