Every year, before the monsoon, the MBRRB (Mumbai Building Repairs and Redevelopment Board), the nodal agency for 16,000 cessed buildings (mostly in South Mumbai), prepares a list of 'most dangerous' buildings, to warn tenants that the structures they are residing in are unfit for habitation. But this is evidently a ritual exercise in futility because in recent memory, not a single year has passed without a building collapse and the loss of human lives is a tragedy that keeps playing out unfailingly.
When this reporter when inquired how these 80-100-year-old buildings are categorised as 'most dangerous', the MBRRB in-charge Anil Ankalgi explained, "If a particular building needs urgent repairs and the cess funds have been exhausted and the tenants and landlords are not willing to carry out out the necessary repairs with their own money, such buildings are declared as most dangerous. Engineers conduct a visual inspection but do not carry out structural audit of the buildings."
The MBRRB provides Rs 3,000 per square metre (Rs 300 per square foot) to cessed buildings for repairs. These funds are calculated from the time of inception of the board, 1971 till date. In simpler terms, if a building has undertaken repairs in the past, say in 1980, 1990 and 2000 and have already utilised, say Rs 200 per sq foot of the cess funds, they will now have only Rs 100 per sq ft available funds. This means they can either carry out repairs based on this meagre budget or chip in with their own funds.
Ankalgi further explained, whenever an engineer visits the building site and conducts a visual survey, "it is on the basis of the last 60 years of collective experience. We have a format to prepare our visual survey report. Like, we will check how the joints of the building appear - weak? What is the state of the staircases, walls, toilets and bathrooms? What are the structures on the ground, first, second floors and so on. Do the beams and columns of the building have joints? Accordingly, we allocate points. Say five points to the staircase, two points to other structures and so on, and if our survey finds that a particular building scores less than 60 per cent, we consider it to be in need of repairs. We do not carry out structural audits of these buildings but a visual inspection."
Ankalgi further said, the board has forth a proposal before the administration to upgrade its status as a planning authority, so that it can expedite permissions for repairs and redevelopment of these age-old buildings. Reportedly, in March 2018, the state government had given the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) this status, to carry out development on 104 layouts of its ownership. But the MBRRB, a MHADA undertaking, is only responsible for repairs and granting of NOCs to cessed buildings. So if residents of a cessed building wish to carry out repairs on their own, they must obtain an NOC, first from the board and further, an IOD and CC from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
"To make the process hassle-free the board is seeking approval from government to grant special powers, so the tenants and landlords can get permissions under one roof from a single authority with some limitations," Ankalgi stated.
In the case of the 100-year-old Bhanushali building in Fort, a portion of which collapsed last week, claiming 11 lives and leaving several others homeless, residents had obtained an NOC from the MBRRB and had other civic approvals also in place. But they did not carry out the repairs and then in March, the lockdown was imposed, and it was as though their fates were sealed.