“LAXMI CHHAYA TRAGEDY : A WAKE UP CALL

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BY: SUDHAKAR DOKHANE

Former President-PEATA

18th July 2007, was yet another ‘Black-Day’ for Mumbai. At 6.20 pm. ‘A’ wing of ‘Laxmi Chhaya Towers’ crushed to dust claiming over 25 innocent lives, and dishoused 12 families. This was 6th major casualty in last 2 decades. Navre Apts @ Sion (1996), Pravin Shruti @ VileParle & Poonam Chambers @ Worli (both in 1997), Sukhsagar Towers @ Malad & Govinda Towers @ Bandra (both in 1998) & Laxmi Chhaya @ Borivali (2007) sofar claimed more than 120 lives, and enormous loss of property.
Every building like human body tries to stand and sustain as much as possible, and will never give up till last moment without giving repeated warnings. It is essential to understand those distress signs & warning signals in time and to act upon promptly to save the building. Always, such tragedies are “wake up calls” not only for occupant Society Members but equally for all component agencies in construction industry.
The housing cost is gone beyond affordable limits of common man. Most of the times the purchasers has to spend their life savings and also have to carry burden of loan liability for considerable period thereafter. Naturally they become reluctant to contribute further funds for immediate repairs and maintenance. On the other hand it is also seen that people are spending freely on interior decoration, but surprisingly refuse to contribute for repairs for proper maintenance and health of the building. Thus timely repairs are delayed and delayed for no valid reasons, causing uncontrolled deterioration, resulting huge contribution for heavy repairs at a later stage.
Due to multi ownership unit pattern of construction, for over last 4 decades housing industry is taken over by the developers /builders with only transitionary interest, in the project, mainly executed as profit oriented business, with primarily two objects i.e. i) Speedy construction & ii). Maximum profit. The developer / builder has come to stay thus, has become master of the game of construction industry, resulting in loss of control by professionals on construction. In house provision of professionals in builder’s organisation, further deteriorated relations and controls between developers & practicing professionals. There is no code of conduct in practice for developers & contractors who are principal profiteering agencies in building construction. Surprisingly even registration is NOT made mandatory for builders & contractors, in private sector, inspite of repeated representations from Professionals’ Associations to the Govt. & Municipal Corporation.

So is the case of (non-qualified) Interior Designers, and Vastu Consultants under whose supervision interior decoration and or alteration works are carried out invariably. There is no control of any statutory authority, since Registration or Licence is not made compulsory for them. This is a pathetic situation. It is strongly suggested that, wherever structural changes are involved, one must appoint qualified, experienced and Licenced professional, who will never take a risk to damage structural members, no matter what are requirements of clients.
To keep it in healthy and working conditions any product requires maintenance from the very next day. Invariably it is seen that there is lack of awareness, about this aspect. No matter how much sound body or structure is, if not maintained in time, it deteriorates. Timely repairs and maintenance is the only solution. Unattended repairs, structural alterations & additions for interior decoration and leakages are some of the main causes of deterioration and weakening of building. In Mumbai you can see thousands of deteriorated and defaced buildings waiting merely even for external paint.
For last so many years a common man is taken for ride by so called influence of Vasastu Shastra. People are making lots of additions / alteration (i.e. converting bed in to kitchen, change in location of Toilet block & entrances etc) under the advice of self proclaimed Vastu Experts. Now Vastu craze has crossed its limits. Builders are openly advertising their product in conformity with Vastu Shastra. This dangerous trend is increasing day by day, inspite of knowing fully well that there are remote possibilities for such alterations in R.C.C. frame multistoried buildings.
In last two decades, due to various reasons many R.C.C. frame buildings had collapsed in Greater Mumbai Limits, causing loss of life and property. “Laxmi Chhaya Towers” at Borivali is a recent casualty.

Reasons of collapses :-

Based on earlier reports of Experts and Investigation Committees, on building collapses, following are various reasons of structural failure: –

Uneven settlement of foundation.
Use of inferior quality materials & workmanship endangering the structural stability of the building.
Aging of structure.
Excessive ground water level, leading to erosion of soil bearing capacity.
Structural designing on erroneously judged or assumed soil bearing capacity.
Over loading the structure after occupation, by additions and alterations for which the structure is NOT designed.
Carrying out structural repairs amounting to alterations, removal and inflicting damage and or cutting in to or removing structural members for interior design / decoration requirements.
Large excavations near building.
Collapse of adjoining building.
Earth quake or any blast giving lateral thrust to the structure.
Lack of maintenance and timely repairs resulting excessive leakages, and thereby causing continuous corrosion and deterioration of steel reinforcement.
Unauthorised additional construction, and changes in original plan / structure.
Changes in the orientation and or increasing size of toilet blocks, and installation of additional water storage tanks on lofts and terraces thereby increasing dead load on existing structure.
Inordinate delay in attending timely repairs, causing uncontrolled deterioration.
Primarily Collapse of buildings are categorised in 3 parts:

Collapse during construction.
Collapse after construction within 2/3 years.
Collapse after 10 years.

