A ‘raised’ house at Goureesapattom poses uneasy questions

A retired hydrographer, whose house is swamped by floodwaters after every downpour, has chosen to lift his house by 3 feet. The expensive solution is off-limits for many of his fellow sufferers who blame the civic authorities for not clearing the nearby canals of silt, garbage and overgrowth which lies at the root of their problem

December 02, 2023 09:11 pm | Updated December 03, 2023 12:03 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

‘House raising’ in progress at Satheesh Gopi’s place at Goureesapattom, Thiruvananthapuram.

‘House raising’ in progress at Satheesh Gopi’s place at Goureesapattom, Thiruvananthapuram.

A Goureesapattom resident’s bid to save his house from ruinous flooding during rain by raising it three feet has turned the spotlight on the plight of an entire urban neighbourhood in the State capital.

Satheesh Gopi, a retired hydrographer who now runs a building and consultancy firm, turned to a Kochi-based company specialising in ‘house-raising’ after stormwater overflow from the nearby canal flooded his home in the heavy downpours on October 15 and November 22.

He and his wife Jayasree have temporarily moved into his firm’s office on the same compound. “We’ve lived here for 36 years and never had a problem even during the 2018 floods. But the two recent downpours left us with losses running into lakhs. We had to clean the house with Dettol. Clothes which got soaked in the dirty canal water had to be thrown away,” said Mr. Gopi. “Not just us, 122 households in the Goureesapattom Residents’ Association (GRA) limits faced the same problem.”

The cost factor

Kochi-based Optume Builders began the work on his 2,000-sq ft house last week. The process of raising it by three feet is expected to take 45 days, according to Mr. Satheesh Gopi, who himself is an engineer by training. Refurbishment is expected to take another two-and-a-half months. On Saturday, workers were in the process of separating the house from its foundations and keeping it raised it on hydraulic jacks before the next stage of work can commence.

Satheesh Gopi indicates the height to which his house will be raised:

Satheesh Gopi indicates the height to which his house will be raised:

Evidently, this solution does not come cheap. The ‘lifting’ charge  is  approximately ₹5 lakh (₹250 per sq ft). But count in the cost of refurbishing the house and raising the front yard to match the new elevation, the final bill be close to ₹25 lakh, according to Mr. Satheesh Gopi.

Ten or 15 years ago, such an option would have been unthinkable in Kerala. Indeed, not many residents of Goureesapattom are likely to give it serious thought even now, given the expense involved.

The residents roundly blame local authorities for their misery, notwithstanding the fact that the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, in a strange turn of events, put the blame on the Union government for the waterlogging in the State capital. According to the residents, the failure to keep the nearby Pattom canal and Ulloor canal free of silt, garbage and overgrowth lies at the root of their problem.

Repairs cost lakhs

After the recent waterlogging incidents, several households ran up repair bills running into lakhs of rupees with the water damaging vehicles, furniture, and household appliances. “We have lived here for 22 years, buying a plot and building a house. Now we are in two minds whether to move out,” says Sindhu Surendranathan, a homemaker. “The water was waist-high inside the house,” she says.

The residents, many of whom are elderly citizens, start worrying at the smallest sign of rain, fearful that one or two hours of steady precipitation could trigger another ‘episode.’    

A photo of the recent waterlogging in the area shared by the residents.

A photo of the recent waterlogging in the area shared by the residents.

Tales of woes

Science writer C. P. Aravindakshan, a resident, points to a faded line of dirt half-way up his compound wall to indicate how much the water had risen in this otherwise peaceful neighbourhood. “I live here with my wife and her mother who is 93. The latter suffers from respiratory problems. We had to carry her upstairs when the water began rising at night. There was no one to help,” he recalls. At the home of N. Babulal, a former Executive Engineer with the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), the floodwater damaged his car and home appliances. It also entered his well, contaminating it.   

Mr. Satheesh Gopi calculates that raising his house would keep his family “safe for another 20 years.” Buildings undergo careful inspection before they are chosen for ‘raising,’ says Ashique Ibrahim, the managing director of Optume Builders. “Stability is the prime concern. We also look for cracks and other structural issues before starting the work,” he said. According to him, his company has three projects underway in Thiruvananthapuram.

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