Millennium Post

Shanty town

On 15 November, 2010,  at Lalita Park near Lakshmi Nagar in east Delhi, a four-storeyed building collapsed, killing at least 70 people and leaving another 73 severely injured. The fifth floor of the building, which housed over 200 migrant workers, was under construction and investigations revealed that it was already two floors higher than what had been legally sanctioned. In 2013 alone, 93 structures had collapsed which claimed over 50 lives and left around 200 people severely injured.

Last month, 10 people died and several others were injured after another unauthorised building collapsed in Inderlok area in North Delhi. And the story continues.

Immediately after the collapse of Lalita Park building, a commission of inquiry under the chairmanship of retired Justice Lokeshwar Prasad was ordered. The commission, in its report had blamed the erstwhile MCD of failing to identify illegal and unauthorised structures in the city.

‘Regulation of building activities in the city is the statutory obligation of MCD. The department had failed miserably in discharging its duties. It projects a glaring example of administrative inefficiency and utter failure of system’, the report read.

Illegal construction is rampant in the city, especially in unauthorised colonies. The civic bodies have failed to curb it despite frequent accidents. After every incident of building collapse, the civic bodies get into action to identify unauthorised and dangerous structures in the city but fail to take any stern steps against them.

The main question here is then why are unauthorised constructions taking place in Delhi? Why can’t civic authorities put an end to it? Why is it that unauthorised constructions are identified only when four to five floors have already been built?

Manish Gupta, commissioner of South Delhi Municipal Corporation said, that no building plan can be passed in unauthorised colonies and villages of the national capital and hence ‘people have no choice but to indulge in illegal construction.’ Generally, illegal constructions are done in haste so as to avoid getting caught by civic authorities or the police. So, the buildings are more prone to collapse.

If any building is constructed in violation of building bylaws, what corporation does is register an FIR, which is done at their offices only. Arun Garg, a lawyer who often deals with MCD cases says it is the duty of the corporation to send a show-cause notice to the builder or owner and penalise them. It is routine work of the corporation to check on a regular basis who is violating the laws. ‘If the respondent does not reply, then they puncture the floor of the building,’ adds Garg. And if the authorities are not following this routine exercise then it means there is connivance between the builder and the public servant.

It is not just the civic officials but most of the councilors are also a part of the builder-corporation nexus. ‘This is a main source of income for some of the councilors in the city. The building mafia can’t flourish without political backing,’ said a senior councilor not wishing to be named.

Manish Gupta says: ‘Illegal construction is so rampant in the city that even Indian Army can’t stop it. All illegal structures cannot be demolished, almost two-thirds of the city will be destroyed. We need people’s participation to deal with this menace. It is almost impossible to roam around every nook and corner of the city to check illegal construction.’

On being asked, if municipal laws are sufficient to handle the issue of illegal constructions and building collapse, lawyer Kausar Khan says said laws are sufficient, but it becomes futile when authorities show carelessness in implementation. ‘I agree, generally accused are booked under 304A of IPC, but many are also booked and convicted under Prevention of Corruption (PC act), which shows corruption is there in corporation,’ said Khan.

The lethargy of the corporation was recently described by a court that sometime it is not even known by officials when construction of a building is started.

The prosecutor had asked in a case where a person died in a building collapse that Ashraf Ali, being the assistant engineer, was required to inspect the area and if had he inspected the area, unauthorised constructions would have been detected and the loss to person and property could have been avoided. The court categorically added: ‘When this court has inquired, as to since when construction of the building at the given site was going on, candidly, it has been submitted on behalf of state that there is no such evidence on record in this regard.’

There are lakhs of unauthorised structures in Delhi, giving shelter to millions of people. The sad part is laxity in routine work of the corporation which leads to loss of lives and instead of taking tough actions against the builder/owner(s), he is generally booked for negligence. ‘It is high time that civic bodies get their acts together on unauthorised constructions, otherwise a day will come when Delhi will collapse like a house of cards and we’ll watch helplessly’, said a councilor during a meeting of the corporation.
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