The recent collapse of two buildings in Chennai and New Delhi has once again highlighted the issue of structural stability and the lack of enforcement of rules and codes by municipal bodies and developmental authorities. While several buildings that have collapsed were unauthorised structures, the Chennai incident raises questions how the construction process is monitored. According to reports, the developer of the high-rise allegedly deviated from the originally sanctioned structural design and made modifications, putting the structural stability of the building at grave risk.
This highlights one major lacuna in the regulation of construction activity. Municipal bodies are tasked with approving building plans and checking for compliance with development control regulations such as the FSI/FAR norms, coastal zone regulations and also matters such as the plan providing for mandatory vacant spaces etc.
However, the structural design is one area that is mostly self-regulatory. This differs from the building plan that is made by an architect and approved by the municipal authority. A qualified structural engineer vets the design from the point of structural stability that looks at several factors such as location of the project, soil quality, seismic zone classification etc. Development authorities such as the Noida Authority have rules in place where the structural design has to be examined and certified by IIT Delhi.
“While the structural design has to be certified by a qualified structural engineer, the liability of the engineer is restricted to only the design. Suppose the structure collapses, the engineer can be held liable only for the design, that is, if an investigation reveals design flaws and he as an engineer passed them,” says PSN Rao, Professor, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.
There is little monitoring into whether the developer has used the appropriate materials that are needed according to the structural design, so that the building is stable. “Once the concrete is poured in, there is no way to verify whether building materials of the right specifications were used,” says Rao.
AK Mishra, former secretary, ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, who during this term in office piloted the Real Estate Regulatory Bill, says that while the authorities are under obligation to check the structural design and see whether the construction complies with the rules, smaller municipalities may not have the manpower to monitor and enforce regulations.
“This is an area which the development authority has to dwell into as there are lot of multi-storeyed residential and commercial