The collapses in item no. (i) & (ii) above can be due to faulty construction and or basic fundamental errors in structural designs, error in judgment on supervision, and use of poor workmanship and inferior quality of materials. The collapse in item (iii) can be due to weakening of the structure due to various reasons explained above which can be a subject matter of in-depth investigations depending upon each individual case.

In any unfortunate collapse, besides concerned component agencies the roll of building occupants and or Society Management is equally important. It is absolutely necessary, to create proper awareness amongst members of the Society, to maintain and keep building healthy through out its life span. The time is running away. The occupants now should wake up and realise the consequences of such ill fated events.

It is a fact that the buildings in and around Mumbai constructed in 1980-85 during the period of unprecedented ‘cement control’ imposed by then Chief minister Mr. Antulay, can be proved more vulnerable and may need immediate and thorough Technical Audit at every 3 years on regular basis.

In spite of Technical Audit is made mandatory by the State Govt. for co-op. Hsg. Societies to make technical assessment of their buildings at every 5 years & or 3 years for age old buildings of 15 to 30, and above 30 years respectively. Unfortunately importance of this regulation by and large is not taken seriously by the co-operatives Societies, knowing fully well that timely repairs is the only remedy to prevent Collapses. Mumbai Co-Op. Housing Federation in its statement to media recently stated that 95% of the Societies had not acted upon this mandatory ‘Technical Audit’ due to lack of awareness. Reluctance in carring out timely repairs may lead to serious situation in the days to come. Therefore regular ‘Technical Audit’ and carrying out timely strengthening / repairs under the supervision of expert consulting engineers through reputed contractors, is the only solution.

Invariably it is also seen that there is hardly any control of Society Management over unauthorized additions & alteration very oftenly carried out by the occupants. Changing of toilet positions, (wet areas over dry areas) providing additional water tanks above lofts & terrace, chiseling, removing or damaging of R.C.C. members for interior works and lowering of plinth by commercial establishments are punitive offences, under section 52 of M.R.T.P. Act. 1966.

As a matter of fact structural additions and alterations are not permitted without specific approval of the Municipal Corporation, and inspite of strict regulations such works are freely carried out without permission. It is a duty of the Society Management to insist from the Member, a permission / approval from the Municipal Corporation, before allowing structural alteration works. As well as it is mandatory for the society Management to inform Municipal Office in time to take suitable action against erring Members / occupants. But who is to bell the cat? remain unanswered. Just blaming each other and or tendency of wishing to hang some body in case of mishaps, will not solve this chronic problem, unless self discipline is imposed by all concerned. Only Government regulations, or Municipal rules will not achieve any results unless all responsible agencies discharge their duties religiously to protect the building from such unfortunate events.

Important Roll of Agencies :-

1) It is felt essential that Mumbai co-op Housing Federation or similar agencies with the help of professional associations and media should take lead and start educating Societies on regular basis, otherwise after passage of time, everybody will forget “Laxmi Chhaya Tragedy”, as usual, till further mishap.

2) The State Govt. should issue suitable guide lines / orders to the Registrar of Societies, who is quasi judicial authority to :-

Demand Technical Audit Report and information on compliance on maintenance of building as per duration time limits prescribed in the Regulation of Technical Audit, from the Houses Society on regular basis, and maintain its record.

ii) Make Society Management accountable and Demand explanation for non
compliance of item No. (i) above before initiating action.

iii) Guide Societies to initiate action against erring or non-co-operative members, and help & protect Management to that effect.

iv) As a part of disaster management plan, State Govt. on humanitarian grounds, should work out a policy to reserve 10% of the tenements constructed for project affected persons (PAP) by MMRDA, MCGM, SRA or similar statutory authorities, and make it available as transit accommodation to those families dishoused due to unfortunate collapse of building.

3) The Society should insist for appointment of qualified & licensed Interior Designer when structural alteration / additions are involved.

4) Society Management, before taking charge from the builder, insist upon ‘Certified copies’ of following documents for its permanent record to enable consultants to give fair advice for future repairs :-

i) Approved / Completion Plan according to which building is completed, along
with I.O.D., C.C. & Occupancy Certificate.
ii) Detailed Structural drawings & calculations according to which R.C.C. work is completed.
iii) Completion Certificate of building as submitted to MCGM by Architect /
Licensed Surveyor & Rged. Site Supervisor.
iv) Structural stability certificate for work upto plinth & for full work as submitted to MCGM by the Consulting Engineer.
v) Names, addresses, & Phone numbers of concerned :-

a) Builder / Developer.
b) Civil, Plumbing & Electrical Contractor.
c) Architect / Licensed Surveyor.
d) Consulting Engineer.
e) Site Supervisor.
f) Interior Designers (under whose supervision interior works are to be carried
out.)
g) Vastu Consultant appointed by the Member.

