Digging away next to the foundations of a building is just asking for trouble. But this is common, espcially in Saddar, where excavation for mega projects weaken adjacent buildings, leaving them tottering ominously.
One example is the New Misquita Garden - a small community project constructed half-a-century ago. Alongside its west wall, an unnamed and unidentified 11-storey plaza is going up like deemak or woodworm, threatening to topple the Garden. The plaza is being constructed opposite Gul Plaza, between Gaziani Shopping Mall and Patrick’s palace, behind M A Jinnah Road without so much as a concrete plan in place.
The Garden houses about 124 families, a school and a church. Since the plaza project began four months ago, digging has brought down an electricity pole, disrupting the residential block’s supply for seven days. The guard house at the entrance crumbled as did the boundary wall. The water and gas pipelines ruptured. The lack of a boundary wall has led to an increase in muggings to add to the neighbourhood’s woes. But what terrifies the residents the most is the prospect of their building collapsing. They point out cracks.
A resident of New Misquita Garden who lives on the ground floor took The Express Tribune around to survey the damage. Her backyard’s metal gate hung off its hinges, and one of the three steps that led inside was missing. Below the stairs, drainage pipes all along the wall lay exposed. The residents still do not know what the new project is next door, they just know that it is a commercial project with 11 floors and a ramp. Another elderly resident explained how the colony would now be sandwiched between a parking plaza on the east and the new plaza on the west side. He lives on one of the higher floors and his house’s landing and entrance would be blocked by the plaza’s wall. “It’s not just the suffocation, we have our daughters and children coming in and out and we don’t know what sort of people will be at the plaza,” he said.
The building is also creeping on to their property as their boundary wall is being put up about three feet away. The residents demand that it be shifted to at least 10 feet.
Roland D’Souza, an engineer who works with city watchdog Shehri, said that according to the law, you are supposed to make sure that adjacent buildings are stable during deep excavation. The Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulation 2002 Rule 8-7 states that “no excavation, dewatering, earthwork or demolition of a building which is likely to affect the stability of an adjacent building shall be started or continued unless steps are taken before and during the work to prevent the collapse or damage of any adjacent building”. In 2009, it was precisely this rule that was violated in Kharadar where a building next to a construction site collapsed, killing over 20 people.
Residents claim that despite having complained thrice and having negotiated with the plaza owner, there has been no response. The three letters they sent to the Nabi Bux police, the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) controller and the new building constructer were all ignored.
The building owner, Haji M Latif, refused to meet with the residents or even share his master plan. The residents then turned to the Sindh Building Control Authority but were turned away once again as the project does not have a master plan yet. “This is illegal in itself as you cannot start construction work without a complete plan,” D’Souza pointed out.
He explained that the issue is not just limited to this one building as there has been an increase in high-rise constructions all over the city. “The higher the building, the deeper its foundations go and the greater are the chances of an adjacent building being affected if proper measures are not taken,” he explained. “The MCB Tower (the tallest building in Pakistan), for example, was built while keeping a proper distance from surrounding buildings.”
KBCA chief controller Manzoor Qadir, to whom the residents’ complaint letters were addressed, claimed that he did not recognise the project location. He said that this was the first he had heard of the problem and was immediately assiging an inspection team to address the issue.
He said that KBCA has rules and does its best to make sure that they are followed. “We can stop or seal any construction that is being built against the law,” he explained. “I will make sure that all appropriate precautionary measures are taken for the project.”
Under the fear, there is a feeling of resentment growing among the residents. They feel that they are being discriminated against. “This used to be a wonderful place for us and our families, we enjoyed complete freedom. But today we are fighting to protect our own property with nobody to listen to our complaints.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2011.
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