Saturday, September 14, 2013

Rana Plaza Building Collapse: Lack of building law enforcement

In the greater Dhaka area, it is the Capital Development Authority (known as RAJUK, from its bangla acronym) which has responsibility for enforcement of building laws and regulations. As this article shows, however, it has totally failed in this task.

New Age: Rajuk issues only six occupancy certificates (13 May 2013)
A provision in the 2008 building rules, aimed at ensuring that only legally compliant buildings are allowed to be used or lived in, has been ignored over the past five years by both the developers and the government agency responsible for its implementation.
The law requires that none should occupy a building until the developer who originally applied to Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha, the capital development authority, obtains an ‘occupancy’ certificate which reflects that the building was constructed in keeping with the general construction guidelines and in compliance with its approved plan.
Inquiries by New Age, however, have revealed that in about five years since the 2008 act came into force, only six buildings out of about 20,000 to 25,000 that have been authorised to be built, have obtained this certificate.
This disclosure came two weeks after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building at Savar which till Sunday left more than 1,100 people dead.
The currently ignored provision in the 2008 rules was enacted to ensure that illegal constructions such as the Rana Plaza building could not be built or at least would not be used until changes were made.
In the past week, New Age revealed that the architectural plans of Rana Plaza were based on the assumption that the building would be used for commercial, not industrial, purpose and that it would be only six-storey high.
Section 18 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Building (Construction, Development, Conservation and Demolition) Rules 2008 states that after a building is completed partially or wholly, the developer should obtain ‘an occupancy certificate to use or live in that building’. It states that as part of the application, the owner must submit the architectural design permitted by the authority, the structural design and all designs relating to building services.
Another document which needs to be submitted is a ‘completion’ report which requires that architects, engineers and others engaged in the work certify that they have ‘supervised’ the construction of the building.
Section 19 of the act then states that after receiving the completion report, they ‘must visit the building within 15 days’ in the presence of the applicant and other technical people involved in the construction.
New Age has spoken to all five of Rajuk’s authorised officers whose responsibilities include undertaking these visits and providing occupancy certificates to developers, and between them are responsible for some 4,000 to 5,000 new buildings each year.
Four of the officers said that they had not yet provided a single occupancy certificate and were not aware that their predecessors had done so since May 2008 when the rules began to apply.
Afsar Uddin, responsible for Dhaka’s main business area of Motijheel and also Narayanganj, said, ‘I have not given any certificates. We have received one application and this is being checked by an inspector.’
‘We have given notices to companies that they must obtain these certificates and have also given letters to the utility companies dealing with water and electricity saying that they should not provide services unless they have a certificate,’ he added
Pervez Khadem, the officer responsible for Uttara, said, ‘We have had six applications and inspectors are looking into them. I have not yet given an occupancy certificate. People are not aware that they need occupancy certificates and we are now trying to inform them.’
Sukamal Chakma, the officer responsible for Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Tejgaon and Mohakhali who has been only working in the job for a month, said that since he started he ‘had no applications for occupancy certificates and there were no outstanding applications in process.’
He argued that it was important that these certificates were sought by developers.
‘It is important to get these certificates to ensure safety of buildings. To get the certificate is one kind of measure that means that the developer has built the buildings in keeping with the construction rules 2008.’
Helal Ahmed, who has been in his postition since September 2012, also said that he had not given any certificates but that in the past few months he had received ‘10 to 12 applications, but they have not submitted sufficient papers and we have yet to visit them.’
Md Animur Rahman was the only authorised officer who said that he had issued some occupancy certificates.
‘I have given six occupation certificates in the past six months. We have about 10 applications which we received in the past few months,’ he told New Age.
The Rajuk chairman, Nurul Huda, admitted that the provisions had not been enforced but said that the government body was now trying to enforce it.
‘This was in rules but not practiced previously… however, in the past year, we arranged several meetings with service providers dealing with water, electricity and gas, in which we gave instruction not to give any service without occupancy certificate,’ he said.
‘Notices should be given to all developers that they have to take clearance through occupancy certificates and then they will get permission for utility service connections.’
He blamed the shortage of manpower as the ‘main reason’ why it had not been enforced.
‘In 2010, after the Dhaka Area Plan was agreed, we have submitted a proposal to the ministry for technical manpower to provide all services but it took two years and a half for the government to approve it. Six months ago, we sent to the ministry recruitment rules for them to approve, but they still have not done it.’
Mobasshar Hossain, the president of the Institute of Architects, said that obtaining the occupancy certificate from Rajuk was crucial to ensuring that buildings in Dhaka followed the law.
‘Actually if you want to control the building rules and [determine] whether [they have been] implemented by developer, owner, architect and engineer, the occupancy certificate is the most important thing,’ he said.
‘Before occupying the building and getting all public utilities, the developer has to get an occupancy certificate’ and for that a Rajuk officer ‘should visit the building and ensure that rules have not been violated.’
He argued that if utility bodies refused to give connections until an occupancy certificate was obtained from Rajuk, ‘there would be no violations’ as others would be deterred.
‘But the utility bodies continue to give services even though there is no occupancy certificate,’ he added.

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