Living in dilapidated buildings, risking life and limb, is a human tragedy from which there is little escape. In urban clusters like Mumbai this is a big problem as the cost of redevelopment deters solutions. When the monsoon hits, the condition of old buildings is severely tested. The latest collapse of an unauthorised part of an old building in Mumbai is an annual mishap that takes lives of people living in a permanent Catch-22. The problem isn’t restricted to mega-cities, as we see structures collapse nationwide in climatic cycles as old buildings come under severe stress from rain. Enormous capital is required to be able to provide engineering and planning solutions of acceptable quality to guarantee the safety of occupants; the sheer number of endangered buildings in cities is huge.
Most people forced to live in dangerous dwellings — “ceased” buildings as they are known in Mumbai — where the institution tasked with repairs and reconstruction spends just Rs 30 crores a year, while the number of such buildings runs into thousands — are unable to move out. Neither the greed of private developers nor the insecurity of tenants is solution-friendly. The inability of cities to take care of a rising number of people willing to risk all in their search for a livelihood adds to the problem created by those already living there and unable to find safe housing in crowded localities. Unless safety audits are done, and unsafe buildings are marked for evacuation with provision for those evicted to live somewhere, such tragedies are bound to recur. This is a challenge even for the richest city civic bodies.