Connaught Place Crumble
Just four years after the grand makeover of Connaught Place in New Delhi for Commonwealth Games, the incident of roof and wall collapse raises many questions. Rahul Trivedi gets into the crux of the matter.
The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) took a swift action after the roof collapse above the Jain Book Depot in Block C, at Connaught Place and sealed the rooftop sections of 21 restaurants including My Bar, Lord of the Drinks, Farzi Café, Barbeque Nation and Boombox Café immediately after a week of the collapse. While the dust of the earlier collapse had not even settled, portion of the open-air rooftop wing of Café Unplugged, in Block – L, in the middle circle of the three-ringed signature market collapsed in the span of just 10 days.
Reasons of Collapse
Safety of the buildings constructed in 1933 by Britishers has been a major concern in recent times. Giving the reasons behind the collapse, Manoj Mittal, President, Indian Association of Structural Engineers and Chief Mentor, Shelter Consultant Engineers, commented, “There can be several reasons behind the collapse. One of the definite reasons is that the buildings are old and primarily load bearing structures. These buildings consist of Red Brick Concrete roof slabs and in the period of more than 70 years, there have been additional alterations in the buildings. People have also changed the usage of the buildings by covering the open spaces, removing some walls, creating larger rooms for commercial activities etc. Moreover, there have been some additions on the second floor also. Earlier, these buildings were ground plus one. So, if such alterations are done, sometime without the consultation of any structural engineers or civil engineers then such incidents are bound to happen.”
The collapse incidents become even more questionable because of the renovations the buildings underwent for almost five years. The authorities have shown complete negligence in acting towards the structural safety of the Victorian-era styled commercial hub. The traders’ association pointed out that there can be many other such instances in future if the NDMC keeps delaying the shop owners’ applications. “The civic body is responsible for the Lutyens’ Delhi. While the maintenance of buildings is owners’ responsibility, the civic body is required to give clearance for any such work,” they claimed.
Atul Bhargava, President, New Delhi Traders Association said that at least 8-10 such buildings need renovation, and owners had moved applications months ago. “These buildings are in need of urgent repair or portions will start falling apart. The owners have no option but to wait for approvals. We cannot shut business for months as we have to pay the rent.”
Connaught Place has become a hub for food and nightlife. Bhargava informed that the civic body is issuing fresh licenses to rooftop eateries without enquiring about their fire and structural stability. It should be noted that the rooftop restaurants or bars house big overhead tanks, generators and other equipment without structural safety certificate which increases the load on the buildings. There is no cap on the number of eateries due to which the existing infrastructure is under stress.
Requesting anonymity, an NDMC official told Realty Plus that these rooftop restaurants were running without permission for years and New Delhi Traders Association (NDTA) had written to NDMC to cap the number of restaurants in the rooftops, citing the excess load on the heritage structure.
Renovation or an Eye Wash
renovation planned by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to revamp and redevelop the British era colonnaded Connaught Place under ‘Return to Heritage Project’ included provision of heritage sensitive signage, engineering improvements of roads, drainage sewerage, water supply and substations, development of a traffic management plan, provisions of street furniture including adequate parking, walkways etc. and enhancing the structural stability of all buildings including retrofitting for earthquake resistance. All these components have been identified based on studies conducted by various reputed agencies such as SPA, RITES, CMCCC and NTPAC, etc.
The renovation missed several deadlines and even the cost of renovation increased about nine times to that of the initial cost. In the performance and audit report on XIX Commonwealth Games 2010, the year when the renovation was supposed to be finished, it is mentioned that in May 2005, NDMC quoted a total of Rs. 76 crore as the renovation cost which included Rs. 30 crore for the Engineering Services/Infrastructure, Rs. 8 crore for the Facade restoration/ Areas to be taken up with stakeholders’ participation and Rs. 30 crore for Street furniture/ inner plaza development.
It went up to the Rs. 670.99 crore in July 2007 when the revised cost was given, which included Rs. 242.71 crore for Engineering Services/Infrastructure, Rs. 133.28 crore for Façade restoration/Areas to be taken up with stakeholders’ participation, Rs. 65.05 crore for Pedestrian Movement Areas and Rs. 229.95 crore for Street furniture/ inner plaza development.
There is no answer to the question on where the mammoth amount of Rs. 242.71 crore was spent? This expenditure doesn’t matches the quality of renovation done when the shopkeepers as well as the people going to Connaught Place still suffer the fear of a collapse.
Commenting on the renovation done in Connaught Place, Mittal says, “As far as I know, the renovation done during the commonwealth games period was more on the facades only. There was hardly any retrofitting or strengthening process going on there. It was a complete eyewash.”
Who Should Take the Onus?
The big question comes in. Who should be held responsible for such collapses? Is the authority only responsible or the owners of the buildings are also equally responsible?
Authorities or civic bodies play a major role in any construction going on in their respective areas. Before the construction of a building, a building plan, as per the building bylaws and BIS standards, is submitted to the municipal corporation for approval. Authorities approve the plan based on the various certificates provided by professionals like structural engineers, architects etc., as well as they have to do a physical inspection of the site. After the construction is done, the authorities issue a completion or occupancy certificate, which means that the construction is as per the standards.
But is this all really happening?
Mittal points out that today the Municipal Corporation or the authority have made a practice of just collecting the certificates and completing the files. They hardly do any check on the design or quality. When any civic body is issuing a completion certificate they must ensure that the quality and the design of the structure are as per the standards or not, they should not go only by the papers. He further added, “If any collapse happens today, the civic bodies put the blame on the engineers or the owners shrug away their responsibility. If they are not ready to take the responsibility then why are they issuing a certificate?”
When talking about the responsibilities of the owners of the buildings, they should also realize that with aesthetics, the safety is equally important. Along with architect, a sound structural engineer has to ensure structural stability of the new additions and alterations.
Without doubt, the reason behind every collapse in Connaught Place, is the civic body negligence and apathy. If the civic body would have taken care of the structural safety during the renovation itself, things would have been different. Even if they missed out during the renovation they should have taken swift actions on the applications submitted by the traders’ association and the owners of the shop of Connaught Place.
It is high time the civic bodies of the city come ahead and bring out a unified plan to retrofit and strengthen the heritage buildings to ensure a safe and beautiful Delhi.