A week after a portion of Lloyd’s Estate residential towers’ compound wall collapsed into an adjoining pit in Wadala, the Institution of Engineers (IEI), Maharashtra, and the Practising Engineers, Architects and Town Planners Association (PEATA), have decided to press the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to register geotechnical engineers.
IEI and PEATA will hold a meeting on July 3 in this regard. Experts believe registering geotechnical engineers with the government will make them more accountable during incidents like the wall collapse in Wadala.
The two organisations will also push for the registration of geotechnical engineers across the country. But a senior BMC official from the Building Proposals Department said, “There is no need to register geotechnical engineers. Their job is only to survey the soil and the substrata and based on their report, the structural engineer prepares the design. So the work of structural engineers is more important.”
The IEI and PEATA had pushed for registering geotechnical engineers earlier as well. “When the BMC was working on the new Development Plan (DP), PEATA had suggested that they need to begin licensing geotechnical engineers as well, as they are a principal branch of engineering and need to take responsibility for their work. But it seems that BMC did not want to increase licensing and the demand was not considered. But in light of this incident, PEATA and IEI will push for their licensing,” said Dr Himanshu Raje, chairman of structural division, PEATA and honourary secretary for Maharashtra Centre, IEI.
“The BMC had asked for our suggestions earlier and we had submitted them. Now we will discuss how we can take this further in this week’s meeting and we will push for their registration across the country,” added Raje. According to experts, the geotechnical engineer should be held responsible during incidents like the collapse at Wadala as they are the ones who design the underground shore piling. But as they are not registered with the civic body, the structural engineer is held accountable for mishaps.
“The geotechnical engineer surveys the soil profile and provides data for the structural engineer to prepare the designs. So a soil failure is a mistake on their end. But since they are not registered engineers, they are not held responsible. The structural engineer is registered and he or she signs all the documents. So in case of any mishap, he or she is held accountable. There is a need to register geotechnical engineers as well so that the right person is made answerable,” said a senior architect on the condition of anonymity.
Experts say that registration of geotechnical engineers will also help improve their working conditions. “In big cities in developed countries, geotechnical engineers are registered and they have associations. But they are not registered in any Indian cities. While they make the designs, they are not held responsible for it. Since they are not given importance in a project, they are also paid less. Registering them will increase their importance and will help them get better pay,” said a structural engineer who did not wish to be named.
The move will also encourage more people to take up the stream. “Civil engineering is the least preferred stream of engineering as it is initially a low-paying stream, and when it comes to specialization in post-graduation, geotechnical engineering is again the least preferred. If geotechnical engineers were to be registered, more students may opt for it,” said Prasad Zantye, a geotechnical engineer. “In 2001 the tremors of the Bhuj earthquake were felt in Mumbai as well. After that, soil investigation was made compulsory for obtaining the Commencement Certificate (CC). Now they should take up registration of geotechnical engineers and not wait for another incident,” he said.
According to Zantye, the collapse on June 25 in Wadala was a result of workmanship failure and not a design failure. “The telltale signs of the incident were seen much before, and that is why the labour camp was shifted. Otherwise, there would have been a major loss of life. So not only the engineers but also the contractors who do the work need to be registered, as they execute the designs made by the engineers,” he said.
Raje recalled a similar incident in Juhu in which a JCB machine fell into a pit after the concrete reinforcement around it caved-in. “After a similar incident in Juhu eight years ago, it was mandated that the permission of adjacent buildings be sought for anchoring systems. The developers (Wadala) did not want to seek permission of the adjacent buildings and so, no anchoring system was done here and that has led to the collapse,” he said.