Most of the newly built houses that were destroyed by the earthquake in the commercial areas of Kathmandu had not followed the prescribed building code, authorities have said.
Scores of houses that collapsed in places like Gongabu, Balaju, Kalanki, Thamel and Chabahil areas had initially acquired
clearance to build two- or three-storey structures for residential use. But the buildings were gradually transformed into high-rises without fulfilling the legal and technical requirements after the areas turned into commercial hotspots.
Bhai Kaji Tiwari, commissioner at the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority, said many houses in the areas were initially built for residential purpose and later put to commercial use. Officials say there has been lesser damage in commercial complexes that had got clearances and met minimum prescribed housing standards.
Factors including weak monitoring, ineffective punishment and lack of expertise encouraged many to add storeys to their houses, according to officials. In fact, the government had decreased the penalty for building code violation after a construction boom in the Capital. Authorities can fine house owners up to Rs50,000 for not following the building code.
“It’s nothing for owners generating almost a million rupees in rent. They would happily pay the fine. And we could not demolish such houses due to resource constraints,” said Tiwari.
Initial assessment of Nepal Police shows that the impact of earthquake was high in areas that saw a building spree in the past few decades. According to the Home Ministry, 1,215 bodies have so far been recovered from the rubble of collapsed structures in Kathmandu .
Among the new houses, according to Nepal Police spokesman DIG Kamal Singh Bom, buildings used for commercial purpose were more vulnerable to tremors than those used for residence.
In case of houses built for renting purpose, owners reportedly tend to avoid engineering consultation and even use substandard material to reduce costs.
Khagendra Bhurtel, a civil engineer with decade-long experience of building high-rises, said various other factors including quality of soil and topography are responsible for the damage. Clay and sloppy land found alongside Ring Road from Kalanki to Chabahil might also be blamed for the disaster.
“But disregard for the building code is the most important cause of devastation in the area. Hardly any house designed by professional engineers has gone down,” Bhurtel claimed.