Yet another tragedy on these lines was witnessed in Maharashtra late in August. As many as 13 people had lost their lives in Raigad district, when their five-storeyed apartment came crashing down, after torrential rains. While 76 people were rescued from what might have been a death trap in waiting, such accidents point to a breach of standards, concerning quality of materials used, workmanship, and the idea of frequent maintenance checks residential buildings must undergo.
It would be safe to say that India’s residential real estate scene has quite a chequered history, as the city of Chennai itself had witnessed first-hand, with one of the worst construction-related disasters in recent memory. As many as 61 people died when a 11-storeyed building under construction in Moulivakkam collapsed in June 2014, again in the aftermath of rain. A majority of those who died were construction labourers. It seems many hard lessons are lost in the industry as such accidents keep repeating. As per data from the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 1,200 people have perished in 1,161 building collapses across India in 2017.
So what is being done to address this? Last year, the Bombay High Court ruled both the landlord and tenants of a building must carry out a structural audit of their building at pre-defined intervals. The audit must be conducted once a building completes 30 years, after which an audit must be done every 10 years. A structural engineer can be appointed for this inspection after which the certificate is to be submitted to the municipal chief. Industry stakeholders say homebuyers have the option to ask developers for a Structural Stability Report after the construction of building as well.
Here in Chennai, in the aftermath of the Moulivakkam tragedy, the Justice R Regupathy Commission that inquired into the circumstances that caused the accident put forth a series of recommendations, to help avert such incidents. One of them is a legislation that would make insurance packages mandatory for builders, which would also cover banks and customers. To keep fly-by-night operators out, and adding one more safety level for consumers, the Commission demanded big-ticket developers to deposit a significant sum in fixed deposits for 10 years. Another radical recommendation was a reconstitution of CMDA by forming a panel to monitor mega projects. The members of this team were to include experts in structural engineering, soil investigation, and foundation design, apart from law and technical officers. Provisions of disbursement of compensation have also been suggested by the Commission.
The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, which came into force in May 2016 has also come a long way in regulating and formalising India’s real estate sector. But industry experts believe there is room for improvement, especially in the backdrop of the pandemic. Going forth, apart from basic amenities and safety features in homes, buildings of a certain size will also need to begin incorporating contactless common spaces, such as elevators and lobby entrance doors. Policy leaders are also recommending builders to begin making arrangements for contingency spaces and containment areas within buildings to deal with possible infections that might come up in the future.
Developers must look beyond mere profits and set in motion a culture of construction that keeps long term sustainability, safety, and reliability at the heart of their businesses. The government must also ensure that it does not avert its eyes when faced with the muscle power of big money. For what’s at stake is the very notion of a safe shelter as we know it.