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Gurugram Building Collapse | What should property buyers, owners keep in mind to avoid such tragedies

In many cases, the problem could be poor quality of materials used, or poor workmanship 

Representative Image (Reuters)

Representative Image (Reuters)

When multiple ceilings of Tower-D of Chintels Paradiso in Gurugram collapsed, taking two lives, and leaving so many residents fearful for their lives, it was a wake-up call for buyers of apartments in multi-storey high-rise buildings. The fact is that India does not really have requirements for Asset Quality Management. Facades can be changed, interiors are done up with no formal structural experts involved, and there are no mandatory five- or 10-year audits.

Structural Audits

It is important that structural audits of multi-storey buildings take place before issuing occupation certificates. What is a structural audit? When the construction of a building is completed, multiple checks are conducted to evaluate the structural integrity and safety of the building before it is declared safe to occupy.

Designing for structural stability is just one part of the issue. Getting it translated during construction by close supervision and implementation of quality assurance and control methods is another. The recommendatory National Building Code has a section on structural safety of buildings, and the Real Estate Regulatory Act (RERA) places the onus of structural defects on the developer for a period of five years.

What Goes Wrong?

In many cases the problem could be poor quality of materials used, or poor workmanship. In the absence of any contractual mandates to use trained and certified labour forces, many workmen learn the job on the worksites, leading to poor execution. They do eventually learn, but in the process have left a weak structure or two. In some cases, contractors have saved on costs by using poor quality materials in the construction. Inadequate materials and construction audits during and just after construction, leaves these problems for residents to address after they have taken possession of the units.

In many cases, for projects that have finally been completed after years of standing incomplete, rainwater and dew could have seeped into the structure along the exposed iron bars, which then swell and weaken the parts of the wall it is in contact with. Even poor maintenance can lead to seepage, and swelling of joints that can weaken the structures. This had led to balconies collapsing in DDA apartments in Dwarka, Delhi some time ago. The danger in high rise buildings is even greater because the structure is designed such that the safety of the whole depends on every component. One wrong move can lead to the entire structure tumbling like a house of cards.

Buildings also collapse when the facilities managers or the Resident’s Welfare Associations (RWAs) do not follow the prescribed safety procedures. A few years ago, a lift malfunction at a premium apartment in DLF Phase-4, Gurugram led to a casualty, mainly because the RWA did not replace the lift after the prescribed number of years. In the case of Chintels Paradiso and even Poonam Chambers in Mumbai in 1997, renovation in the upper floors could have led to ceiling collapse or even the disintegration of the entire building. This happens when renovators take away key columns during upgrade, without considering their load-bearing capabilities.

How Can An Audit Help?

Greater Noida has ordered audits of high-rises considered unsafe, Gurugram has asked for the NBCC Green View to be vacated so that structural audit and upgrade can take place. Residents from Tower-D of Chintels Paradiso have been accommodated in other towers so that this tower can be audited for safety. Auditors check the columns and beams of the different floors for signs of weakness. They also take samples from walls to test for quality of building material. Walls, floors, ceilings, and wet areas are checked for aberrations.

Grouting can sometimes solve problems. Wrong standards of pipes and fixtures need to be changed in some cases. In one case known to this author, a resident in a high-rise had to make more than 30 complaints over five years about burst pipelines in her apartment. The problem here is probably because the developer did not change the width of the pipes after every few floors. If the same diameter is maintained, the pressure on lower floors is so intense that the fixtures and pipes can rupture. Today it is the problem of a few. Later it could become the problem of the entire tower.

What Should Buyers Do?

Firstly, get the audit done from expert agencies. While the Supreme Court and city authorities can ask an IIT or a Central Building Research Institute to execute structural audits, consumers too can take the lead and ask for these safety audits. Secondly, don’t be intimidated if the developer gets aggressive when you ask for a relook at certain parts of the structure. If you pay the money, you have the right to ask for a perfect house. About 62 percent of houses have missing sq ft, says a promoter associated with Nemmadi, a startup incubated in IIM Bangalore that conducts structural and safety audits. The consumer pays per sq ft and then if the sq ft is missing, it should be raised with the developer.

Fix The Problem

If the problem was created by poor quality plaster or joints, it is worth getting that scraped off and redone. Ask the builder to do this. The structural safety is their responsibility, according to RERA. Please be certain that such large issues cannot be fixed by local masons. The developer’s or the facility management teams should have the capacity to fix it. A third party audit is a wonderful selling point for the developer. Finally, make sure all renovations should have the approval of an estate manager. This would reduce such tragedies happening, because of semi-skilled workmen knocking off walls, columns, and floors, in the name of redevelopment.

E Jayashree Kurup is Director, Real Estate & Cities, Wordmeister Editorial Services LLP, and Communications Advisor, National Institute of Urban Affairs.

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

Jayashree Kurup