Old Delhi: A huddle of dilapidated structures ready to topple anytime, say officials
The findings of the annual pre-monsoon survey by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), to identify dangerous buildings in the city, shows that nearly 80% of such buildings are in the SP-CIty zone
The house collapse on Thursday night in central Delhi’s Paharganj, which killed a 3-year-old child and injured his two sisters and father, has once again brought to fore the issue of dangerous buildings in Old Delhi and the City-Sadar Paharganj (SP-City) zone, coming as it does on the heels of the violent thunderstorm on May 30, when a portion of a building near Jama Masjid had collapsed, killing a man who was unfortunate enough to be walking that way.
That buildings are toppling in these areas at the mere hint of a wind comes as no surprise to civic officials. The findings of the annual pre-monsoon survey by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), to identify dangerous buildings in the city, shows that nearly 80% of such buildings are in the SP-CIty zone. The survey has earmarked 40 dangerous structures of which 33 are in the SP-City zone, said officials.
The MCD divides the area under its jurisdiction into 12 zones -- Centre, South, West, Najafgarh, Rohini, Civil Lines, Karol Bagh, SP-City, Keshavpuram, Narela, Shahdara North and Shahdara South.
According to the MCD report, over a million buildings -- 1,889,975 to be precise -- have been surveyed in the city till June 17 and 564 were found to be needing repairs, while 40 were declared dangerous. The department has only managed to survey 73% of the total of 2,567,445 buildings under its jurisdiction, civic officials said.
A senior official from building department said there are 33 dangerous houses in SP-City zone, four in Narela and one each in Keshavpuram, Karol Bagh and Civil Lines zones.
What is concerning about the survey is that it comprises merely a visual inspection by junior engineers. If the engineer notices any structure that is bent or cracked, then the structure is inspected from the inside.
Residents’ welfare associations have repeatedly demanded that the civic body use a more scientific and advanced method to survey buildings, instead of resorting to a mere visual survey.
“A notice is issued to get the building repaired, if it can be retrofitted.And section notices are issued for vacating and demolishing a building if it is in a completely dilapidated state,” an official involved in the process said.
A senior official said the Old Delhi area was settled in the 17th century and many buildings there are several centuries old. “We cannot carry out large scale displacement of people. Many of the recent extensions are also protected by the Delhi (Special Laws). Only those buildings that are in imminent danger are declared dangerous and notices issued to owners,” the official said, asking not to be named.
Dheeraj Dubey, who heads the Walled City Residential Welfare Federation, said numerous incidents of building collapse happen every year during the monsoon. “Maintenance and retrofitting should be carried out the year round. Promises of revamp are made after every building collapse; then everyone forgets about it. Many of these old buildings are heritage structures with multiple ownership and disputes. Moreover, there are so many agencies operating in the Walled City that it becomes difficult to assign responsibility. There must be one authority to look after this area,” Dubey said.
Special areas and need for regeneration
A separate redevelopment plan of Special Areas of Delhi was envisaged in Master Plan of Delhi 2021 under which the MCD was supposed to allow urban regeneration and amalgamation of plots (of a minimum size of 3,000 square metres) for their redevelopment as a “complex”. This was meant to reduce congestion, improve building code compliance and reduce fire hazards. But the plan never got going.
Spread over an area of 2,600 hectares, the “Special Areas” consist of Shahjahanabad (Walled City), Walled City extensions and parts of Karol Bagh.
An MCD official said these regions are characterised by mix of different land use. They also have mostly compact buildings, narrow lanes, and high population density development, which accommodates residential, commercial and industrial units
“This scheme was to be incentivised by allowing extra FAR (floor area ratio) for redevelopment by the private players. The plan was again taken up after the Anaj Mandi fire tragedy. The lieutenant-governor had asked us to set up pilot sites for the project,” an MCD official from town planning department said.
Two model projects were selected -- a 3,478sqm residential project behind the Town Hall near Dangal Maidan and a commercial complex near Peeli Kothi near Naya Bazar road. A senior official said the redevelopment guidelines were formulated and submitted to the urban development department in March last year but no progress has been made since then.
Sanjay Bhargava, who heads Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, said what was missing was a will to enforce regulations. “A regional plan has to be enforced for Old Delhi and since there is no political interference in the MCD at the moment (the transition phase after the unification), this is the opportune moment,” Bhargava said.