Lives and build­ings in dan­ger BE CAU­TIOUS

Strin­gent struc­tural safety norms can avert tragedies like the Chen­nai build­ing col­lapse

HT Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Harini Sri­ram

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.

Struc­tural de­fects

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

Charmswood Vil­lage

Green Field Na­har Par NIT

Pal­wal

Sainik Colony

The site of the col­lapsed apart­ment build­ing in Chen­nai, al­legedly be­ing con­structed in vi­o­la­tion of the Na­tional Build­ing Code

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