BBMP looks to tighten the noose around errant builders

Civic officials admit that most of the collapsed buildings were either under construction or relatively new.  

The collapse of two buildings on 2nd cross in Hutchins Road, Pulakeshinagar, that resulted in the death of five people highlights the problem of rampant building violations, which, for the most part go unchecked. Most of the buildings that have collapsed in the city over the past five years resulting in deaths are not old or dilapidated structures.

Civic officials admit that most of the buildings were either under construction or relatively new. For instance, at least four under-construction buildings and an STP tank have collapsed in the city since 2018.

In the most recent case at Hutchins Road, an under-construction building collapsed causing the basement and first floor of an adjoining residential building to give way and tilt onto a third building.

Buildings with floors beyond permissible limit, poor quality of construction, lack of adequate foundation, and lax enforcement of building bylaws and safety norms have exposed the city to large-scale vulnerability, argue urban experts and architects. Even the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) engineers grudgingly agree that there is a problem of rampant violations.

“There are buildings with over six floors on a 30x40 plot, which is not permissible by any law. There are 15 such buildings in the small locality of Nandidurga Extension itself,” said Satya Achayya, a septuagenarian resident of the locality, who moved High Court over these violations. Despite a favourable judgment, there has been no action and she is now contemplating moving a contempt petition.

Activists and urban exerts cite the BBMP’s lack of will when it comes to enforcing building bylaws. For instance, a survey conducted by the Fire and Emergency Services Department revealed that of the 35,000 high rises in the city, less than 5,000 have taken a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the department, clearly indicating the scale of violations. However, despite several reports to the BBMP, no action has been taken.

Assistant Executive Engineers (AEE) in every ward are tasked with ensuring that the construction is in line with building bylaws and sanctioned plans. “But thousands of buildings have extra floors violating FAR norms,” said a city architect, who did not want to be named. He added that most of the AEEs never visit the construction site and are mired in corruption.

N.S. Mukunda of Citizen Action Forum alleged that policymaking is also oriented towards the violators. “If the government itself brings in a scheme like Akrama-Sakrama, why will anyone follow bylaws? It has only created an environment where those following rules are penalised, while violators are rewarded,” he asked. Akrama-Sakrama scheme is presently mired in legal hurdles.

New draft of bylaws

The present system does not address the issue of quality of construction, which is also one of the main reasons for several building collapses. The new draft of Building Bylaws, 2019, presently under consideration, seeks to address this.

A senior BBMP engineer, who has overseen rescue operations at buildings that have collapsed, said there was a clear pattern to most of these tragedies. “In all the buildings, the chief culprit was poor quality foundation. Buildings were built on lose soil with builders failing to factor in structural stability. Almost all of them were built to give out on rent or sale and not for self-occupation.”

“Except for high rises, usually no soil testing is done before construction. As in the case of the Cox Town incident, buildings built on marshy land have issues with structural stability. Extra care needs to be taken to strengthen them, which is often not done. Most buildings in low-lying areas and wetlands suffer from these issues. And if the foundation isn’t deep enough, the buildings are bound to collapse,” a senior BBMP engineer said.

The draft of Building Bylaws 2019 proposes to make soil testing mandatory for all buildings in the city. Khaleed Rehman, a city-based architect, said: “If the property is not for self-occupation, the entire outlook of a client changes. These buildings are built on turn-key contracts, where the contractors try to cut corners and compromise on the quality of materials, including cement. These buildings are built at such speed that no time is given for curing.” adding that most don’t engage the services of a structural engineer.

The BBMP has now proposed that the builders submit reports of structural engineers and the testing of materials used during construction among other checks and balances.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 7:58:31 AM |

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