At least five buildings have collapsed in Bengaluru in the last three weeks alone, all of which could have led to the loss of human life. First was a three-storey building in Lakkasandra, followed by another building inside the Karnataka Milk Federation colony. Incessant rain in the last two weeks has also led to more buildings losing their structural integrity, posing a threat to the occupants of these buildings as well as neighbours.
Senior journalist and activist Kathyayini Chamaraj says the trouble is mostly because the BBMP is not doing its job and disregarding the BBMP Act of 2020.
â€śSection 256 of the BBMP Act which deals with the precautions in case of dangerous structures, gives responsibility to the BBMP Commissioner to issue notice to the owner or occupier to fence off, take down, secure or repair such structures and in cases of imminently dangerous structures, order immediate evacuation,â€ť she said.Prior to the BBMP Act, Section 322 of the Karnataka Municipal Act also empowered the BBMP to take suo motu action.
Following the first two building collapses in the last week of September, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Commissioner Gaurav Gupta (IAS) had ordered a survey of such dilapidated structures in the city within a month. He had said if owners donâ€™t take any action, the BBMP will raze those structures in a controlled manner. A similar survey conducted in 2019 had identified 194 such buildings, but only 77 owners were given notices urging them to take corrective measures. Further, the BBMP did not take any action in this regard. That survey too was taken up only after the Karnataka High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of unauthorised and illegal constructions in Bengaluru after two buildings collapsed in Cooke Town and killed five people.When questioned about this, Gupta said work on that front could not progress as the pandemic began.
In the current survey, 600 such buildings have been found across eight zones in Bengaluru, according to a BBMP official who did not want to be named. The final survey is supposed to be submitted by the end of October.
Speaking with TNM, Chief Engineer of East Zone Mohankrishna, said, â€śIn our zone, so far we have identified 93 such buildings and taken action on 14. It is an ongoing process and we will issue notices. In cases where there is immediate danger, we are ordering them to vacate immediately.â€ť
But despite all these surveys, the truth remains that the BBMP hardly acts. In most of these instances of buildings collapsing, the buildings were occupied by tenants from low income groups who knew little about the structural defects of the house until the eleventh hour. While they were unhurt, they lost whatever they purchased â€” from furniture to appliances. It almost seems as if the fact that people did not die in these incidents has made the BBMP breathe easy.
On Saturday, October 16, unit-B of the police staff quarters built by Karnataka State Police Housing Corporation Limited (KSPHCL) near Binny Mills only two years ago started leaning to one side by more than one feet, triggering panic. The basement cracked and 32 families living in the buildings were forced to leave.
What causes buildings to collapse
While most of these buildings are old, some of them are new buildings which are apparently now weak and built without following due procedure.
JM Chandra Kishen, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering at IISc Bangalore, said that generally except for large apartment buildings, often there is no soil testing done before construction starts as mandated by the National Building Code.
â€śThe problem is that in our current framework, the structural aspect is not scrutinised by the authorities. They are only keen on following the regulations while giving sanction for construction,â€ť he says.
He adds that even once a plan is sanctioned, there is no check on the implementation of the plan. â€śThat is why we see there is construction of extra floors or a balcony in addition to the approved plan. Often we see occupancy certificates given to buildings which may not have stuck to the sanctioned plan and this can be problematic,â€ť he said
Further, in times of heavy rains â€” due to lack of proper drainage â€” the character of the soil changes which can displace the foundation of the building, he added. For older buildings, he said there should be a system of certifying old buildings every five years to prevent mishaps from happening.
Corruption and misgovernance to blame
According to a retired BBMP Engineer Hanumanthe Gowda, who served as executive engineer in the Technical Vigilance Cell under Commissioner (TVCC), the ward engineer should ideally be tasked to keep a tab on old buildings that require intervention and also check for unauthorised constructions.
â€śBut now in the recent changes in the rule, the responsibility has been shifted to the Town Planning Department of BBMP which has made the bad situation worse,â€ť he said. .
He added that it is known that the politician-construction contractor nexus is rampant. â€śNow even if an officer wants to get out of this cycle, he cannot as he will get transferred at the behest of politicians. Further, BBMP itself is short-staffed and government staff from other departments are deputed, which makes it even more prone to corruption. So now whenever there is scrutiny, the BBMP gives notices without doing any followup action,â€ť he added.
The state government had earlier floated the Akrama Sakrama scheme in 2013 to regularise an estimated 2.5 lakh such illegal buildings in the city at the cost of one time penalty to improve the stateâ€™s ailing financial situation. The scheme is now stayed and under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.