Not an act of God

Despite a written code, our buildings and other structures fail to meet basic construction standards killing thousands every year


What’s a human life worth? Apparently, not much. Indians are all too familiar with the concept of negligence when it comes to builders or the municipal body. Several lives are lost and many stay injured or scarred mentally due to the ordeal they experience. Then the blame game begins. Behind this spectacle of who-did-what lies the often-ignored, abandoned National Building Code of India (NBC). Introduced nearly five decades ago, it is an instrument that provides guidelines and standards for construction activities, and was last revised as recently as 2016. Clearly, a futile effort.

According to government reports, the Mumbai Fire Brigade received 300 structural collapse calls on an average, each year for the past six years. That’s almost one mishap everyday. According to National Crime Records Bureau, the latest data available for the year 2015 shows that close to 20,000 lives were lost in accidental fire and structural collapses alone. There were four big tragedies that made headlines in the state, in the past two months alone — the Surat fire tragedy, which resulted in the tragic loss of 22 students; the Malad wall collapse claiming 31 lives; the Pune wall collapse that killed 17; and the Dongri building tragedy, in which 13 lives were lost. They were all examples of sheer disregard for fire safety and building regulations.

The other feature that these disasters have brought to light is that our fire fighters are not trained well enough to face such accidents with speed and efficiency. But, they are not at fault. India’s fire safety department is massively deficient in terms of funds and personnel. Data for 2012 shows a gap of more than 5.5 million trained fire personnel and 32,000 firefighting appliances and vehicles. Resting on the dusty NBC are snoozing civic authorities that remain ignorant at a cost happily met by builders. Basic citizen safety seems like a good place to start, given the ever-expanding chasm between India’s smart cities vision and the reality of urbanisation bred by rampant corruption and jungle rules.