Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bending rules without breaking them

A lot of road widening has been happening in Trivandrum city during the last two years. Shops and commercial establishments that existed close to the original road boundary had to pay with their spaces. Some lost their shops completely while some lost them partially. Corporation of Trivandrum has strict rules when it comes to modifying existing buildings or building new ones. But quite a lot of the shops and establishments wriggled out of these regulations. One of the most frustrating aspect about city roads is the inevitable traffic congestion that you come across frequently. One simple and effective solution is to widen the roads. Building a wide road across a barren land is easy but widening an existing one right through the heart of a city is tough. It is tough because of the building infrastructure present on the edges of the existing roads.

It is not just tough but it is very expensive too. The Government has to pay a compensation for the part/whole of the buildings demolished as part of the road widening. It also has to pay for the land acquired back from the public. To reduce future expenses and to facilitate easier widening of the roads in the future there is a regulation that says that any new construction has to be at least 5 meters from the edge of the new road. This leaves scope for one more widening exercise in the future without any demolishing.

Road widening is highly beneficial for the public since it reduces traffic congestions, increases parking spaces, provide an opportunity to build bigger and better building infrastructure near the roads. It must be mentioned that the rejuvenation of the 'roadscape' is soothing for the eyes too as the facade of most of the buildings along the roads changes because of the demolishing and reconstruction.

As with any positive action there are some negative consequences for this road widening exercise also. Shops and commercial establishments that were close to the old roads were at the receiving ends in this case. Where ever shops lost parts of their old buildings they had to rebuild. Quite a lot of these commercial buildings were pretty old and any kind of restructuring were out of the question. So the only option available to the old shops was to demolish and build ground up.

Where ever the buildings had enough spare land available for them, they demolished the complete old structure and built their new buildings adhering to the 5m clearance rule. In almost all such cases the new buildings were far bigger and far better than the old buildings. Building these new structures provided the owners and opportunity to upgrade their infrastructure and hence open up the possibility of larger revenues.

Things were bleaker for a second category of building owners who did not have any spare land available for building a new building while adhering to the 5m clearance rule. In some cases the 5m clearance would have completely eliminated the possibility of building any viable commercial structure at all. Being highly resourceful and trained in the art of bending rules these people figured out a work around for this problem.

Corporation rules allow for restructuring and modifying an existing building without having to meet the 5m clearance rule. So they could avoid having to fulfill the 5m clearance regulation by demolishing just enough to give to the Government whatever is required for the new road and then walling up the damage and rebuilding the facade. But there arose a new problem here. The old structures did not allow for massive reworking. Additionally if they did just this they would have forgone an opportunity to increase the rentable area by building multiple storeys.

Most of the buildings of the latter category were very old single storied tiled buildings which did not provide the option of adding a storey or two to the building. To overcome this problem without breaking any rules the building owners demolished their old building in parts while rebuilding a completely new structure capable enough to be multiple storeys in height within the old structure itself. At any point of time the work being done would only be a modification work as the building would have both old as well as new sections. Although by the time the complete work is done the structure would not just be completely new but also would be a totally different structure and with a far bigger rentable area.

Strictly speaking there is no violation of any rule in this process. But there is a violation of the sense of the law. By building very close to the new road the building owners hinder future growth, makes future growth more expensive and make it inconvenient for the public by not being able to provide parking areas. There is also an aspect of unfairness in this breach. The situation is unfair to the people who build new buildings by taking unfair advantage in terms of getting more buildable area. It is also unfair to the general public as it increase a cost in the system through a 'violation' of a law.

Some cases where the building owner is the business owner itself or where an adherence to the 5m clearance would have totally eliminated the possibility of any building at all, might fall on the border of fairness and unfairness. What right has the society to deny a man of his current livelihood for the sake of its possible future growth. Usually if such businesses lose their commercial space it might become practically impossible to find a similarly convenient location and re-establish their business at the new location.

It would have been far better if the government had an option open for the building owners to violate the 5m rule at the risk of not getting paid for their buildings when they get demolished for future road widening. It would also have been nice if the government promoted consolidation of infrastructure during road widening exercises to increase the efficiency of the utilization of the land. If the incentive for consolidation is good enough then people could be lead to doing that without violating the law or the sense of the law.

1 comment:

  1. There is an update related to this issue. It looks like Corporation of Trivandrum woke up to this issue and has decided to take drastic steps against this. For the last three days, under heavy police security, demolition teams from the Corporation of Trivandrum have been demolishing all the buildings which were constructed new under the guise of modification and without proper sanctions in and around Ambalamukku. This however has cost my company a lot as it left us without power supply for one full day and almost half of another day. The whole operation has been very costly for me as well as for the building owners who tried to trick the system but very beneficial to the general public in the long run.