For the information to public at large the time tasted formulas and CHECK LIST FOR MAINTENANCE is incorporated herein below:-

Do’s
Get thorough ‘Technical Audit’ done at every 5 years of buildings aging between 15 to 30 years and at every 3 years beyond 30 years, from the consulting structural engineer and obtain his opinion on general evaluation of structural health of the building, and nature of repairs involved.

Carry out timely repairs / strengthening work under the advice and supervision of consulting Engineer through reputed contractor.

Provide waterproof cement paint in two coats for external face of building in the following manner: –

PAINT TO BE USED PERIOD OF PAINTING

i) Cement Based Paint Every 3 years
ii) Acrylic Based Paint Every 5 years
iii) Elastic Based Paint Every 7 years

Note: The waterproof based cement paints can effectively arrest the leakages & seepages from the external face of the building during monsoon, and protect R.C.C.frame from deterioration to a great extent.

Check all drainage & water supply service pipe lines and its connections at every 2 years, and replace immediately if found defective.

Get septic tank and soak-pit checked, cleaned keep it watertight and provide insecticide treatment every YEAR from Municipal Corporation. This service is free of cost; and binding on Municipal Corporation.

Check Terrace water proofing and attend repairs if any at every 5 years.

Common service areas within the building, courtyards, should be kept clean with regular maintenance. Staircase steps and common corridors should be kept unobstructed. Storing of junk materials thereon should be strictly prohibited, as the same causes inconvenience & some time proved hazardous .

Common compound and corridor lighting should be regularly checked and be kept in good working conditions.

As far as possible the LIFTS should be operated by the liftman only. Yearly contract of maintenance should be given to lift company for unobstructed working.

It is mandatory to provide two water pumps for lifting the water from underground water tank to over head storage tank. Each pump should be operated alternately. This will keep pumps in working conditions. Yearly contract should be given for maintenance of pumps to avoid inconvenience.

At least once in 2 years get underground & overhead water storage tanks cleaned, and see that they are water tight. Preferably covers of underground water storage tank should be provided with lock & key facility to keep it free from out side infections.

Wherever possible, Society’s office with toilet facility (for domestic workers / drivers), should be provided on ground floor in marginal open spaces. Municipal Corporation approves such proposals free of F.S.I.

Safety grills for windows should be compulsorily identical; as different designs & shapes of grills deface the building.

Collect sizable contribution towards sinking/repair-fund from the members regularly, which will help substantially for subsequent repairs. Insurance of building can be proved as great financial assistance for the purpose.

Keep the terrace clean for all the time. Check it regularly and specially pre-monsoon, during-monsoon and after monsoon every year, and see that rain water flows freely.

Report unauthorised construction immediately in writing to concerned Ward Officer & Building Proposal Dept, of the Municipal Corporation as well as to Local Police Stn; and to keep contineous follow up.

17) The Society Management should think about retaining services of architect / licensed Surveyor & consulting structural Engineer on regular basis (at par with family doctor), for general checkup of the health of building, from time to time. This arrangement definitely migliore farmacia online per tadalafil will prove beneficial in long run.

18) Give list of Do’s & Don’ts to each occupant of building, and permanently display it on Notice Board of Society.

Don’ts

Do not allow any unauthorised additions there by over loading existing structure for which it is NOT designed.

Do not allow any internal structural changes / alterations, specifically change in positions of toilet blocks or kitchens, under any pretext including so called Vastu requirements. (The same should be maintained in alignment with other floors.)

Do not allow extensions of toilet or wet areas over dry areas.

Do not tolerate any leakages any time.

Do not permit structural additions and alterations if the same are not approved by the Municipal authority, architect & structural engineer.

6) Do not permit such works (item 5 above) without advice and supervision of qualified professional/s.

7) Do not allow to carry out any work of repairs or additions & alterations by petty contractors.

8) Do not permit following works unless backed by professional engineering support as described in item (6) above:-
Replacement of floor finish
Repairs of internal, external plastering, and R.C.C. members.
Any modifications to existing plan, according to which building exists.
Toilet or Kitchen renovations.
Structural alterations required for interior designing & decoration.
Any R.C.C. repairs which involves use of steel, cement, sand & stone/metal.

9) Never allow terrace gardening in any manner whatsoever. The soil for such gardening, will add permanent dead load on the building, besides it will remain wet and inaccessable for repairs; and any deterioration resulting there from can not be detected timely.

10) Insist certificate from qualified consulting engineer, before granting permission for alterations to the effect that “proposed additions / alterations will NOT endanger structural stability of the building”, if such permission is asked by the Member / Occupant, and insist for undertaking from such member to the effect that he will be held sole responsible for such additions/alterations, to make him properly aware of consequences.

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