Developer warned about a year back
Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha had served a deviation notice about a year ago to the developer of the seven-storey Asia Haider Tower in Kathalbagan of the capital that tilted and sank into the ground on Sunday night, but the developer had not responded to the notice.
The tower tilted onto a 17-storey building next to it before sinking into the ground by about 10 feet.
Despite receiving the Rajuk notice, the developer Asia Comtech Bangladesh constructed the faulty tower only 17 feet away from the next building. But according to the approved design, the building was supposed to be constructed 25 feet away form the next one, said Aminur Rahman, authorised officer 1 of Rajuk.
The tilted building is among 5,000 such structures in the capital, identified by Rajuk as buildings in violation of rules, and risking the neighbourhoods.
Rajuk did not follow up with Asia Comtech after serving the notice, neither did it demolish the illegally constructed parts of the building. Rajuk Chairman Nurul Huda said with a limited manpower the agency could not possibly demolish illegal portions of all 5,000 errant buildings that had been served such notices.
The agency however did demolish illegal portions of 200 such buildings after the notices had been served since last year. Rajuk will gradually demolish all illegal portions of those 5,000 buildings, if the owners do not correct the faults by the time the demolisher get there, the agency chairman added.
It will start demolishing the errant Kathalbagan building as soon as possible.
"We have issued a letter to the Buet authorities, requesting them to form a team to help us with the demolition, through supervision" said Nurul Huda.
Illegally built portions are not the only fault in the building. From the nature of the accident, experts deduct that the developer did not properly carry out the piling work.
A four-member expert team led by former vice-chancellor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) AMM Shafiullah visited the spot yesterday morning, and identified foundation failure as one of the reasons for the accident, in addition to improper piling work.
According to witnesses, around 11:10pm on Sunday, the building suddenly generated a cracking noise -- alerting its construction workers to look for the source. They noticed that a pillar on the ground floor had cracked and the building had started to tilt. The workers quickly started to abandon the building sending waves of panic through the neighbourhood.
Over the next 25 to 30 minutes, the building gradually tilted towards the 17-storey building next to it, which is also quite a new structure and had some occupants.
Finally the tilting building hit the neighbouring 17-storey structure. The bamboo construction ladder of Asia Haider Tower hit the 17-storey building next to it. According to Buet experts, the impact left a big scar on the neighbouring building.
Then something even more dramatic happened. The tilted building suddenly slid into the ground by about 10 feet. The ground floor of Asia Haider Tower is now completely under ground.
The building was built on a pond filled with sand.
Former Buet vice-chancellor Shafiullah observed that the structure of the 17-storey next door building also formed cracks due to the impact from the huge bamboo construction ladder's hit on it.
"We will be able to tell exactly what happened after examining the tilted building further," he said adding that his team will be formed soon, which will inspect the construction design and the report of the soil test the developer carried out.
M Mahmbul Alam, member (development) of Rajuk, said the developer of the tilted building took approval for the building's layout, but its structural design was faulty, and it also did not carry out proper soil test.
The building was constructed on a pond, but it seems that the developer did not do the piling required to ensure a durable structure.
Aminur Rahman of Rajuk said, "We issued the first deviation notice to the developer on December 21, 2009, and the final notice was issued on December 31."
Haider Ali, who claimed himself as one of the owner of Asia Comtech Bangladesh, told The Daily Star over the phone in the early hours of yesterday, that the building was constructed in compliance with the building code.
"I followed all the rules. The soil was tested before the construction," he claimed.
When asked how the building tilted, if it had been constructed in compliance with the rules, Haider said, "Only God knows how it happened."
In the evening however, Haider Ali could no longer be reached over the phone as his phone was found switched off.
Prof Mehdi Ahmed Ansary of Buet, a member of the Buet team that visited the site yesterday, said as the building was constructed on a wetland, pilings should have gone at least as deep as 65 feet into the ground, but it seems either there was no pilling, or at best those went only 25 feet or so into the ground.
Ansary said many developers and building owners avoid proper piling to save money. Although many carry out soil tests, they do that only to ensure load bearing capacity, but do not pay attention to testing soil consolidation settlement, which is very necessary, he added.
Dr Munaz Ahmed Noor of Buet observed that the foundation pillars of the building's eastern side caved in, making the building tilt. Spectrum Garments building in Savar, and Phoenix building in Tejgaon also collapsed for the same reason.
President of the Institute of Planners Dr Sarwar Jahan said due to a lack of monitoring, this kind of incidents have been happening time and again.
Buildings have been built in the city in an unplanned way, and the authorities concerned are not taking steps to remedy the situation, meanwhile the problems are multiplying day by day, he said.
The housing and public works ministry formed a five-member probe committee yesterday to look into the accident, and directed it to submit a report in seven days.
The committee headed by Housing Ministry Joint Secretary (Development) Md Zillar Rahman will investigate whether the building was constructed in compliance with the approved plan, and whether the soil test was done by the proper authorities.
It will also investigate whether the developer constructed the building following Bangladesh National Building Code, and whether the space where the building was constructed was suitable for such a construction.
Other members of the committee are former Buet VC Shafiullah, an army official from Begunbari-Hatirjheel Integrated Development Project, Dhaka City Corporation Executive Engineer Md Sharif Uddin, and Rajuk Member (Development) M Mahbubul Alam.
Two cases were filed with Kalabagan Police Station yesterday morning against the developer and the landowner of the building.
Rajuk filed the cases against Shamsuddin Majumder, chairman of Asia Comtech Bangladesh Ltd, and landowners Alamgir Hossain et al for not following the building code.
State Minister for Housing and Public Works Abdul Mannan Khan and ruling party lawmaker of the constituency Fazle Noor Taposh also visited the spot yesterday.
Faruk Khan, owner of a flat in the affected next building, said all inhabitants of the 17 flats evacuated on the night of the accident.
"We still do not fill secure to go back to the flats, and will return there only after being assured of safety," he said last night.