The newly-elected Aam Admi Party which forms the government in Delhi, has focused on water and power issues as key for the people living in the Capital. It has slashed the monthly tariff for electricity consumption of up to 400 units by 50% and announced 667 litres of free water daily for each household with a metered connection. Little does it realise, however, that water and power are nothing compared to the biggest threat that lakhs of Delhiites face today. That of unsafe buildings.
According to National Disaster Management Institute (NDMI), a majority of Delhi’s buildings are structurally vulnerable to any kind of natural or man-made tragedy because safe housing norms have always been conveniently overlooked by people in connivance with government authorities.
Three years after the Lalita Park tragedy, in which 73 people died when a five-storey illegally constructed building collapsed, more than one lakh dwelling units have come up in both the authorised and unauthorised colonies in the Capital. Not even 10% of these buildings adhere to structural safety norms.
If one recalls, soon after the Lalita Park tragedy, the revenue department of Delhi government issued a circular dated March 30, 2011, stating that no property could be registered unless a certificate of structural safety by the competent authority was furnished. This brought down the average number of registrations from 400 daily to about six or seven, causing the government huge revenue losses. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi had also at that time admitted to not having any structural safety engineer on its rolls to assess the strength of the building and certify it.
“Consequently, the government on April 26, 2011, withdrew its order and allowed the registration of properties without sanctioned building plans and structural safety certificate. The government preferred revenue over the safety of its citizens. Instead of overturning its own order, the government should have looked at ways to stop the ongoing and future construction of unsafe buildings and MCD should have immediately empanelled structural safety experts,” says a senior MCD officer in east Delhi on condition of anonymity.
The April 26, 2011, order, however, did allow MCD to book unauthorised construction and put up details of such cases on its website. The sub-registrars were asked to refer to the website and not register any such building till it was regularised.
“The new order has a lot of loopholes which allow builders to exploit them. When the MCD sanctions a building plan, it is mandatory for the builder to get a completion certificate before occupying it anytime in five years. It’s impossible for MCD to keep a regular check on various stages of its construction as every day we sanction 1400 to 1800 building plans in planned and regularised colonies,” MCD official says.
Blaming everything on a shortage of MCD staff, the official adds that before the MCD can book such properties, the builders sell these houses through registered sale deeds and stamp duty is paid to the government. So in a way the government collects revenue for illegal buildings.