Could the demolition of Twin Towers have been avoided?

It is important to consider alternative ways of tackling such situations as violations of building regulations are common, some probably far more serious than that seen in the case of the Twin Towers

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin

Bharat Dogra

On August 28, 3700 kilogram of explosives were used in Noida, adjacent to the national Capital, to demolish two 100-metre tall structures named Apex (32 storeys) and Ceyane (29 storeys), in compliance with court orders.

This came about on the basis of complaints made by some residents of other buildings in the same complex that the builder had indulged in glaring violations of building regulations and failed to honour commitments made to them.

These Twin Towers, it turned out, did not figure in the developer’s original plans and were built on what was earmarked as a green area for the other residents. The residents were, therefore, well justified in moving court for securing justice, and the judicial directive has been praised by many for sending a clear signal that such violations and corrupt practices will not be tolerated.

The question that arises here is whether such a drastic action will be also taken in the case of other buildings found to have been constructed in violation of laws. Can we not find less destructive ways of punishing such violators?

If the construction of the Twin Towers had been stopped before work on them was started, or at a relatively early stage of construction, following the first report or complaint of violations, then the steep economic and ecological costs entailed in carrying out the demolition could have been avoided.

Let us consider a third option, considering the fact that the construction of the Twin Towers had been more or less completed.

Now, if a building is found to be structurally unsafe, which cannot be remedied by any subsequent repair work, then the only solution is to demolish it.

However, if a building is found to be structurally safe, but its construction violated the relevant laws, then the court could perhaps have considered shifting its ownership from the builder to the government or a reputed organisation engaged in public interest activities.

The new owner could, then, have used its assets to purchase land in the vicinity to develop a green space for public use. All those who had deposited money with the builder to purchase flats in such a building would not have had to forego the same as well.

The Twin Towers, in such a case, would not have had to be demolished, preventing the massive dust pollution, the 80,000 tonnes of debris and the endangering of human health and bird life due to the operation that took place on August 28 to bring them down.

While immediate reports suggest that neighboring buildings in the complex are safe, one cannot rule out long-term adverse impacts.

It is important to consider alternative ways of tackling similar situations as violations of building regulations are quite common; if we search wide enough, even more serious violations than what took place in the context of the Twin Towers could surely be found.

This writer had suggested adoption of a similar creative solution when orders were given to demolish many huts and small houses owned by workers and mostly very poor people which had encroached upon a parcel of land earmarked as a green area.

It was suggested that the structures could be left alone, even as all the occupants could be asked to devote one day of volunteer work (shramdan) by one adult member per household per week, on average, for planting trees and maintaining them in a big area near the settlement.

This would have achieved the objective of increasing the green area without displacing anyone, and also provide healthy living conditions to the hut dwellers and other residents of the area.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘Man over Machine’. Views are personal)

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