The building collapse disaster in Delhi and a similar collapse near Chennai occurring on Saturday, June 28, highlight India’s record of poor compliance with safety protocols. Just weeks before the two buildings in India collapsed, The Times of India reported that fire officials in Delhi claim that as much as 40 percent of the buildings there do not meet basic fire safety standards. What is worse is that beyond regulations that deal directly with fire safety, there is no centralized body that regulates structural safety.
Reports indicate that on Saturday at least 15 people were killed in the two building collapses. The first toppling was of a four-story building in New Delhi that was reported to be 50 years old. That incident killed at least 11 people and hurt at least one other who was taken to a hospital for treatment. Shortly after the first building gave way, a 12-story building that was still under construction in the Tamil Nadu state fell during heavy rain. Several construction workers were treated for injuries but four died in the hospital. Many construction workers are still unaccounted for and there are fears the death toll could rise.
According to an article in The Times of India, local corporations, municipalities and panchayats are responsible for the issuing of building permits. There are regulatory agencies in place to approve building plans for large construction projects but their power is limited. Demand for housing, the lack of expertise of those with the power to deny building permits, and corporate pressure all combine to create a system that almost guarantees poor quality in construction. Former chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, offered a slightly different take on the matter. He stated that the source of the problem is a combination of “the builder mafia and the municipal corporation.”
The concerns over poor structural and fire safety systems in Delhi are not restricted to residences. Delhi Fire officials highlight a lack of compliance at schools and hospitals and say it could lead to similar disasters. Many Delhi nursing homes do not have the required no-objection certificate, or fire NOC and others are only partially compliant. Similar problems can be found in Delhi schools as well, including several, which do not have proper fire clearance.
It has already been suggested to the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), which regulates construction in that region, that they should hold architects responsible for building safety. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has already suspended two engineers and has promised an inquiry into the incident there. Initial indications are that construction near the 4-story building may have also contributed to its collapse. An order had been issued to stop the nearby construction but it appears that construction continued in spite of the order.
India has a history of poor building safety, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths over the past several years and Saturday’s disasters in Delhi, near Chennai highlight the need to ensure better compliance. Hopefully, these incidents will generate enough attention from both Indian officials and the international community to encourage substantial change in the region.
By David Morris