The Telegraph
Thursday , August 10 , 2017

Dangerous yes, but who cares

- Concrete lumps may fall without warning, says sign, but buildings soldier on

Aug. 9: An Esplanade landmark owned by the Centre and housing a post office and offices of several other government organisations has been in a state of utter neglect and posing a threat to pedestrians for years.

The central public works department (CPWD), which is in charge of the upkeep of 8 Esplanade East, has put up a board on the building cautioning pedestrians against passing "through the verandah" as "concrete lumps may fall without any warning".

The notice, which declares the building "dangerous", further states that the CPWD will "not be responsible" for "any untoward incident or accident".

A similar notice has been put up inside the building, too.

The board was put up two years ago and it still hangs, with the central agency pleading helplessness in getting the 120-year-old, five-storeyed building - owned by the urban development ministry - repaired because of the prohibitive cost involved.

"It will cost as much money to repair the building as needed to maintain a Lutyens's bungalow in Delhi. Where will the money come from?" wondered a CPWD engineer. "Given the condition, the lime-and-mortar building needs thorough repairs. Patchwork won't do."

Thousands of unsuspecting pedestrians walk under the portico of the building unaware of the risk and the fact that the maintenance agency, a central government undertaking, has washed its hands of the matter.

"How can the agency tasked with the building's upkeep say it won't be responsible if anyone is hit by a concrete chunk falling off the portico ceiling. They should immediately repair the building," said Subhas Das, a sales professional who walks down the stretch multiple times daily.

"A part of the pavement passes under the portico. If, following the CPWD's advice, I am to avoid the stretch under the portico, then I have to walk down the carriageway, which is dangerous, too."

In the absence of any repairs, the condition of the building has further worsened since the CPWD notice was put up two years ago.

An official of the upkeep agency said 8 Esplanade East was riddled with cracks and had long outlived the age of a lime-and-mortar structure, which is around 55 years.

"In a lime-and-mortar structure, the load of the building is passed to the ground through the walls. This is unlike a modern building where the beams and columns do the work. Large cracks in a lime-and-mortar structure are a proof that the building's structural stability has weakened," a CPWD official said.

A person working in one of the offices in the building said cracks had been appearing for years.

Alok Ghosh, a lawyer who has fought many cases related to building disputes, said the CPWD notice would not survive a legal challenge.

"It is the responsibility of the owner of a building to ensure concrete chunks falling off it do not hit anyone. If someone gets injured, the victim has every right to approach court seeking compensation from the owner," Ghosh said.

A CPWD official said the agency did not have the right to barricade the part of the pavement that is under the portico as the sidewalk is under the Calcutta Municipal Corporation's jurisdiction.

"The onus is on the CPWD to repair or demolish portions of the building they consider unsafe. If they approach us for help, we will consider," a civic engineer said.

The ground floor of the building houses Esplanade Post Office, where hundreds gather every day.

"We work in constant fear. We have alerted our higher authorities and are waiting for an order to shift the post office to another building," an employee said.

8 Esplanade East also houses offices of the Central Board of Film Certification, the department of telecommunications, Niti Aayog and the Press Information Bureau.

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