Building collapse on the rise: Shun blame game, fix accountability

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Building Collapse in Chennai. (PTI photo)
Incidents of building collapse occur every now and then which result in the loss of precious human lives, properties and resources in India but have we found any solutions to solve this problem? Immediately after such incidents the heads are rolled -- officials are suspended (and then quietly reinstated) and enquiries are ordered. The blame game begins and in the end no one is held accountable and soon such incidents become a thing of past. 

On Saturday, after an eleven story building collapsed in the southern city of Chennai, rescuers were busy digging through the rubble and recovered bodies of 11 people and rescued nearly 21 survivors. As per officials, there is a possibility that many more people are still trapped under the rubble.

In another incident, at least 10 people were killed when a four-story building collapsed in New Delhi. As per officials, the building which collapsed was illegally constructed decades ago and its collapse was partly attributed to the construction work going on in an adjoining building.Both the incidents highlight the need for increased monitoring of construction across the country where such incidents are common.

The collapse of such buildings also draws ones attention to the mushrooming illegal real estate business. And the biggest example is the Campa Cola row in which the residents had to pay for the sins of realtors and the corrupt officials.

Building collapses kill seven people in India daily

While the illegal construction flourishes in Mumbai to accommodate a growing population, many of the legally built buildings are becoming uninhabitable. Several of the edifices in the older parts of Mumbai are over 70 years old, reportedly built in haste at a time when Mumbai was becoming a commercial hub. Similar is the case with the national capital of Delhi, where people are living in illegal constructions or structures built during the colonial era.

Building collapses are becoming common in India and the viable reason seems to be the poor construction standards, and municipal authorities not condemning buildings with perilous defects. But even unsafe buildings attract people who want to live in them because the competition for shelter is fierce among millions of residents.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, an average of seven people die in building collapses in the country every day. As per the data, in 2012, a total of 2,682 people died and 850 people were injured in 2,764 accident cases across the country.
Who should be held accountable?

As the incidents grow every year there is no one who is to be held accountable for the same. Are the civic bodies to be blamed for it as they don't perform their duties or the residents who buy such properties without crosschecking things? Administration too can be blamed for completely overlooking this problem and not coming up with tougher laws.

What buyers can do

Buyers must ensure that the flat being purchased has all the approvals. They should also try to verify the approved plan of the builder as small builders increase the number of floors without approval from the concerned authorities. And the most important thing is that the buyers must check the commencement certificate issued by the municipal corporation if building is under construction or a completion certificate if it has been completed. One must also check that no objection certificates such as those from water and electricity departments are also in place.

Have the Civic bodies learnt their lessons?

In order to demolish all the illegal structures, the civic bodies should survey all the constructions in their respective cities which are built without necessary permissions.

The statutory annual re-evaluation of buildings and construction structures should be done by the civic bodies, so that timely maintenance of the age old buildings is done. They should also conduct inspections and check the quality of materials used for constructions of buildings.

But, just taking action against illegal structures won't do, the civic bodies need to tighten its noose on the corrupt officials too. Each time, an official indulges in an act of corruption when a structure is built wrongly, he puts thousands of lives at risk. And after a building collapse, making a hue and cry over the issue doesn't make any sense.

Government solving the Civic mess

The current dispensation is pushing for key reforms to curb such incidents. These reforms will make the concerned officials accountable for illegal construction and unauthorised development will be put under their jurisdiction.

When the Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu was asked - One of the major problems in cities is the civic mess. How is the Government planning to address this?

He was quoted as saying in a TOI report, "That's part of the reform we are talking about. There has to be certain amount of accountability of civic agencies. We are trying to incentivize agencies that do good work and are taking states on the board. There is a serious problem of devolution of 3Fs - funds, functions and functionaries. The local bodies are saying that they are yet to be given power that was provisioned in the 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution. After doing the devolution of 3Fs, we have to provide them technical help - one by states second by centre. And then also incentivise them by means of coming out with reforms.

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