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Vol. XXXIII No. 24, April 1-15, 2024

Questions arise over structural safety assessments following nightclub collapse

-- by A Special Correspondent

News about collapsing of buildings is not new in our city. If the victims are of the kind whose kin can be tapped for votes, then solatium will be forthcoming at once from the Government. What is of concern is that the fundamental cause for such accidents is not being addressed. Unless of course it is a high-profile case as in the collapse of the Moulivakkam building in 2014 or the more recent episode of a structure in Saligramam that needs to be demolished owing to safety issues. Just last fortnight, the ceiling of a private club fell all of sudden and killed three people. This is the kind of event which after a few weeks will fade away unlike the earlier ones mentioned. And it is these and not sensational collapses that are indicative of a huge malaise – lack of proper structural assessment owing to rampant corruption.

The owners of the club building took the easiest way out – blaming Chennai Metro Rail for the fall. The structure had weakened owing to deep drilling by the latter organisation in the vicinity they said. Unfortunately for them, CMRL had not yet begun drilling and boring in the neighbourhood. Now, newspaper reports reveal that the structure was unsound enough to actually vibrate when high decibel music was played within the premises. The employees had apparently brought this to the notice of the owners who had dismissed their fears as unfounded. With the result that is now there for all to see.

CMRL in all fairness to its functioning, has improved on its assessments when you compare it with the track record of the first phase. This time, a team has come and inspected every building in the vicinity of its routes. Structural conditions have been made note of and also shared with building owners. This was not so in the first phase when collapses did take place. Of course, this time around with much of the work expected to pass through highly congested areas, we need to wait and watch as to the eventual performance as regards safety.

To revert to the building collapse, it is quite interesting to note that the club in question has been functioning at the premises for some time and is quite a popular place. It must have obtained a commercial licence before it opened and that must have meant an inspection by authorities concerned. If so, how is it that a licence was given if the building was not adhering to safety norms? We would be most happy to stand corrected but surely a structure that was shaking to high decibel music could be easily identified by trained personnel to be unsafe. Which in turn means that either the inspection was perfunctory, or it was done by novices.

In most cases of building collapse and loss of life, action is immediate as far as the promoter/owner/builder is concerned. There is usually a high-profile arrest, followed by a trial which can take forever. The tenants/buyers pay the price of uncertainty, prolonged trial and at times forfeiture of their investment though it cannot be denied that in most instances they were actively in collusion. It is the third element, namely officialdom, which goes scot-free. Take the earlier building collapses, have we heard of anybody in the relevant government departments responsible for permission being brought to trial? It is high time that the law catches up with the third group that is equally culpable and brings it to book. That should go a long way in cleaning up our building safety standards in practice.

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