NOIDA: India demolished two residential high-rise buildings outside New Delhi on Sunday, in a dramatic spectacle carried live on television channels after days of excited media build-up.
The destruction of the 100-metre-high “Twin Towers” in Noida, home to a concrete forest of similar structures, was also a rare example of India getting tough on corrupt developers and officials.
The 32 floors of “Apex” and the 29 of “Ceyane”, containing between them nearly 1,000 apartments that were never inhabited in nine years of legal disputes, were brought down in seconds, creating an immense cloud of dust and debris.
The controlled implosions using 3,700 kilograms (8,160 pounds) of explosives were India’s biggest demolition to date, local media reported.
Thousands of people, as well as stray dogs, had to be evacuated before the blast, including from neighbouring high-rises, one of which was reportedly just nine metres away.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to nearby buildings but a local official told reporters that the operation had gone “largely as planned”.
Indian media reported minute details of the demolition, including the number of holes drilled for the charges (9,642) and the volume of debris created (80,000 tonnes).
TV news channel Times Now, which like others ran a countdown timer and showed little else on Sunday morning, called it the “mother of all demolitions” of the “towers of shame”.
Police shut a busy adjacent expressway, where on Saturday motorists stopped to take final selfies with the towers in the backdrop.
The legal dispute over the towers went all the way to India’s Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the buildings breached safety regulations and that the developers colluded with corrupt authorities.
The world’s fastest-growing major economy has seen a construction boom in the last two decades, which has also given rise to a nexus of corruption involving politicians, bureaucrats and powerful builders. Developers often sidestep many construction, urban-planning and environmental regulations, usually with impunity. The outskirts of major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore have become traps for middle-class buyers who invest in projects that are never completed or get drawn into similar legal sagas.
In Delhi’s suburbs of Noida and Greater Noida — where the towers were demolished on Sunday — it is estimated that more than 100 residential towers have been abandoned by builders, making these areas look like ghost cities.
Uday Bhan Singh Teotia, one of a group of residents whose case against private developer Supertech led to the demolition order, said before the event that it would be a vindication of his legal battle. “The two new towers that they constructed were blocking everything — our air and sunlight,” Teotia, who lives close to the structures, said.
Demolitions of residential buildings are rare in India, with builders often escaping with penalties or abandoning projects midway if they fall foul of the law. Four luxury high-rises in the southern state of Kerala were demolished for breaking environmental rules in 2020.
Lawyer Jayant Bhushan, who represented the complainants in the case against Supertech, said builders must clean up their act to win back home-buyers’ trust.
“Unless builders follow rules, it will be hapless buyers who will end up burning their fingers again and again,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022