COVID-19 in Mumbai: Many city buildings are broken, but can't be fixed yet

Updated: Apr 24, 2020, 07:24 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Many city buildingshave removed outer plaster for monsoon; face a leaky June

Rekhi Sai Daffodils has been undergoing repairs since January
Rekhi Sai Daffodils has been undergoing repairs since January

The lockdown has brought major pre-monsoon repairs of many residential buildings to a halt in Mumbai and MMR. Hundreds of buildings have had their external plaster removed or have broken terraces because of incomplete waterproofing work.

Contractors and civil engineers had assured people of completing the work before the onset of monsoon. But residents are worried that if the work doesn't happen, they will not have to battle Coronavirus, but also manage in damp homes with seepage. Such living conditions, health experts say, will only lead to more respiratory infections.

Health hazard

Dr Wiqar Shaikh, a senior allergy and asthma specialist said, "With seepage and dampness, fungus will develop on walls and will aggravate allergic reactions in the nose and lungs, and in some cases cause asthma attacks. It may also lead to other viral infections (influenza virus, or rhinovirus or adenovirus) which all cause flu-like symptoms. They can be misread as COVID-19 symptoms and cause panic."

"It could cause secondary bacterial infection, which might aggravate existing infections and cause complications such as pneumonia," Dr Shaikh added.

"It is high time that such essential work was allowed to be completed before monsoon. Adequate measures to ensure social distancing between workers can be taken," said Dr Shaikh.

Ketan Bhuva, a technical consultant, who specialises in detecting leakages using ultrasonic detectors thermal imaging cameras, said, "In over a decade, I have inspected over 100 buildings in Mumbai and its outskirts. External cracks may lead to leaks on walls and moisture can cause ailments like asthma and other respiratory issues. The other major concern is internal leakages in bathrooms, toilets, terrace and overhead water tanks, either due to small cracks or major damage to pipes passing beneath the tiles. These are usually ignored by households until water starts finding ways to overflow or spill on to floors below, damaging the concrete or steel. If not attended to in time, this could cause version and weaken the load-bearing capacity of the building."

"If the lockdown gets extended, this will cause more damage to the already weak structures, as rainwater can penetrate already weak structures," said Bhuva.

Daily losses

"Pre-monsoon work at all our six sites in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai has stopped since March 20. We have to pay out workers Rs 600 to Rs 1,500 per day, even if they are not working. Also, we pay a monthly rate of R8 per bamboo and on average, a building of seven floors may need 6,000 bamboos and an eighteen-floor tower will need over 10,000 bamboos, leading to anything between R48,000 to over R80,000 only for the scaffolding. The monthly expense during lockdown is an additional loss of R3 lakh," said Somasunderan Nair, director, Intercons Tectonic (Pvt) Ltd, a Vashi-based engineering and civil construction firm.

Nair added, "We have over 100 workers. Some have already left for their villages in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. I am not sure when they will return and we can resume work."

Nair is concerned about Navre Premises Cooperative society in Sion where he has left the terrace open for waterproofing and about projects where the exterior plaster has been removed. Another worry for contractors is the stock of material such as cement and waterproofing products, which, if not used within a particular time, could become useless. "We have stocked materials worth over crores at each site. Other than workman compensation insurance, we do not have any other insurance cover for the materials," Nair said.

Societies worried

The terrace of Geetanjali building in Ghatkopar West
The terrace of Geetanjali building in Ghatkopar West

Vandeep Shetty, a resident of Geetanjali building, Ghatkopar (W) said, "Our building is over 30 years old. The entire terrace is broken up for waterproofing, which is yet to begin. We should at least be permitted to finish the waterproofing before monsoon sets in so that the upper floors and the building itself do not get damaged. We wrote to the local BMC ward office, which has put our request on hold and is waiting for the government's decision on the lockdown. The labourers stay in our society itself and we have also assured BMC of social distancing while they work."

Asif Dhamankar, secretary of Rekhi Sai Daffodils CHS Ltd in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai said, "Our building is less than 15 years old and the residents are concerned about the substandard steel and concrete used for construction as stated in the structural auditor's report. Therefore, we had to go for major pre-monsoon repair work in January."

"The old plaster has come off and eroded steel is visible. The work has come to a halt for the past one month. If the lockdown extends beyond May 3, we are worried the rainwater will damage the already weak structure, cause leakage and further losses to households. The structure remaining open is endangering public life and safety," Dhamankar said.

Kirti Mehta, a BMC architect and resident of Navre Premises Co-operative Housing Society Ltd in Sion West, said, "Ours is a 25-year-old building. While our exterior plasterwork is done, the waterproofing of the pocket terrace and main terrace and painting of the exterior is left. The terrace is exposed and rains will only lead to further leakage. We are concerned about elderly citizens residing in our society. The work was to be completed by May-end."

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