Illegal work in Walled City blamed for Delhi collapse that killed seven

Residents hit out at rampant illegal construction work and call for better regulation of building permits.

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NEW DELHI // The collapse of two houses in India this week, which killed seven people and injured 23, is being blamed on illegal construction within old, decrepit buildings.

A three-storey residential building undergoing renovation caved in on Tuesday night.

The collapse damaged the foundations of four other surrounding buildings, leading to the need to condemn them.

A nearby building has since come down, said Shoaib Iqbal, the local political representative of the Matia Mahal area, where the buildings are located. No one was hurt in the second collapse.

"People want a complete evaluation of the buildings in the Walled City," said Mr Iqbal said.

He was referring to a part of Old Delhi, popularly called the Walled City, where mansions for the Mughal royalty were built during the 1600s. Since then, the area has fallen into disrepair.

Mr Iqbal said he could not estimate how many families occupied buildings that have collapsed or been condemned. "We are starting our own surveys to see how many people will be affected if they are to be relocated when the houses are torn down and rebuilt," he added.

Sheila Dikshit, a state of Delhi official, yesterday lashed out against the Delhi municipality, holding it responsible for granting building permits for shoddy construction work. She said the city had set up a commission to investigate the cause of the building collapse.

"Let us see what they are going to come out with," she added.

Many of the dilapidated buildings in the affected neighbourhood are at least a century old. The area is a landmark of Delhi, famous for the tailors, cooks and craftsmen who live there. Of the 150 homes there, at least 100 were deemed too dangerous to live in, Mr Iqbal said.

"People are worried about the state of their homes," he said. "They are demanding a detailed report of the state of their buildings."

Yesterday, people attempted to sift through the rubble using pick axes and their bare hands. Later in the afternoon, small bulldozers managed to reach the site through the narrow alleyways, which are too small for fire engines to pass through.

Rescue dogs from the canine unit of the National Disaster Response Force sniffed through the rubble, searching for anyone trapped underneath.

Business associations also have voiced growing frustration over rampant illegal construction work. They have lobbied for better regulation of building permits.

"We have no legal powers, so we can only oppose these constructions through requests," said Pawan Kumar, the president of the Federation of Sadar Bazar Traders Association, a market three kilometres from the site of the accident.

"We have similar concerns at the market because that sort of construction is happening everywhere. But the authorities have yet to reply about why they are allowing this," he said. "It is not a matter of anger for us any more. It is turning into resignation."