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A failure of government agencies

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

‘Water-logging, storage of salt and poor quality construction led to building collapse'

— Photos: PTI

The day after:Amritpal Singh (centre), owner of the collapsed five-storey building at Lalita Park in East Delhi, in police custody on Tuesday. At right, relatives mourn the victims.

NEW DELHI: As the dust settles on the collapsed five-storey building at Lalita Park in East Delhi, it is becoming clear that collective failure of various Central and Delhi Government departments led to the fall of the structure, leading to one of the worst human tragedies in the Capital in recent past.

Blaming “multiplicity of authority” for various lapses, Delhi Urban Development Minister A. K. Walia said on Tuesday that preliminary findings have revealed that water-logging in the basement, storage of salt for an ice-cream unit therein and poor quality of construction were responsible for the collapse.

As for the water-logging, the Minister said the problem arose because of the rise in the level of the Yamuna this year. Since Lalita Park came up as an unauthorised colony on the banks of the river in the 1970s and was subsequently regularised in 1977-78, it exists in an area where groundwater table is high.

This year, the problem of water-logging in the colony was compounded as a Delhi Jal Board rainy well has been out of order for two to three months. The sewerage system in the area, managed by the Jal Board, has also not been functioning properly, the Minister added. Efforts are being made to improve it.

The area had also been suffering on account of reverse flow of water that had accumulated in the river floodplains and pockets underneath. “We have told the Irrigation and Flood Control Department to make channels for taking this water out to the river.”

— Photo: R.V. Moorthy

YOUNG VICTIM:Workers carry the body of a child at the site of the collapsed building at Lalita Park in New Delhi on Tuesday.

While the problem of water-logging in many parts of East Delhi is acute, the area is a notified one under the Central Ground Water Authority and installation of new water extraction device is banned. Even the government bodies can extract groundwater here only with prior approval from the Central Groundwater Board.

It has also emerged that probably the five-storey building conformed to the new Master Plan of Delhi 2021 that had allowed raising of height of plotted residential buildings to 15 metres.

“But the building was an old one and was made of bricks. It did not have concrete pillars,” Dr. Walia said.

However, in case of such buildings too the Master Plan, drafted by the Delhi Development Authority and approved by the Union Ministry of Urban Development, was lenient and allowed raising the height. Scant regard was paid for the safety aspect in the document.

So the building which was made of bricks continued to increase in height with the passage of time as the building by-laws were made more lenient. Even if he had wanted it, the owner would have found it difficult to bring down the structure and rebuild it with pillars as that would have required a sanction from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

Since sub-division of plots is not allowed, people in such unauthorised colonies find it difficult to get the maps passed.

Dr. Walia said the Delhi Government – which has no control over land and buildings – and only plays the role of a recommending agency, had written to the DDA six months ago about this lacunae in the new Master Plan.

The DDA had then looked into the matter and forwarded the recommendation on sub-division of plots to the Union Urban Development Ministry, where the matter now lies.

As for the storage of salt in the basement for making of ice-cream, the Delhi Government is not sure if under the new Master Plan even these are permissible items of trade allowed to be carried out from residential and mixed land use areas.

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