What’s happening in the port city is very disturbing. Last week, a balcony in Pushpanjali building collapsed. On Monday a parapet of Pereira Chambers gave way and boulders came crashing down on Ricardo building near Goa Shipyard Ltd. The Mormugao Municipal Council has identified 35 dwelling units as unsafe and a final report from the Public Works Department is awaited. The deputy collector has directed residents of Pushpanjali to vacate the premises, but the process is not likely to be as easy as assumed unless residents have alternate apartments or the State provides them with make-shift homes. In Bambolim, a balcony of the Goa Medical College quarters came crashing down and one look at the building points to poor maintenance as the culprit. What happened at Pereira Chambers (collapse of a parapet) might not be as serious as the others, but it brings up the question of upkeep of buildings that are becoming old.
Our municipalities are good at ascertaining what is safe and unsafe, but the worry here is how long will it take for other buildings to reach this sorry state? The South-West monsoons are a testing time for any building. When 2500 mm of rain, sometimes 3000 mm comes pouring down in a matter of three to four months, every building, old and new, is put through the harshest of tests. Many spring leaks, tiles break or are displaced, walls get damp due to the capillary effect and at the most unexpected moment something gives way. More often than not, collapses take place due to lack of proper maintenance. As Vasco has shown, maintenance problems are faced by private as well as public buildings.
Some of the older buildings were handed over to co-operative housing societies which were not equipped to deal with maintenance. It is only in the recent past that builders started taking monthly contributions from residents for the upkeep of the buildings. This was not the case with older buildings and many of them fell into disrepair, especially if the society was not strong enough to put maintenance on top of the agenda.
While vacating dilapidated buildings is a priority, shouldn’t the government do something to ensure that other buildings do not follow the same route to peril? Instead of dividing buildings into safe and unsafe categories alone, municipalities and panchayats should have a third category for poorly maintained or neglected buildings. This would immediately put the burden of maintenance on residents and cooperative housing societies. Once a building or housing unit is declared as ‘poorly maintained’, instructions for rectifying the same must be issued and followed up. Routine checkups, say one every five years, will ensure that buildings have a longer shelf-life and put the burden on cooperative societies to resolve issues and work for the larger good of residents.