ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Mumbai’s Dilapidated Buildings

Chandrashekhar Khandekar ( is a structural engineer and member, Mumbai Vikas Samiti.


Almost every monsoon season brings news of buildings collapsing in Mumbai, particularly in the congested “city area,” though this is true of the suburbs and extended suburbs as well. The situation of “dilapidated buildings” and the miserable conditions of their occupants are examined here.

(Annex Table A1 accompanying this article is available on the EPW website.)

Mumbai city accommodates nearly 22 million people who seem to be in a perpetual state of non-stop activity. This is known to be a city that embraces people in almost all circumstances. In short, this is part of what is popularly termed the “Mumbai spirit.”

For the vast majority of its residents, commuting from home to work and back again is the focus of their daily lives. Mumbai comprises a “city” area that is almost 70 to 90 years old, the western suburbs that are about 50 years old and the eastern suburbs that are estimated to be around 40 years old. With a rapidly increasing population, the local authority’s jurisdiction has also extended to ensure essential services. However, trade and business activities have remained in the city area. In the past 20-odd years, this area has experienced an explosion in terms of growth that is attributed to
migration from other regions seeking business and employment opportunities. Nearly 40% of Mumbai’s residents are in slums, which translates to around nine million people. The demand and supply for and of residential homes has taken on a chaotic arithmetic that is hard to decipher, let alone resolve. Added to this, is Mumbai’s dense traffic volume of 2.8 million cars. In the last five years, the situation has only worsened and the traffic snarls resulting out of construction activities (of course in the name of development and for a so-called “better tomorrow”) have made daily commuting more nightmarish. Mumbai’s residents are forced to “accommodate themselves to the situation.”

As the calendar enters the second quarter, leaders of every hue become active on the issue of flooding in Mumbai. The local authorities too get into a “reactive mode” and by the time the monsoon starts along with the issue of flooding, news of the problems of dilapidated buildings also starts appearing in the news dailies. This has become almost a part of the “Mumbai timetable.”

Can we overlook/disregard this part of the calendar? The remaining part of the calendar is taken up by commercialised cultural celebrations during which people seem to forget the dilapidated buildings.

Change, Not Improvement

The over 100-year-old city area which was for residential use earlier has changed in major places to commercial/business use, especially in the last 50 years. Most of the buildings that are more than 70 years old, are structurally of the load-bearing type with wooden posts, beams and old flooring. Such structures cannot bear loads only because the “use” category has changed. Most users neglect this aspect in spite of rules and regulations and the required implementation (Figure 1, p 16).

Some specific areas of the city consist of unauthorised vertical extensions on existing 70-plus year old buildings. If the population density in such areas is studied, it will not be less than 75,000 persons per square mile. Strengthening and maintenance measures are rarely undertaken in such structures because the landlords plead lack of funds due to the poor rents that they receive. The cost of such repairs is around ₹ 1,200 per square feet in city area compared to ₹ 2,500 to ₹ 3,000 for construction cost of a new building. The drinking water storage tanks, which are essential in all these buildings, are common additional loads.

Most of these old buildings are “chawls” with a common toilet area. Such areas invariably are beset with leakages which remain neglected and unrepaired over the years. Such unattended deterioration is among the main causes of collapse in most of the cases in the city area. There are buildings where the owner cannot be traced and the ­authorities are compelled to issue notices to occupants. Not surprisingly, the residents are reluctant to even accept these notices. As per guidelines, buildings in theC1 category (buildings that are required to be evacuated/demolished are considered inC1 category; to be evacuated and or partial demolition ­requiring major structural repairs are inC2-A category; no eviction and only structural repairsC2-B category; no eviction and need minor repairs only areC3 category) are considered to be dilapidated buildings and are required to be vacated completely. However, the residents are always reluctant to do so as they lack any confidence that they will come back to newly built premises. The structural behaviour of such buildings is always uncertain and obviously does not care for the prolonged legal outcome. Forcible evacuation thus becomes inevitable.

Internal changes, alterations, modifications without proper advice from a qualified structural engineer are also a common feature in most of these cases. Apart from other reasons for this, there is also a lack of awareness about the importance of a structural engineer’s work and expertise.

Working Conditions

The planning of the repairs to buildings in the city area is a crucial matter. The open space between buildings known as “house gully” is normally meant for the disposal of sewerage water. Usually it is of a very narrow width. If one building is in a precarious condition, it invariably affects the adjoining building. This aspect not only puts structural constraints on repairs, but it also affects the actual execution of work. These factors include the stacking of repair material, its transportation, time restrictions on the movement of trucks, human safety during execution, complaints of noise pollution, safety of pedestrians on the footpath if the building is on the main road, stacking and shifting debris, getting a no objection certificate (NOC) from the heritage committee, etc. The overall 18% goods and services tax (GST) on repair works adds to fund raising woes of the occupants of the building. This factor urgently needs reconsideration in the matter of building repairs.

Again, in general for contractors as well as structural engineers, attending to repairs of buildings in the city area is a great challenge. The already heavy limitations are further enhanced due to restrictions by the traffic police authorities on the movement of construction/repairs material. Occupants object to structural inspections, especially the well-off ones who have made major changes without requisite permission and technical advice. Considering the number of authorities involved, repairs to such buildings is a time-consuming activity, not to speak of the test of patience of the contractors, engineers and the occupants.

As per the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) survey of 2019–20, 467 buildings are included in theC-1 category in all 24 wards. Additionally, 32 buildings are in the purview of the estate department of MCGM (as listed in Annexure 1, there are 499 buildings which are required to be demolished).

The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has declared about 14,000-plus buildings to be in a dilapidated condition.

The shifting of the occupants of these buildings to transit tenements is a sensitive and complicated issue since most of them are reluctant to leave due to lack of facilities at the transit tenements. Presently it is learnt that efforts to construct transit tenements in the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) area are under the consideration of the Government of Maharshtra (GoM) which will meet requirements of alternate accommodation in nearby existing areas, which is an obvious demand so that daily issues are unaffected. More emphasis is required on this issue than coastal road projects at this hour. The Mumbai Vikas Samiti has claimed that about 30,000 units can be built if 100 acres of land is given by the MbPT for this purpose. Of course, to be cost-effective, certain conditions, including waivers, need to be met.

There are proposals of cluster development put forward and which are being considered as a solution to replace the dilapidated buildings. First, an essential requirement is the consensus of occupants of all the buildings that come within its purview. Most of the buildings are of the mixed-use type, such as residential and commercial. In such proposals the reluctance to shift an established business place is one of the main constraints. This is reportedly being experienced in an ongoing project in the Byculla area. Any new development has to be planned with the current development control rules satisfying the minimum area criteria, services like firefighting, water supply, drainage disposal, parking, etc, along with the remodelling of external services to cope up with revised population. It is a very long process which is also influenced by social and political elements in the area.

The cess buildings in the city area come within the jurisdiction of MHADA. The issues described above are common to MHADA also. Complications increase on account of unauthorised construction in such buildings and legally ineligible occupants therein. Providing justice to occupants is not an easy task to tackle. TheGoM could have planned transit tenement reservations in each ward in the Mumbai development plan for 2034 considering such issues in future.

Man-made errors (negligence) are the only causes for the condition of the “dilapidated buildings” in Mumbai. Under such circumstances, one should note that the logic of sending doctors behind bars (for medical negligence) and allowing patients to die is applicable to civil engineering too. The importance of the expertise of this profession (structural engineering) must be emphasised in the public mind.


Updated On : 9th Aug, 2019


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