A NUMBER of people lost their lives on Thursday when a five-storey residential building collapsed in Karachi, causing two other adjoining housing structures to cave in. The responsibility for the deaths of at least 17 men, women and children lies with those who undertook the illegal construction of a sixth storey on the small plot as well as the officials who turned a blind eye to the activity. Such incidents have, unfortunately, become far too frequent in the metropolis and other big cities of the country. Last year in December, a similar six-storey residential complex came crashing down in Karachi’s Ranchore Line area, though miraculously no loss of life was reported.
These all too frequent tragedies reflect poorly on the Sindh Building Control Authority and lay bare its contribution to the housing challenges in a city of 20m. What makes the situation even more alarming is that the apartment building that collapsed on Thursday was neither old, nor built on unregulated premises. The five-storeyed Fatima building was built around three years ago in the planned Rizvia Society. The illegal construction of an additional storey on top apparently led to the weakening of the entire structure. Had the building authorities been vigilant and stopped the construction, these deaths could have been avoided. Moreover, if the authorities allow such a careless approach to building in areas that are planned residential neighbourhoods, how would they prevent the construction of death traps in the city’s unregulated localities that house millions of people from the poorer segments of society? The mammoth problem of unregulated structures and the SBCA’s controversial role has not gone unnoticed. In fact, recently, the Supreme Court, too, commented on the issue during a hearing, and severely criticised the SBCA for allowing the construction of multistorey buildings on small plots. The court ordered the Sindh chief minister to overhaul the body and instructed that top SBCA officials including the director general be removed. Though the SBCA is largely to blame for this incident, a good part of the blame rests with successive governments that failed to come up with a comprehensive development plan for the largest city of the country. The Sindh government has taken the right step by registering a case on behalf of the hapless families who lost their loved ones, but now it must scale up its efforts for conducting a fair inquiry into the incident as well as identifying similarly dangerous buildings across the city.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2020