Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.com.

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience

.

Karachi: earthquake scene

August 29, 1999

Email

AT 0301 on the morning of August 17 an earthquake struck Izmit in Turkey. The count so far is 46,000 dead and 210,000 homeless. The buildings collapsed, as if made of cards.

The buildings were supposedly built according to the building codes prevalent in California but, according to Newsweek of August 30, "the difference from California, many authorities suspect, is that some Turkish contractors apparently prefer to erect sub-standard buildings, and there is no inpsection process to stop them. It is a simple matter to add more sand and less cement to a batch of concrete, or to use a thinner grade of steel-reinforcing bar, without anyone noticing the difference" - until an earthquake strikes.

The people of Turkey and the press have laid the blame at the doorstep of the builders' and contractors' mafia and their patrons among the successive housing ministers and ministry officials. ("Murderers," thundered one newspaper Hurriyet a day after the disaster.)

To quote again from Newsweek, "The Turkish rescue efforts collapsed into chaos and disappeared in hundred kilometer traffic jams; communication was so chaotic that Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, touring the disaster area on the first day, used the televised press briefing to convey instructions to officials back in Ankara."

The slow but constant relative motion of tectonic plates of the earth's crust causes earthquakes. The boundary between two plates is called the 'fault,' the San Andreas Fault in California being one of the most famous in the world. Closer to home, the densely populated (over 12 million) city of Karachi sits very close to the confluence of three major tectonic plates: the Indian Plate, the Arabian Plate, and the Eurasian Plate. According to geologists, four active fault lines have been identified in the vicinity, namely Karachi-Jati, Allah Bund-Rann of Kutch, Surjan-Jhimpir, and PAB. Over the last sixty years, on two occasions in 1945 and 1985, earthquakes of lesser intensity have struck this city. So far, we have been lucky.

The people of Karachi should know that all the commercial and residential high-rises are unsafe and dangerous to live in. Most of the builders and contractors, their attorneys or the entity they have established to construct a particular building, disappear from the scene as soon as a building is semi-complete and all spaces sold. The majority are members of the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD), the body which makes the most noise when any building is ordered to be demolished and accepts no responsibility for the conduct of its members.

Building control authorities in Karachi: Principally the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) and the various Cantonment Boards. None of these authorities makes any attempt to exercise any building control and, with rare exceptions, their officers and staff, from top to bottom, are corrupt and purchasable. I do not have much knowledge of what other Cantonment Boards do in other areas of Karachi, but within the jurisdiction of the Clifton Cantonment Board, in Blocks 8 and 9 of KDA Scheme 5 (on the left of the main Clifton Road going from Teen Talwar to Do Talwar), I have seen high buildings rise with record speed. Concrete is poured and roofs/floors are laid without supervision by any authority. No time is given for 'curing.' Most of these high buildings stand close to each other, the builders building at will on the compulsory open spaces (COS) mandatory under the law. The COSs are planned to allow service vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances to pass through.

As for the quality of building, to give a living instance, Glass Towers on the Main Clifton Road, supposedly built under the supervision of the KBCA and according to the approved plan. After a lengthy and tedious fight, the citizens managed to convince the judges of the Supreme Court that the building was illegally built and protruding onto the main road. Chief Justice Ajmal Mian, sitting with four of his Brothers, ordered that it be demolished. Now that demolition is in progress, the 'innards' are clearly visible and the KBCA officials have finally realized the quality of material that has been used.

The occupants/allotees were given to believe by the builders that the building would be 'kosher' after the front portion has been demolished. However, they should know that there are many cases still pending in the courts concerning major violations: (a) construction of covered area in excess of the allowable 1:3 plot ratio; (b) encroachment on the COSs (15 feet on the nullah side, 10 feet at the rear); (c) take-over of the 20 feet public road between the building and the nullah; (d) fencing in of the public space on the nullah; (e) removal of the ramps and structure encroaching on the public road beyond the nullah.

Now to what happens when a building in Karachi collapses. Without even the mildest of earth tremors, a six-storey building known as Faiza Heights collapsed in North Karachi on July 2 1997. Many people were killed, many rendered homeless. The Pakistan Engineering Council and the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners have not established who was responsible, although that is their statutory mandate, because "no one has made a complaint." The KDA and the KBCA have not established who was responsible because "the inquiry is being conducted at a higher level."

At the higher level, Engineer Bashir Ahmed Ansari of the Chief Minister's Inspection and Evaluation Team submitted a report to the Governor on December 5, 1998, recommending

A. Black-listing and criminal prosecution for professional misconduct and criminal negligence of the private parties involved, i.e. the builders, architect, engineer, soil consultant, site engineer and supervisor.

B. Action under the Anti-Corruption and Efficiency and Discipline Rules against the political and government personnel involved, i.e. the Minister of Housing and Town Planning, Director General of the Karachi Development Authority, Chief Controller of Buildings of the Karachi Building Control Authority and three Deputy Controllers of Buildings.

To date no action has been taken against anyone.

Generally, this is how the cookie crumbles: The builders of high-rises, higher than ground plus four storeys must send in a plan which meets with the rules and regulations making the building suitable to withstand ' Zone 2' earthquakes as defined by the Uniform Building Code of the USA. The KBCA is expected to have the plan vetted by their engineers and an external panel of proof engineers, which usually is not done, but the plan is stamped. The builders and contractors build, but not according to this so-called approved plan.

The 'noora kushti' then starts in earnest. The KBCA ostensibly object and send notices to the builders. The builders rush to court and employ a lawyer known for his capabilities of greasing his way up. They manage to get an order of sorts restraining the KBCA from taking any action whilst allowing the builders to continue their construction. The judge concerned, knowingly or unknowingly, effectively becomes the chief controller of the building. Others involved (criminally or not) are the builder, his architect, his engineer, his lawyer, his aiders and abettors the KBCA controllers and their lawyers.

The building is completed. No occupancy/completion certificate is asked for by the builders or issued by the KBCA. (According to the KBCA CCOB, Mohammad Hussain, no such certificate has been issued for any high-rise since 1994.) The building is allowed to be unlawfully occupied by the allotees/buyers, who themselves are not interested in establishing whether or not they are occupying a safe and lawfully built building. By law, the KBCA can evict the occupants, but under cover of various excuses they do not. (All this is exactly what has happened in Turkey.)In the event that an illegally and badly constructed building collapses and people die and are injured, who do we blame? Everbody from the judge downwards?

For years I have been writing on this subject trying to create an awareness, but sadly not even reasonably successfully. Engineer Roland de Souza of SHEHRI and I are amongst the members of a notified committee appointed to oversee the functioning of the KBCA. Attending a committee meeting is painful in the extreme.

Volumes can be written on building malpractice's. To those living in high-rises who are concerned with their own safety, we have arranged for SHEHRI to provide, for a nominal fee, a full report on how the building was conceived, the names of its builders and architects, names of the KBCA officers concerned who approved the plan, in whose court stay orders were obtained, which lawyers were involved, etc etc. They can then decide whether to sleep on hoping no calamity will strike, or move to a safer place.

Expect nothing from the government. Fifteen high-ranking KBCA officers were suspended for corruption and misconduct. The inquiry officer, Nur Ahmad Shah, a man of great integrity, suggested that they be suitably penalized. They were all brought back and given postings. One of them, Rauf Akhtar Faruqui, was posted to a higher position, as Director-General of the Malir Development Authority. Forty others are now being investigated.