Red alert! Redevelopment Greed is making housing societies neglect maintenance & repair
2 July 2014, Mumbai: The return of monsoons is good news to everybody, but as always, there will be severe casualties in aging and ill-maintained buildings in every metro, including Mumbai. One may safely predict that at least five buildings will collapse in Mumbai alone, especially on the days with the heaviest rains, simply because of the additional weight of several thousand kilograms of absorbed rainwater that the dilapidated structures will have to bear. This weight is unevenly distributed on a weakened RCC structure, causing structural collapse.
The following problems are perennial and systemic:
1) The buildings of Mumbai and every other metro are aging. Every passing seasonal cycle of summer, monsoon and winter are causing further deterioration in the cement and steel of RCC structures by rusting and cracking. Therefore, every passing year, the load-bearing capacity of the RCC of every building deteriorates by small percentage like 0.2 to 1%.
2) Older buildings deteriorate at a faster rate e.g. 1% per year. If they are well-maintained, this rate of deterioration may be reduced to 0.5%, effectively increasing its life span by many years.
3) Unfortunately, many buildings have been made into “sick” buildings over the past decade by short-sighted cooperative societies neglecting them, in the lust for getting them declared as “dilapidated”, so that they go into commercial redevelopment. The load bearing capacity of the RCC of such buildings deteriorates by 5-10%. These buildings are like ticking time-bombs, waiting to collapse.
4) In the monsoon, the rain-water seeps into the walls and ceilings of such neglected structures, increasing their weight by several thousand kilograms. This additional weight is distributed unevenly on the RCC frame, making it extremely vulnerable to sudden structural failure. These buildings cannot continue to be occupied. Ignoring them is a criminal negligence on the part of the government and municipal corporations.
5) There is no civic body which has the necessary mandate for vacating and demolishing demolish hundreds or thousands of such critical buildings before they collapse due to “natural causes” in the coming monsoons. If such a body is not created, there is simply no alternative to redevelopment – whether voluntary or forced. These must be demolished and rebuilt under supervision of an empowered government body. Unfortunately, such an empowered body does not exist!
6) A timetable for performing emergency repairs on thousands of other buildings is a must. These are not yet critical, they will inevitably become critical and dangerous if neglected for another 3-4 years. This must also be done under supervision of an empowered government body.
7) Unfortunately, it is financially unviable for all the thousands of buildings of Mumbai to be redeveloped and rebuilt simultaneously. Therefore, a priority list will have to be made by the government agency after scrutiny.
8) Many MLAs, MPs and corporators are builders, or have invested in building industry. These persons are aware of the deterioration, but they are using their knowledge for their own private benefit. The knowledge of these persons must be harnessed for public good. Unfortunately, such politicians are actively preventing any proactive planning from happening, for fear of harming their own interests!
9) On a conservative estimate, more than 80,000 flats are lying vacant all over Mumbai. They belong to builders, estate agents and investors. Such flats should be requisitioned by the government and municipal corporations, and used for immediately resettling the people living in dangerous buildings.
10) For all the above-mentioned work, which is urgent, new laws needs to be passed,and a new government agency is required to be constituted under the urban development ministry.
Problems Caused by Redevelopment Greed:
Since redevelopment started in 1991 about two decades ago, and builders could augment the FSI (Floor Space Index) of the land by purchasing TDR (Transfer of Development Rights), cooperative housing societies started neglecting their structures. Seduced by builders who promise larger houses and new buildings, building societies have been keen to steamroll opposition to their redevelopment proposals by individual members by deliberately allowing their building to deteriorate, so that structural auditors can declare them as “dilapidated”.
Earlier, it was a nightmare for a society to be told that its building was structurally unsound, and managing committee members and general body members alike were anxious to avoid it by regular re-plastering, painting and repairing. But in the last two decades, a report from structural engineers saying that the building is “dilapidated” or is in need of “major repairs” has been the dream-come-true of every managing committee, because it legitimizes their quest for redevelopment.
Redevelopment is a gravy-train by which everybody gets to make money, and especially civic authorities who give various building permissions, cooperative department officials, and the managing committees of societies. Many residential buildings aged around 30 and above would have been in a relatively better state, were it not for this lust for redevelopment. Despite a fair number of stalled redevelopment projects, and the opposition by cautious members in every society, the greed-is-good ethos of the majority of members in almost every society ensures that this gravy train is gaining momentum.
Brief overview of Mumbai’s redevelopment over the last two decades: http://tinyurl.com/History-Mumbai-Redevelopment
Over 10 percent of Mumbai’s 30,000-odd society buildings are currently suffering from varying degrees of redevelopment-driven neglect by their managing committees, which collect money for their Repair Fund and Sinking Fund every month, but never spend for repairs and maintenance, Hoping to reap windfall gains from redevelopment, the managing committees favour a dilapidated appearance, which sends a come-hither signal to builders.
Sadly, every such society will not enter into the process of redevelopment swiftly; the overwhelming majority of old buildings will have to wait for many years before their redevelopment happens. Hence, residents are condemned by their greedy and negligent managing committees to live for long in buildings with fast-deteriorating RCC columns, beams and slabs.
In every society, one or two people are fighting a losing battle against this commercially-driven madness. They are seeking better maintenance of their societies. Most often, their voices are raised only at meetings, and this makes them pariahs. Far from recognizing that their words are in the common interest, a majority of their neighbours consider them mad, and shun them. Their managing committees are quick to paint them as anti-social villains opposed to the prosperity that will be brought about by redevelopment.
One such person is Rohit D’Souza (9819199863, firstname.lastname@example.org), a young sportsman of Mulund. Due to the constant leakage and seepage from the rooftop tank, and the consequent rusting and deterioration of the building structure, Rohit and his neighbours fear for their lives, and have written many letters to their building secretary and to to MCGM’s Ward Officer for T-Ward. But their letters may as well have been written by residents of thousands of other residents of Mumbai, who are in the same boat: http://tinyurl.com/Please-repair-tank
Numerous societies are in exactly the same boat. Improper structural maintenance by societies due to greed, cost cutting, ignorance, unavailability of skilled labourers, disputes between members etc. is endangering the lives of thousands of families living in Mumbai. The steel in the RCC columns, beams and slabs has rusted and become exposed in many buildings, and Rohit’s building is only a sample of what thousands of buildings are currently looking like. Like Rohit, lakhs of people in Mumbai region are saying, “We are not opposed to redevelopment per se, but we are definitely opposed to the deliberate neglect of our buildings, which is a growing threat to our lives.”
But are the government and municipal authorities listening? And more importantly, are the managing committee members listening?
Or will they, like the Municipal Corporations of Mumbai, Mumbra, Thane etc. wake up only after the building crashes down?
Issued in Public Interest by
PS: After reading this, if residents of societies wish to gently start reminding their societies to maintain the building, they may use this word file as a format: http://tinyurl.com/sample-letter-to-society