Rakesh Gaba (39), still shudders to think how the shoddy work by DDA could have cost the lives of his children five years ago.
Gaba, a businessman, has been living in a DDA flat in south Delhi’s Masjid Moth since 1979. “My son and daughter, who were four and two years old in 2005, were standing beneath the balcony of our neighbour when a huge chunk of cement just fell down. Thankfully, they had moved away by then and the chunk just fell inches away from them,” he said.
How long does it take for a newly built building to develop cracks and fall apart? It looks like in the case of DDA flats, the process started almost immediately.
So much that soon after buying the flats, residents replaced the DDA’s crumbling concrete with their own, even if that meant an additional expense of a few more lakhs of rupees.
“We would rather be safe than sorry,” said Ram Kumar Tripathi (50), who bought a flat in Vasant Kunj 15 years ago from an original allottee. “The previous owner never stayed here. So the flat was just the way DDA had built it,” Tripathi still recalls. “The ceiling was caving in and the walls were all damp. I spent Rs 5 lakh to get the whole thing redone.”
DDA started building housing complexes in 1968 and till date has built more than three lakh flats. Till even a few years ago, it didn’t have a system of quality audit and even now the audit is done by a department of its own. Third party audit is done only for non-housing projects like flyovers.
“Once DDA sold us the flats, they never came back. Even when many flats here are still on lease hold,” Gaba said. “The toilet shaft in our area are in such a bad condition that Delhi Jal Board officials don’t even come inside to take a reading of the water meter,” he said.
“We have an independent quality control department, which is headed by a Chief Engineer who reports directly to the DDA’s Vice Chairman,” said DDA spokeswoman Neemo Dhar. “We conduct periodic tests of all material used in construction, including water and ISI standards are followed for all material,” she said.
Dhar said the quality control laboratory of DDA, which she said functions independently, has received ISO 2007 certification and is being revised to get an ISO 2009 certificate. The laboratory, however, was only set up sometime in the 1990’s.
DDA admits that it always didn’t have a quality control system. “However, it has been there for quite some time now.”
The leaking wound that never heals
It was an embarrassing moment for Darshan Dhingra, 60, when part of her toilet roof collapsed on a guest while he was still inside. “There was so much seepage that the roof suddenly came down. I was ashamed. We were lucky that no one was hurt,” she says.
Dhingra, a resident of the low-income group DDA flats in Hari Nagar, has got the roof of her toilet repaired four times in the last two years but the seepage reappeares each time.
Excessive seepage and leakages are the biggest problems facing the residents of the DDA flats in Hari Nagar. “99 per cent of the 1,476 DDA flats in Hari Nagar are affected by seepage, especially in the shafts. Since the shaft is the common property of six flats, no one wants to step up and get them repaired,” says BH Anand, president, Resident Welfare Association, DA Block, Hari Nagar.
According to the residents, the problem is not new. “Seepage has been a common problem ever since the flats were allotted to us in 1979. Now that the pipes are old, the problem has intensified,” says LC Dhingra, 63.
Residents also say that the houses have been constructed ‘thoughtlessly’. “The bedroom wall of one flat is shared by the toilet of another flat. All the moisture from the toilet comes into the bedroom. No where else would you find such thoughtless construction,” says Anand. “I had to place a heater in front of my bedroom wall to dry the moisture.”
Ageing beyond their years in west Delhi
The flat glows from a fresh coat of Plaster of Paris and marble inlays. Except where an ugly ever-spreading mark of water stains the corner of the newly renovated ceiling.
The Oberois of C6A block, Janakpuri, who have spent over a lakh rupees to do up their house, are an upset lot.
“The whole building is in such bad shape, there’s hardly any point spending on the inside,” says S.P. Oberoi, a retired government employee.
The building in question, built a couple of decades ago, has such cracks and seepage it looks at least a 100 years old.
The toilet shaft is about to crumble and the exterior is fraught with ugly marks of chipped-out concrete.
“A few years ago, I used to have regular fights with the family living upstairs because whenever they ran their kitchen tap, our kitchen ceiling would start leaking. We’ve fixed the problem, but something else has cropped up.”
This building is no exception. Every building in Janakpuri started crumbling in some degree at least 10 years ago. In fact, masons find jobs in Janakpuri DDA flats all the year round.
Residents have been spending a fortune keeping the structure standing. “Look at my house. Does it look like a DDA flat? It doesn’t any more because we had to replace the entire outer surface with a new one,” says Ashwani Kumar, resident.
Avishek G Dastidar