Eminent architect Hafeez Contractor, who had prepared a report on making Mantralaya safe in 1998, says the building has been weakened due to the fire and the government should consider the safety aspect before moving people back into the state secretariat.
He has also pointed out that the structure was built 50 years ago when Mumbai was in a lower seismic zone, but the seismic activity has doubled since, making the structure vulnerable. “To take any risks will be foolhardy,” Contractor said while talking to Hindustan Times over the fire fiasco that took place on June 21.
Contactor and his team of architects had studied the building 14 years ago, and after 60 to 70 meetings with concerned officials, had warned the then-chief minister Narayan Rane and later Vilasrao Deshmukh about the fire hazard posed by the haphazardly laid departments and corridors spread over 7 lakh square feet, laden with inflammable material and dangling wires.
In old buildings like Mantralaya, the walls are only six inches thick, but with the increased seismic levels, especially after the Latur earthquake, their thickness should be about nine inches, said architect Manish Merchant, who worked with him on the Mantralaya project.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Friday had also suggested reconstruction of the building and had quoted structural experts from the National Disaster Management Authority, who had said the structure might not be safe after such a large fire.
Ravi Sinha, professor of the structural engineering department, IIT-Bombay, who has specialised in Mumbai’s structures and their earthquake resistance, says the seismic zone has changed, and buildings have started being built accordingly only now. “Prior to 1962, when the Mantralaya building must have come up, earthquakes were not considered when a building was being designed, so they were not earthquake resistant. Presently, the building falls in the seismic zone 3, which is moderate,” said Sinha.
Chief minister Chavan said when asked about the vulnerability of the building, “We should wait for the structural audit to be completed, and not jump to any conclusions until then.”