Bangalore skyjacked!!

Bangalore skyjacked!!

Sky capers: For the Citys tower block builders and regulators, the buck stops nowhere

Bangalore skyjacked!!

February 23 will be a date that nine familes will want to erase from their lives. But it will remain a day of mourning for the loss of lives that could have been saved and deaths that need not have happened!

In a short span of one hour on Tuesday last, seven young professionals - Benzi Kumar (29), Purohit Madan Singh (30), Surabhi Joshi (28), Sunil Iyer (31), Siddarth Padam(35), Akhil Uday (23) and Fiyaz Pasha - leapt to death, ironically, in a bid to save themselves from a fire in their high-rise office complex on Bangalore’s old airport road. Two others - Rajesh Subramanya (40) and R Savitha (30), choked to the same destiny.
Basic fire safety measures such as a functional fire alarm, accessible exits and knowledge of the building topography were sadly absent at Carlton Towers, the now infamous high-rise, and  turned it into a concrete “coffin”, whose 161 owners collectively signed the death sentence for nine precious lives. Lack of disaster management expertise on the premises or close at hand, compounded the fatal situation.
The Carlton Towers fire, which was not even an inferno to warrant the loss of so many lives, has raised critical questions on the safety of high-rises in bursting Bangalore.

‘Not Ordered Certificate’
High-rises not having the mandatory certification for being fire and disaster safe can, perhaps, be considered the biggest lacuna. A corruption-stricken regulatory mechanism, public as well as official apathy leading to blatant flouting of building norms and private builders’ greed to maximise profits by leaving too little or no open spaces at all, are turning our tower blocks into sheer death traps, that is when frivolous luck also fails.
“There are many such high-rise buildings that still do not have our No Objection Certificate (NOC). Look at the building right beside our headquarters. It does not have our NOC,” claimed a  valiant Fire and Emergency Services Department official but was quick to add that he would confirm after checking the records. The department blames its “non-functionality” squarely on the limited powers vested in them.
“The Fire Services Department is here to provide services. The actual sanctioning authorities are the civic agencies that provide the meat of the regulations,” the official points out.

The official also observes that the Fire Services Department does not have any right to “re-inspect” buildings once sanctioned. The Department is not even ‘considered’ at the time of getting the building plan sanctioned. “We are approached by the builders only after the slabs are erected,” rues the official.

In addition to the lack of powers, the Department appears clearly ‘under-prepared’ to tackle disasters, fire or otherwise. Statistics given by the Fire Services Department suggest that the number of cases where fire has been the cause of loss of property has increased over the past four years, though the number of deaths have remained constant.

The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic body which the Fire Services Department identifies as the main regulator of safety norms, provides its own strong defence. Violation of building by-laws takes place well after private builders obtain the plan sanction. The breaching of norms goes on even after the occupancy certificate has been issued on completion of the building. “There is no building in the City that does not involve a violation. If we are to identify and penalise the erring building owners, half the population of Bangalore will be on the streets,” a BBMP Town Planning official said.  
The Palike says that builders, in their greed, maximise the use  of land space for construction. But there is none to take the blame for the rampant corruption and gross violation of rules which facilitate high-rises to mushroom out of thin air.
The official admits to rampant corruption but also defends that the civic agencies alone are not at fault. “It is also the responsibility of the people to ensure that they take adequate measures in ensuring their own safety,” he contends.

The influx of migrant population into Bangalore has only facilitated the builders and property owners to extract as much as possible from their limited land bank. This in turn has lead to neglect of safety standards. The norm that a minimum of one-third of the space as against the height of the building should be left as open space to handle emergencies, has only aided illegal expansions and further encroachments by builders.
Thus, it is a case of higher the rise, higher the risk as regulatory agencies responsible for safe growth of the City claim lack of powers to conduct periodic inspections, shrinking into virtual oblivion when their active participation is most required. The City on its part, abetted by corruption, violations and inadequate safety norms, continues to rise keeping the sky as the limit, while people are pushed to the “point of no return” when disaster strikes.

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