If the building development plans are transparently put on a single point authority, then activists will be able to unearth flouting of norms. Also neither the developer nor the approving authorities will dare to deviate from norms without good explanation
When a development proposal is submitted to authorities for approval, the developer is in a great hurry to move with the project. The proposal is not even in a half-baked condition. And as the project concept begins to zero down to final stages, various approvals begin to come in with lists of compliances required to be met. But these approvals are based on earlier versions of the proposal and then the compliance requirement changes and enough confusion exists. State of confusion is easiest way to change the building design and perhaps concessions obtained for consideration, safety considerations get tossed out.
What are the safety considerations that go into a building development?
A building is developed for a particular usage. While the usage determines the layout and elevations, aesthetics too contribute in the process. The design has to provide adequate circulation areas as well as proper lighting and air handling. Drainage and sanitary requirements are to be met. Compliance to electrical rules is important. Safe protected storage of inflammable materials needs to be provided. Every component of the building must be designed to safely withstand the loads they are subjected to, including wind, seismic and where it occurs, snow.
There are Building Bye Laws of municipal corporations or Development Control Regulations (DC Rules), Codes of Engineering and Architectural Practices, Norms by the Controller of Explosives for storage and handling inflammable materials, etc. There is this voluminous National Building Code encompassing almost everything that has been done in the building industry. The developers and their designers are quite well-versed with these and so are the scrutinizing professional personnel of approving authorities collectively. However, with the desire to expedite projects, the developer perhaps resorts to getting the proposal approved for a consideration. Unfortunately, besides being corrupt practice, this leads to getting approvals for projects with added risks of disaster.
Just to exemplify the increased risks, consider a residential building. This building is to be designed for a 'live' load of 200 kg/sqM for floors which are not cantilevering, with increased value of loads for balconies and cantilevering floors. The building, if it is to be used for office or industrial purposes, the basic live load becomes much higher than for residential buildings. Office buildings have a design live load of 300 kg/sqM and an industrial building has at least 500 kg/sqM. The slabs, beams and columns and the entire structural support system as well as foundation system, have to cater to these different loads. If the structural system has not been designed and thereby constructed to required loads, change of usage to heavier requirements becomes a major safety concerns. With heavier live loads the structures too become heavier and that results in higher seismic loads. To cater to higher seismic loads, the structural system again becomes critical. No authority shall be vested with powers to give concession on this matter by change in usage unless structural systems have been already designed and constructed to higher level of loads. But then there are other norms that need to be followed for different usage.
Then consider the fire fighting requirement. There is a provision to provide enough space for the fire-tender or snorkel ladder truck to move all around a building. Sometimes the developer provides this space at ground floor for cars to enter buildings for a drop at the lift lobby and parking. Many times four-five stories of car park are provided and open terrace at the podium level. The tower then is sufficiently far away from the ground level for the fire hose to throw water or rescue people from the tower as it is beyond its physical reach. Thus access to the podium is important. If the podium area is more than two stories, then a spiral ramp is an option or providing a straight ramp and flat or spiraling ramp on the turn the other option. Important aspect is that the maximum gradient or slope a ramp is permitted to have is 1 vertical for 10 horizontal traverse, even though this is also steep. This is not a problem for a straight ramp but for a spiral ramp, it as to be at the inner circle. The diameter of this inner circle has necessarily to be more than 19 M. Then to cater to the needs of two vehicles of the fire-brigade to traverse the ramp in opposite directions, the outer circle will have to be about 45 M in diameter, leaving a 13 M wide spiral ramp. Also, clear height requirement for these vehicles to pass is 4.5 M. To save space, the developers reduce the inner circle diameter to the extent that the slope there becomes as steep as 1 vertical to 5 horizontal-totally unacceptable from even simple car driving point of view. If the fire-tender and snorkel ladder truck does not access the podium level, fire fighting and rescue operation becomes that much more ineffective, increasing the risk significantly.
Many times only one staircase is provided in a tower and where two are provided, these are closely spaced and adjoining the lift lobby. Again, this is hazardous during fire escape.
Question now is why the need for transparency on building development?
Reason is simple. The developer will have to prepare all drawings and designs to caret to meeting norms of respective agencies or authorities, matching in all respects and very little scope to tamper with it without good reason. Approving authorities will have to show competence during scrutiny and approve with having applied their minds over the proposed project. All the FSI (floor space index) related matters will also be scrutinisable. If the property entrance ramp continues on to the road disregarding footpath norms, or gates opening onto the footpath area, it comes to light and citizen groups or ALMs can take up the matter with authorities. Even flouting fire fighting norms can be objected upon. Therefore it is very important to have transparency on building development.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected])
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