Citizens' Issues
Make sure your building is structurally stable

Carrying out corrective repairs to old buildings under expert supervision, will ensure that an appropriate solution can be worked out to save precious lives and to preserve national assets

Every monsoon, collapse of a few buildings in Greater Mumbai is a common occurrence. This leads to loss of precious lives and property. This loss can be avoided by carrying out corrective repairs periodically to ensure structural stability of the building.

 

Since October 2013, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has been sending notices to owners ( co-operative housing societies or landlords) of buildings more than 30 years old under Section 353B(1) of Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act to appoint structural engineers registered with the corporation, to examine the building for the purpose of certifying that the building is fit for human habitation. Such a certificate is called “Structural Stability Certificate”. Some owners have received notices under Section 353B stating that “The building is in dilapidated condition”.

 

It appears that there is a tendency to ignore such a notice without realising its importance in averting the likely disaster of a building collapse. On the other hand, in some cases MCGM staff has erroneously issued notices to structurally sound buildings, stating “dilapidated condition” as the reason, this has been done without carrying out any examination of the building and therefore without any written report. This has created unnecessary panic among owners and occupants.

 

Landlord owned, tenanted, cessed buildings contribute towards the repair fund through a repair cess. The legal responsibility for carrying out repairs for such cessed buildings is that of the Maharashtra Building Repairs and Reconstruction Board (MBRRB), under the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) Act. Even then the notices are served to owners without checking details.

 

We all agree that every life is precious and every building is, in a way, a national asset. Therefore, there is an urgent need to avoid disasters of building collapses. There is no doubt that structural and other repairs must be carried out periodically under guidance and supervision of an experienced structural engineer to avoid likely disasters. Structural audit is a preliminary technical survey of a building to assess its general health as a civil structure, before carrying out corrective repairs.

 

There are two root causes of buildings becoming dilapidated. The first is the freezing of rent by the Rent Control Act at the 1940s level, because of which the landlord cannot afford even minor repairs. To avert likely disasters, the state government has taken it upon itself, to ensure that frauds are avoided, in addition to repair cess, in case of all cessed buildings. However, the quality of repairs carried out by the repair board is so poor that the repaired buildings continue to deteriorate.

 

The second is the greed of occupants for securing additional personal benefit out of extra incentive F.S.I during the redevelopment. This leads to the neglect of maintenance and repairs and therefore, deterioration of buildings to such an extent that it becomes dangerous, leading to building collapse. In such cases occupants are to blame.

 

In the past, the civic body's efforts in getting unsafe buildings vacated and demolished have met with resistance. A tragic example is that of Shankar Lok Apartments in Vakola, which collapsed in March 2014. The civic body could vacate all but two families from this dangerous building. The personal greed of obtaining larger permanent accommodation on ownership basis, prompted these two families to obtain an injunction from the court of law against vacating. Ultimately, the building collapsed, affecting the chawls on adjoining plots as well. There was loss of precious lives of residents in the adjoining chawl, apart from the death of two members of the families who refused to vacate. This tragic collapse was definitely avoidable.

 

To avert impending disasters due to building collapses in Greater Mumbai, it is essential to carry out corrective repairs to every building and to secure its structural stability under the guidance and supervision of a licensed structural engineer chosen from 1,564 engineers registered with the corporation.

 

Some of the recent notices issued by the MCGM make it mandatory to include aspects such as non-destructive test results as a part of the Structural Audit Report. Technically competent senior structural consultants opine that such tests are necessary in case of only distressed building structures, which are identified during conventional visual inspection and hammer test. MCGM must take into account the above opinion before issuing notices.

 

Multiple legal, technical, financial and administrative issues are involved due to the manner in which the notices are issued by MCGM under Section 353B. There is a need to evolve a practical method of raising a repair fund to carry out corrective repairs. Therefore, methods of issuing notices under Section 353B, follow-up for submission of Structural Audit Report and raising funds for carrying out corrective repairs under expert supervision need a thorough discussion by the stakeholders involved, so that an appropriate solution can be worked out to save precious lives and to preserve national assets.

 

(Ashok Ravat, is President of Citizens Forum, G (North) Ward and member of advance locality movement (ALM), Shivaji Park (Dadar). He is also trustee of WECom Trust and on the board of several NGOs including the All India Bank Depositors Association and has been a founder member of many of Mumbai’s leading consumer organisations. He is also an expert in civic issues.)

