Lives of thousands of people in east Delhi living in structurally unsafe dwellings are at risk as Delhi Development Authority (DDA) norms are being flouted with impunity by builders who are in a tearing rush to complete residential buildings to meet the demand gap for property.
Additional floors have been added to existing ones. Cantilever projections (like a balcony or beam) have been added to structures without factoring in their load-bearing capacity; structures have come up on plot sizes as small as 20 sq yard that also do not have the minimum required gap of four feet on both sides. Single brickwork on the higher floors with weak mortar and numerous window openings are making buildings vulnerable to natural calamities.
“Surviving in these areas during natural calamities, be these earthquakes or floods, could be tough. In case a building collapses, others close to it will also be damaged. Owners of the properties usually employ local, small-time contractors for technical advice. All such constructions are illegal. If Delhi is struck by an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale, several such buildings are likely to collapse,” says Pradeep Misra, CMD, Rudrabhishek Enterprises Pvt Ltd.
Outbreak of fires, too, could be disastrous. As per the Building Bye-Laws for Union Territory of Delhi, 1983, under jurisdiction of Delhi Development Authority, main entrances to the premises have to be adequately wide, not measuring less than five metres, to allow easy access to fire engines. Archways over the main entrance should also be no less than four metres in height. In areas like Laxmi Nagar, Shakarpur, Lalita Park, Geeta Colony etc the narrow lanes could be a potential fire hazard, hampering entry of fire brigades. The cantilever projections and low archways would also not allow the vehicles to function smoothly.
Many people who own big plots of say 200 sq yards have subdivided the same into two to three segments, each plot getting smaller in shape and size than the standard ones allowed by law.
“The plot size for a family of four persons should be at least 150 sq yard and not less than 10 yards (30 feet) wide. In case of the Lalita Park building which collapsed in November 2010, the plot size was 100 sq yard – much less than the standard size. Its width was five yards with length 20 yards,” says Chandan Ghosh, professor and head of the geo-hazard risk management division and IT Section, National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).
“Authorities overlook narrow plot sizes and sometimes pass plans without considering the plot shape, something that should not be done in an earthquake-prone area like Delhi-NCR.”
How dangerous these buildings are is obvious from the way new additions are being made to old structures. More floors are being added to a building just by using the base pillar of the original single-storey structure for support. Some homeowners in areas like Laxmi Nagar and Mandawali have reduced the width of the interior walls to lessen the load on the pillars. However, such structures are not just weak, these also pose a huge threat to the adjoining buildings.