Shimla building collapse: No steps taken to enforce guidelines

Pratibha Chauhan

Tribune News Service

Shimla, October 6

The collapse of a seven-storey building in Kachi Ghati here has failed to push law-enforcing agencies to enforce building norms to avoid such a disaster in future.

There are widespread violations in most multi-storey buildings in the Kachi Ghati-Ghora Chowki area at the entrance to the capital from the Tara Devi side. Most buildings, precariously located on steep slopes, have illegally raised additional floors and their owners are using the basements for residential or commercial purposes, which are meant to be non-habitable.

Once the building is completed, there is no checking by the municipal authorities.

The fact that the Kachi Ghati was a Nagar Panchayat till 2003 before being made a Special Area Development Authority (SADA) the same year has only added to the confusion as far as building norms are concerned. In 2006, the area was merged with the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC), leading to a spurt in haphazard construction and modification of the residential structures into hotels and guest houses.

Constructions continue even as landslides are taking place in some portions. The constructions on nullahs or "bawris" to pave the way for multi-storey structures result in seepage which can make the foundation weak.

Overlooking these factors, various agencies are engaged in passing the buck. It is due to multiplicity of such agencies that house owners take advantage to circumvent the law.

Locals residing in the area revealed that most residential buildings had been converted into hotels. "To meet the enhanced space requirement, most hotel owners have dug up basements while others have put the closed basement to use," said a house owner. Others have started bread and breakfast and homestay units as hospitality was emerging as a profitable venture.

What is most surprising is that even after the collapse of a building here last week, neither the Shimla MC nor the Town and Country Planning (TCP) has bothered to check the use of basements by most building owners. The Tourism Department too seems to have turned a blind eye and failed to check whether hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast units have obtained permissions.

The NGT's suggestion of restricting the construction on slopes in soft and rocky areas to 35 degrees and

45 degrees for areas with hard sub surface too is not being enforced.

Many commercial ventures are operating on domestic water and electricity connections that points to the lackadaisical approach of the government in dealing with violations.

Though over 10,000 unauthorised constructions within the Shimla Planning Area are yet to be regularised, this has failed to deter house owners from raising floors illegally. The government has brought about six retention policies but these have only emboldened people to commit more violations in the hope of regularisation.

What is even more dismal is that the authorities have allowed this mess despite strict observations by the NGT and High Court in its order on November 16, 2017.

Misuse of basements

Most buildings, precariously located on steep slopes, have illegally raised additional floors and their owners are using the basements for residential or commercial purposes, which are meant to be non-habitable

Hotels coming up

Most of the residential buildings have been converted into hotels. — Residents

Courtesy: Tribune News Service
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