Lives and buildings in danger BE CAUTIOUS
Stringent structural safety norms can avert tragedies like the Chennai building collapse
The recent horrific multistorey building crash leading to 60 deaths in Chennai has turned the spotlight on to the issue of structural safety. On July 28, a 11-storey residential tower of Trust Heights, an under-construction project by Maduraibased developer Prime Sristi, collapsed like a deck of cards after a heavy downpour.
Located on Kundrathur Road, Moulivakkam, near Porur junction, Chennai, the project comprises four towers with 86 units of 975 sq ft to over 1,700 sq ft. About 44 apartments were destroyed, snuffing out about 60 lives and leaving at least 25 people trapped in the debris. Most of the victims are construction workers from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc.
Even as five people, including the builder and structural engineer have been arrested in connection with the incident, an expert committee with members from CMDA (Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority), Anna University and IIT-Madras has been formed to probe into the reasons for the mishap.
Real estate experts in the mean- time continue to speculate over the actual cause of the crash. Many of them say that though the CMDA had approved the project, there were a lot of structural defects in the building. Reports say it was built on clayey soil near the Porur river bed and should have had a 25-metre deep foundation, which in this case could have been weak.
The NBC (National Building Code) could also have been violated, says SL Kumar, MD of Navin Builders (Chennai) and a former CMDA member. “CMDA approval does not guarantee structural strength. The authority requires a structural engineer to be associated with the project, among other things. In this case, the building deviates from the guidelines of NBC (National Building Code). The beams and columns may have been inadequate to carry the load of 11 storeys. In fact, we have learnt that the columns should have been at least three to four times bigger than the ones used.
The foundation depth needs to be looked into as well as it seems like it was not deep enough for a 11-storey building. The other tower may also have these structural defects and is equally unsafe.” A violation of NBC, he adds, is a much graver and more serious offence than a planning violation as it puts lives at risk.
Lack of professionalism
The tragedy also brings to light the lack of professionalism in the field, especially among small- time developers, engineers and architects. The builder, Prime Sristi, is not a member of CREDAI (Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India) and reports reveal that the ‘architect’ of the project is not recognised by the Council of Architecture. A Chennai-based architect and planner, who does not want to be named, says, “It looks like the person who signed the plan is not a qualified architect and this raises serious concerns. How can someone who is not an architect own an architecture firm and sign a building plan? It is illegal. The Tamil Nadu government should be more stringent with its rules and it must not permit a nonarchitect to sign and approve plans.” The TN government at present gives civil engineers the authority to sign building plans.
Testing and approval
Soil-testing is an important prerequisite before the construction process. While it is usually outsourced to labs and testing agencies, IIT-Madras is at times approached to do the same. Prof Meher Prasad, head of the structural engineering department at IIT-Madras, says, “We normally do soil-testing for very tall highrise buildings, but we were not approached in this case because the building is only about 11 to 12 storeys tall. However, we are part of the expert committee and will be holding discussions to ascertain the key causes for the failure of this structure. We will be able to arrive at concrete details only after the investigation process.”
Some reports also allege that there were discrepancies in the approval process with the builder going ahead with the construction of a second tower even before submitting an application for clearance to CMDA.
The enforcement cell of the CMDA is supposed to carry out periodic inspections to ensure that there are no deviations to the submitted plans. Suresh Jain, MD, Vijayshanthi Builders (Chennai), says, “The enforcement cell carries out checks once in a while and makes a mandatory site visit before handing out the completion certificate. In the case of the Porur building though, it’s hard to say because it was under construction and it is now difficult to deduce the exact reasons for the failure.” He, however, suspects the soil quality and believes that if the builder had violated building codes, he would risk not only the safety of the structure but his own reputation as he would not be able to procure a completion certificate.
“To my knowledg e, no builder or engineer would deliberately flout these norms as they are well aware of the consequences. It could have happened because the soil gave way due to the heavy rain and the building just caved in,” he adds.
When a chief planner at CMDA was contacted, he refused to comment on the issue. An email sent to the CMDA member secretary yielded no responses until the time of going to press.
Ashoka Enclave Badkal Lake BPTP
Green Field Nahar Par NIT
The site of the collapsed apartment building in Chennai, allegedly being constructed in violation of the National Building Code