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COMMENTS

TS Rao

2 years ago

but no 'experts' are available for the general public. only the local mistry or petty contractor for the job.

REPLY

Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to TS Rao 2 years ago

That is not correct. There may be no "FREE" experts, but as Moneylife Foundation shows, there is a lot that is available free for the general public. In fact, often, the general public is unwilling to pay or donate even when the help is professional.
You may like to check out http://foundation.moneylife.in or lrc.moneylife.in for our legal resource centre, which offers free guidance.
But dont expect a structural engineer to do things entirely free. If there are enough requests one can check a concessional price.

TS Rao

2 years ago

but no 'experts' are available for the general public. only the local mistry or petty contractor for the job.

CAT find some provisions of Sexual Harassment Act unconstitutional

According to CAT, Sections 4 and 7 of the Act can be termed unconstitutional because once an adjudicatory body is to be determined as slanted in its sway, it destroys the fairness concept embedded in adjudication

A recent order by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), regarding four cases of sexual harassment, has questioned certain provisions in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The CAT bench comprising judges KB Suresh and PK Pradhan said, “Sections 4 and 7 of the Act can be termed unconstitutional because once an adjudicatory body is to be determined as slanted in its sway, it destroys the fairness concept embedded in adjudication.”

 

Section 4 of the Act mandates that atleast two members of the Internal Complaints Committee, which is required to deal with sexual harassment cases in the workplace, must be “committed to the cause of women.” Section 7 adds that the Local Committee constituted under this section should be chaired by "eminent woman in the field of social work committed to the cause of women." In this regard, the Tribunal said, “If members of the adjudicatory committee are to be committed to an ideology [cause of women], their mental frame will be such that it would give an opportunity for unwelcome bias and their finding also will be in resonance of their personal commitment.”

 

This observation from the Bench was made in the process of hearing four cases of sexual harassment where the accused employees were found to be erroneously guilty. These cases related to KIOCL Ltd, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), and the Department of Posts (DoP).

 

When the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2012, activists had protested what they saw to be unfair provisions in the Bill. Chairman of the All India Men's Welfare Association (AIMWA), Rajesh Vakharia had said that, "The proposed settlement mechanism is nothing but an extortion mechanism to rob men of property and self esteem. Such feminist dominated inquiry committee has also been given power to transfer respondent during inquiry. Such power is likely to be used in such manner to deny justice to man."

 

The Bill had been stuck in legislative process for over five years before it was finally passed in February 2013. It was passed in an extremely charged atmosphere after the horrific gangrape in New Delhi. While protests against the provisions of the Bill were either muted or absent during that time, the lacunae in the bill's provisions seem to have finally come full circle.

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Apple may refund $400 million to consumers in digital book settlement

Apple has been accused for violating US antitrust law by orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with five major publishers of electronic books

Apple will refund up to $400 million to consumers ensnared in a plot to raise the prices of digital books unless the company gets a court to overturn a decision affirming its pivotal role in the collusion.

 

The settlement bill emerged in a court filing on Wednesday made a month after attorneys suing Apple notified US District Judge Denise Cote in New York that an agreement had been reached to avoid a trial over the issue.

 

Lawsuits filed on behalf of digital book buyers had originally been seeking damages of up to $840 million after Cote ruled in a separate trial last year that Apple had violated US antitrust law by orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with five major publishers of electronic books.

 

Cote’s decision sided with the US Justice Department’s contention that Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, had schemed with major e-book publishers to charge higher prices in response to steep discounts offered by Amazon.com Inc. Jobs, who died in October 2011, negotiated the deals as Apple was preparing to release the first iPad in 2010.

 

Apple is appealing Cote’s decision from last year. The Cupertino, California, company will not have to pay the $400 million settlement if it prevails. If the appeals court voids Cote’s verdict and returns the case to her for further review, Apple would still have to refund $50 million to consumers. No money will be owed if the appeals court concludes that Apple did not break any antitrust laws.

 

“Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing, and we will continue to fight those allegations on appeal. We did nothing wrong and we believe a fair assessment of the facts will show it,” the company said in a statement.

 

A decision on Apple’s appeal, now in the Second Circuit in New York, might not be issued for another year, according to Wednesday’s filing. Consumer attorneys in the case are still hoping to get Cote’s preliminary approval of the settlement.

 

If its appeal is rejected, it would be more of a blow to Apple’s image than its finances. The company can easily afford to refund the money, given it has about $150 billion in cash.

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