Living in fear -- outside their flats!


It took a massive earthquake to shake up the multi-storied buildings in Gujarat but all it needed in the hi-tech city here was a heavy downpour to rattle a few buildings and the stupor of people. In the process, it also bared the unscrupulous nexus between builders and civic officials.

For the last three days, the seven-odd families of the Talwar Apartments have been living in fear, outside their tenements, that is. Their 21-year-old three-storied building's compound wall had collapsed and beams had developed cracks, a day after Monday's rain.

Two more abutting residential complexes, too, had developed cracks on the ground floor. Fractures occurred owing to a multi- storied complex coming up amidst them and being built in flagrant violation of the building norms in all aspects. They are just too many violations, to mention.

For instance, the builder had dug a 30-foot triple basement pretty close to the Talwar residential apartment leading to cracks in the column base exposing its foundations and fissures all through the ground floor, including the two front columns. The standard setback rules of a minimum of 16 feet was ignored both in the front and the sides.

"It is clear that building laws have been willfully violated. Is it possible without the involvement of civic officials?" is the question posed by many. "Zonal regulations were given the go-by and the FSI, too, has been overbuilt. The builder, Mr. Mahesh Goel, has not taken the `no objection' certificates from the neighbours too," points out Mr. Haji J. Darvish, noted architect, who visited the site.

"The cracks were noticed by our watchman on Tuesday morning and we immediately informed the builder and he promised to do something about it. In the evening all of a sudden the compound wall collapsed, the building shook and we all ran out," recalls Mr. Mohd. Ali Gulzar, a hotelier, staying on the ground floor.

Eye-witnesses say as many as 22 workers at the site had a miraculous escape as they had got out of the cellar a few minutes before the wall gave away soaked by the overnight rain and weakened by the digging on the site.

Though the MCH Commissioner, Dr. P.K. Mohanty, had directed the builder to start the construction in the cellar immediately so as to fortify the Talwar complex, architects doubt if it is the right method. They feel the Talwar building is unsafe for occupancy and the construction work on the cellar should be stopped till the adjoining properties are rendered safe.

"A crack in the RCC structure means the back of the apartment block is broken. It is very dangerous. Another big downpour and then..." Mr. Darvish shakes his head. The nagging doubt still remains as to how the neighbourhood was oblivious to the dangerous construction going on.

"We did not know what was happening as the work was being done in the night," reveals Mr. Gulzar Ali. For the moment, the families of the Talwar apartments are living with their relatives or friends for the night and squatting in front of their blocks for the rest of the day as all their belongings were yet to be moved out.

"We are helpless. We do not know what to do. We have put our lives in the hands of the civic authorities to find a solution," says Mr. Gulzar Ali. Even if the MCH managed to dodge the responsibility over the retaining wall collapse, which killed nine persons in the Banjara Hills area, in this particular case, it has no alibi.