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HIGHRISE LIVING IN INDIA: A COUNTERPOINT


News : 24th Dec 2011:

Delhi-NCR is gearing up for skyscrapers, but how safe is highrise living?

With a handful of builders like Ireo, Raheja and Supertech proposing high-end skyscrapers, the trend of vertical development now seems to be catching up in Delhi NCR.

After all, when global cities like New York, Dubai and Hong Kong can do it and back home Mumbai can be seen doing it, why can't the National Capital Region too take to high living - particularly, in view of all the factors and circumstances, ranging from relaxed norms to consumer preference to the shortage of land and rising land prices, tilting in its favour?

However, before we get carried away by the thought of living on top of the world, we will do well to keep certain facts and ground realities in mind. For instance, when our builders in most cases are unable to construct even good-quality lowrise houses, will it be safe to live in super tall buildings (taller than 150m) built by them? This question is important as a large number of Indian builders even some renowned ones are known for shoddy construction work and for using poor-quality materials in their projects. They also seldom shy away from flouting safety norms and care a fig for real estate regulations whatever they are as well as the safety and well-being of end users.

Lack of technical knowhow may also be a big problem. For, we Indians are seldom known for having the requisite skills for constructing giant towers.

So, how can we develop world-class skills at the drop of a hat? Added to this is the fact that many builders seldom deliver what they promise, even if they have given it in writing. In such circumstances, therefore, how wise it would be to trust their words, particularly in the case of skyscrapers?

Snehdeep Aggarwal, founder and chairman of the Delhi-based Bhartiya Group, which has recently forayed into real estate, agrees. "As the craze for skyscrapers grows, the safety aspect is the uppermost concern for buyers. What if the area is hit by an earthquake or fire engulfs the building? This is important as Delhi NCR falls in seismic Zone 4 (meaning very high risk of earthquake), while fire departments in most cities, including Delhi, are not yet geared to handle such situations. Moreover, if the project is a super tall building, the consequences will be very big even with minor mistakes in design or bad judgment by a contractor," he says.

A majority of experts are also of similar view, although they say that all builders are not bad and the situation is not as alarming as it is perceived to be. Neeraj Bansal, director (risk consulting), KPMG India, for instance, says: "After the Adarsh housing scam, the state committee has framed new guidelines with respect to highrise buildings. As per the new norm, builders are required to submit a final plan before seeking approval.

This will prevent developers from changing their plans once the committee clears a proposal. Further, it is mandatory for the builders to submit their applications based on the available FSI (floor space index)."
"A developer should also submit a detailed layout plan, including details of buildings around a 1.3km radius of the proposed project (details like main access road, its width, number of proposed highrises in the vicinity, buildings of archaeological importance, heritage sites, schools, and places of worship). It is imperative for a developer to carry out several surveys, including environmental impact, traffic, open space, soil profile study, availability of amenities, energy, water use, and wind analysis," he says. As buildings go higher, the challenges relating to structural design that can withstand wind pressures, etc, also go up. Also, "Additional planning is needed for solid waste management, maintaining water pressures and convenient vertical movement of residents.
However, in today's day and age, planning methods and state-of-the-art technology are sufficiently advanced to safely take care of these challenges," says a spokesperson of Ireo, India's first and the largest private equity fund dedicated to the real estate sector with a fund size of $2 billion.

For example, at Ireo's Victory Valley project in Gurgaon - featuring three highrise residential towers, which include a nearly 180m tall, 51-floor tower that ranks amongst the tallest residential towers in north India - the building structures have earthquake-resistant design for seismic loads as prescribed for the NCR region. Special emphasis is also given on vibration comfort under wind and seismic load conditions.

"For solid waste management, Ireo has incorporated a chute system where the basements are provided with special garbage rooms to collect the segregated waste prior to its disposal to designated treatment facility. The high speed lifts for such high towers are designed based on a traffic simulation analysis, ensuring sufficient speeds to ensure waiting periods of less than a minute. The water supply systems ensure 24x7 continuous potable water with adequate pumping capacities; overhead tanks and pressure-reducing equipment to ensure that necessary water pressure is maintained. Dedicated pumping equipment for water for firefighting purposes is an additional feature for highrise structures," says the Ireo spokesperson. Keeping these facts in mind, industry experts are of the opinion that residing in skyscrapers may also be safe as in most of the recent project launches there has been proper planning for mass evacuations in case of a fire or other accident. Further, with the emergence of a number of skyscrapers in the city, the fire department has also framed new guidelines for the safety of new structures.

For instance, as per new norms, buildings with a height of 70 metres and more will have to get a no-objection certificate from the fire department, and the highrise tower's plot size should be at least 1,000 sq m. It should also have two separate staircases, and the width of the approach road to the proposed structure should be 18 metres. Besides, no LPG cylinder or kerosene stove will be allowed inside the building. Instead, they need to have gas supply through inbuilt pipeline to avoid intensive damage.

"It is mandatory for all developers to take approvals prior to the construction of a highrise building. The fire safety approvals are required to be taken for constructing any level (height) of building and, typically, they become stringent with increase in height (in some cities it is mandatory to have a helipad in one of the towers)," KPMG's Bansal says.

Nowadays, developers are also entering into technical collaborations with global consultants and contractors to construct highrise buildings. In fact, "Collaboration with global consultants is a must since there is hardly any experience within the country to construct such giant structures,"

Bansal says. For example, for their 56-storeyed Revanta project in Gugaon, Raheja Developers has joined hands with the Dubai-based Arabtec construction company which constructed Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.

Some industry experts say that currently there is no dearth of talent in India itself. "Indian companies do good workmanship. The Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link Road from Bandra to Worli has been constructed by Hindustan Construction Company and another engineering giant, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), is also into the construction of skyscrapers. In India, there are professional organizations to take care of structural stability, earthquake resistance, wind pressures, etc. Besides, there are Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) from where people go to NASA (USA)," says Ketan Sheth, founder & MD of Mumbai-based Goldmine Project Consultants.

All said and done, however, homebuyers need to be on their guard and keep their eyes wide open simply because there are still stark differences between the situation prevalent in developed countries and the one existing in India. For instance, builders and developers in developed countries are legally more liable and therefore have a more professional approach to construction. Also, most developers in developed countries have to have a valid licence to build and straying from the line could jeopardize their continuity in the business. But that is hardly the case in India. Even the legal remedies available to homebuyers are very limited, and the ones that are possible take years to take any effect. So, at least for now, choosing your builder with care will definitely be an added advantage if you are going in for highrise living!

QUICK BITES
WHEN MANY OF OUR BUILDERS ARE UNABLE TO CONSTRUCT EVEN GOOD-QUALITY LOWRISE HOUSES, WILL IT BE SAFE TO LIVE IN SUPER TALL BUILDINGS (TALLER THAN 150M) BUILT BY THEM? WHAT IF THE AREA IS HIT BY AN EARTHQUAKE OR FIRE ENGULFS THE SKYSCRAPER? DELHI NCR FALLS IN SEISMIC ZONE 4 (MEANING VERY HIGH RISK OF EARTHQUAKE), BUT THE FIRE DEPARTMENT IS HARDLY GEARED TO HANDLE SUCH CONTINGENCIES

Source: Times of India



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