Amid three inquiries; court orders on land acquisition; suspension of two government officials; arrests of four property dealers and alleged land owners; and complaints about unauthorised construction, the Shahberi building collapse raises a basic concern: Who was responsible for inspecting these buildings and how were they allowed to come up?
“On July 17, two buildings in Shahberi village of Greater Noida collapsed. Prima facie, it is clear that the building layout plans were not approved by the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA), and no application for their approval was submitted,” said an order from the GNIDA CEO issued Wednesday.
It also called for the setting up of a four-member committee to stop illegal and unauthorised construction in its jurisdiction.
In an official statement, the CEO added that while the village was notified under Phase I of Greater Noida area, this notification was quashed by the Supreme Court on May 12, 2011.
In the aftermath of the collapse, four of the 24 people named in the FIR were arrested. Police said those arrested include Ganga Shankar, one of the four owners of the plot of land where the illegal five- and six-storey buildings had come up.
Who was accountable for the haphazard construction which took place over around 150 hectares of land — this is one of the terms of reference in the inquiry initiated by the district magistrate into the incident.
“Are both buildings under the notified area of GNIDA? If yes, then is it necessary to get a no-objection certificate as per the building bylaws for any construction work in Greater Noida area? If yes, then was an NOC taken?” the DM’s order said.
It also asked if the Authority’s building department had made any attempts to stop unauthorised construction in the area.
Officials said in the last six years, multiple-storey buildings mushroomed across Shahberi village, which were surrounded by high-rise housing societies in Greater Noida West. Unlike the high-rises, the layout plans of these buildings were not approved by authorities. As a result, no sewer or water lines were laid, and no roads built.
“The GNIDA acquired land in Shahberi under the emergency clause of the Land Acquisition Act. This was challenged by the landowners, mostly farmers, in court. By 2011, the Allahabad High Court as well as the Supreme Court quashed the land acquisition. The ownership went back to the people, and they were asked to return the compensation given by the Authority,” said a senior government official.
“The people did not seem to want development in the area… As per the master plan, land use remained residential. Meanwhile, they started selling land to small builders who constructed these multi-storey buildings without any adherence to building guidelines,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
In the absence of any governmental checks, construction continued unabated. “For approval of a building plan, the soil density is checked to ascertain the FAR (floor area ratio), and nine-metre-wide roads are then built. Here, 7-8 storey buildings were constructed along unpaved paths which were not even seven metres wide. The construction was carried out illegally. With no sewer and water lines, roads and non-adherence to rules, this kind of tragedy was waiting to happen,” the official added.