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With continuous structural breakdowns in India, here’s a ‘Crash' course on building collapses

September 2017
Over the last few years, there have been continuous incidents of collapsing old constructions in India. As per data by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), more than 14,000 people have died from 2010 to 2015 due to dilapidated building collapses. At an average, 2,700 people lose their lives in different structural breakdowns every year.
Across all the major cities in India, Mumbai has been witnessing the maximum cases of structural collapses. Between 2010 to 2015, there have been approximately 13,470 incidents of structural collapse in the country, and Mumbai alone accounted for 1,366 of these. This amounts to over 10 per cent of the total incidents. The collapse of buildings, specifically old constructions, has been continuously increasing in recent years.
The life span of any building depends on many factors, including quality of building materials, external weather conditions, structural design and age of the structure. However, we have seen in the recent past that many collapses happened due to negligence of residents living in these old constructions. Most of the times, these old buildings are left dilapidated and never refurbished, even where residents had noticed severe cracks beginning to appear in the building. Because no actions taken despite warnings, the buildings eventually collapsed.
The age of construction is one the most crucial factors related to a building stability. Over time, construction materials deteriorate; old buildings are always at greater risk because of deteriorated building materials like mud mortar and galvanised pipe plumbing systems.
Buildings approaching a construction age of 15 years or more should be regularly inspected, repaired and, if needed, redeveloped. Since checking all aspects of construction may not be possible for individual residents, the services of an independent auditor must be employed. This can provide a primary line of defence against building collapses. Some initiatives are already being promoted by the Planning Commission in India to ensure continuous quality certifications and audits via entities such as Durocrete Construction Quality Rating Agency and the Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC).
Below is a key inspection checklist of aspects, along with suggested intensity and frequency (based on age of the construction), which residents should regularly inspect or have inspected – and, if required, ensure repair, redevelopment or vacating the building based on severity of dilapidation.

Factors To Check 15-25 year old construction 25-35 year old construction 35-50 year old construction
  • If the sides of the building straight or bowed or sagging.
  • If the ridges and fascia are straight and in level.
  • If there is any significant cracks in slab or foundation.
  • If all windows and door frames appear properly aligned.
  • If the stairs and railing are strong enough to bear the loads.
Medium High High
  • Any form of spalling or cracks inside or outside the walls.
  • Untoward movement of any wall.
  • If paint is fading, thinning or stained in places. Also, check the,asbestos and lead levels in more than 35-year-old constructions.
  • Check whether walls are termite infested, especially in constructions,built with mud mortar.
  • Check the brick joints stability if the building is built with mud or sandy mortar.
Medium Medium High
  • Uneven slope level or severe cracks.
  • Seepage or leakage of water.
  • Signs of dampness.
  • Evidence of standing water at any corner
Medium Medium High
  • If continuous and,long cracks or,splits are evident.
  • Evidence of any damage,in mortar/cement cover.
  • Water leakage or decay,marks.
  • Erosion around roof,penetrations.
  • Exposed iron bars, mortar or bricks.
Medium High High
  • Signs of leaks, damage or,stain on pipes.
  • If the septic/sewage/drainage,system is maintained and functioning properly.
  • If old galvanized pipes are,corroded from inside.
  • Signs of leakage at different,joint points.
  • Loose or unstrapped pipes and faucets.
Medium High High
  • Signs of erosion or decay on,wire insulators.
  • If main circuit breakers trip,often.
  • If lights dim or flicker,frequently.Burning smell during heavy load,times.Overheating of cables, fuses,or connectors.
  • If knobs and switches operate,properly.If wiring and switches are,open at any place.
  • If construction is more than 30 years oldand aluminium cables are used in branch wiring, have them replaced as soon as possible.
Medium High High
Doors & Windows
  • Signs of any decay or rot.
  • Termite infestation (mostly in old,constructions).
  • Signs of damage, infirmity or,untoward movement in frames.
  • If frame corners and joints are firm and together.
Low Medium High

About the Author:
Anuj Puri
is Chairman, ANAROCK Property Consultants.

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