Building Collapse in India but who bothers?.

Recently a building collapsed in Gurgaon in which about 5 people have been reported died and many more injured. These people were largely habitants of the same building. It is to be noted here that the government always reports fewer deaths to avoid the public wrath who themselves are ready to accuse the government of any incident which has become a fashion specially in the secular press, liberals, pseudointellectuals and anti-government media. The government shall also set up an inquiry committee/commission consisting of practically non-technical people, just a whitewash exercise to blunt the criticism and to silence the opposition.

The whole exercise is repeated several times in various such cases in all parts of the country but in each such incident, we naively act as if we were and are not aware of the causes and in the present case, the committee/commission shall reveal the causes and recommendation for the first time in history and till then we cover ourselves with a blanket of ignorance. The fact remains that either we all know the causes and remedies, but we do not want to reveal or we do not know at all. The second proposition seems to be more likely being highly technical which we shall discuss here.  

Types of plots

The various buildings may be either a part of an authorized colony or an unauthorized colony. In case of unauthorized colonies, local administration does not come into the picture and these habitations do not have proper roads, water supply and sewerage system devoid of all civic amenities. These buildings are not planned by local authorities. Still, people raise their houses and builders lobby construct the flats by keeping the customers in the complete dark. One who assumes that these buildings shall comply with all structural codes shall be living in only fool’s paradise. The first massacre of greed is the quality of construction and noncompliance of design codes and manuals. Even in authorized colonies, the approval of the plan from local administration becomes a sullen practice only, a typical ritualistic.   

Architectural Plans

When a person purchases a plot even in authorized/developed colonies, the first step for anybody who is desirous  to construct a house/building; he is supposed to get a Naksha (architectural plan called in a local language) passed by local authorities. Naturally, the readers must be thinking that it would be prepared by an Architect, here lies a big fallacy. The landowner himself draws a few lines based on his requirement irrespective of local municipal conditions are met or not. Then normally he gets a stamp of some overseer/draftsman on this plan. In general, he starts construction on the basis of this plan. Only in a few cases, as an enlightened citizen, he submits his plan to local administration clerk just to get his stamps.

The approval authority, normally a clerk, is totally ignorant of all safety features and structural regulations. The maximum he checks whether offsets have been left as per laws or not. His stamp is considered a sign of approval of safety features including fire accident prevention standards. In only a few cities, the clerk has to get the approval/stamp of a Civil Engineer who himself is completely ignorant of highly complex structural safety norms and designs. He also accords his approval on the basis of this so-called plan. In 99% cases, nobody asks the structural analysis and design features, all approvals are accorded on the basis of palm greasing only from reception clerks to the Engineer. When palms are greased, who bothers what would happen if this building collapse anyway.


Structural Safety

Any structure, house or building must be designed or the Architectural plans must be translated into structural designs based on the various codes, manual and standards. This design must be preceded by suitable structural analysis. Normally in ideal conditions, the following analysis are carried out— 

  1. Site soil  investigation, testing of soil under various conditions of subsoil water. 
  2. Structural analysis based on this soil data under dead loads and various combinations of dead loads and live loads.
  3. Maximum earthquake loads. 
  4. Maximum wind/snow loads.   

Only big builders and enlightened plot owners go to structural engineers to carry out these jobs. This expenditure on the structural engineer is considered a sheer wastage of time and money.   

Gut Feeling

A builder or plot owners spread the Naksha at the site at the time of the start of foundation work. He then dictates the various technical details even highly complex ones in the absence of any soil data. He decides the depth of foundation, the width of foundation, reinforcement of foundation, etc,  and so on. In very few cases, the owner takes the consultation even from local Mason/Mistry/Contractor who then decide  the highly complex soil design and structural designs. These technical decisions even by an illiterate mason/Mistries or by owner are considered a gut feeling based on the long experience in some other field and white hair is taken as a replacement of highly complex design knowledge. Nobody bothers that human beings are going to live there. The cost of human life has already become  much cheaper than the expenditure on structural designs.


Structural Designs

Thanks to our mushroomed growth of Engineering colleges whose education can hardly be relied upon that it’s Engineering graduates shall have adequate knowledge of analysis and designs. Thanks are also due to our reservation policy wherein, such knowledge can be doubted barring few exceptions only. In such conditions, why the government is not starting the practice of registered Structural Designers and Foundation designers which can hardly be commented upon.  

Delhi recent case

Recent Gurgaon case seems to be total negligent of safety considerations, faulty designs and careless reinforcement detailing. The consequent failure of roof/floor slabs in one room only in several floors show that these slabs were independent slabs just resting on beams without any continuity of steel in adjoining slabs. If that had been the case then, such type of failure might not have taken the shape it has taken. Also from the photographs, it looks that these slabs were designed as one way slab in total disregard of all design requirements. From the photographs, it appears that Murga Jali was used as a replacement of  steel reinforcement  mesh just to save the cost. To oversee that while constructing of such public buildings, properly registered Project management companies must be employed to ensure strict quality control and indicate if there is any design lacunaes.

Final Analysis

Until and unless such fool proof practice is mandated and strict punishment is prescribed, in case of violations of these prescribed methods, such incidences shall occur at routine intervals. It may be recalled that soil/rock behaviour under sustained loads, cannot be forecasted, therefore, utmost care is required in soil investigations, foundation design and structural analysis and design.  Such types of killing fields cannot be prevented by routine inquiry and inquiry commissions. Our celebrities can advertise tobacco and alcoholic products but they do not have time for making and starting the campaigns to public to take the approval of their buildings from approved Architect/Structural designers. If this is not done urgently, the building collapse and consequent deaths shall be in horrendous proportions and when the human deaths are weighed against bulging profits, who bothers about the human spirit and human lives.

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