Panel will study structural stability, says Minister

The State Government has ordered an inquiry into the sinking of Block 4 of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) tenement in Ukkadam here a few days ago. The construction of the block had cost the Board Rs. 4.62 crore.

Minister for Housing and Urban Development R. Vaithilingam, who visited the area on Tuesday, said a technical committee headed by an Anna University professor would study the structural stability of not only the damaged block but also the other 20 blocks.

The Block is one of the 21, consisting of 2,904 houses, that the TNSCB is building for slum dwellers on 15 acres under the ‘Basic Services for Urban Poor' component of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Urban poor living along water bodies and in slums within the Coimbatore Corporation limits will get to occupy the houses.

The sinking of this apartment block is the third instance in the city in the last 18 months. In March and April 2010, two blocks, again constructed by the TNSCB for a similar purpose, sank in Ammankulam. The sinking of the block by 15 cm caused cracks, damage to beams and pillars and complete collapse of walls in a few other places.

The Minister said the Government would ask the Committee to submit its report within a month and thereafter it would decide the further course of action – both corrective and penal. The government had also ordered stoppage of further construction in the tenement.

The TNSCB started the project in May 2008 with a plan to complete the tenement by December 2011. It initially took up construction of 2,232 houses in 16 blocks – 15 blocks with 144 houses each and a block with 72 houses – at Rs. 67.50 crore. It added 672 houses in five blocks following sinking of tenement in Ammankulam.

In all, the Board is constructing 2,904 houses at Rs. 78 crore. The Coimbatore Corporation's task is limited to identifying the beneficiaries who will get to live in the houses.

A note prepared by the TNSCB said that on September 2, Block 4 sank by 15 cm. To prevent further damage, engineers had placed iron pillars to support the structure and were monitoring the block every three hours.

Prior to starting the construction, the TNSCB had a soil test done by experts from a city-based private engineering college and the structural soundness verified by experts from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi.

K. Phanindra Reddy, Secretary to Government, Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that based on the report, the TNSCB dug nearly 10 feet for the basement to construct the blocks with ground-plus-five floors. It should have, instead, carried out independent soil tests and not relied completely on the expert opinion from the college.

As in Ammankulam, there could have been a soft layer of earth beneath the hard surface found at 10 feet, which the expert committee would ascertain.

Based on the expert committee's recommendation, he said, the TNSCB would decide whether to repair or demolish Block 4.