In most housing complexes built by Delhi Development Authority (DDA), there is a sinister structural flaw hiding in plain sight. But most of the times, instead of recognising it, we just duck our heads in the face of it and carry on with our routine lives.
We are talking about the lack of headroom - or vertical clearance, in engineering terms - on the staircases and entries of many housing pockets in Delhi.
The minimum height requirement for these areas is 2.2 m (7.2 ft), according to the National Building Code (NBC), but most of these buildings barely manage a 2-m headroom. This reeks of corruption, as no building without the minimum height requirement is supposed to get clearance from the NBC.
A housing pocket allotted in 2011 in Sector 26 Dwarka, Bharthal Village, is a stellar example of such a structural flaw in building design. In this 834-flat-strong LIG housing project, a 6-ft-tall person cannot walk up the stairs without the constant fear of hitting their head against the low ceiling.
Sanjay Singh, a resident of the LIG society, said, “DDA has cheated us. I am 5 foot 9 inches, and even I can’t use the stairs freely.” Singh said that the subject was brought to DDA’s notice but that it didn’t even respond to it.
A former DDA chief engineer told City Spidey on condition of anonymity that this kind of structural flaw was first noticed way back during an inspection in the 1980s by the then vice-chairman. “This was quite common in old flats, but DDA has rectified it in the newer flats,” he added.
However, even in flats built after 2000, the problem persists. Even the staircases in DDA flats in sectors 11 and 12 have hardly any headroom.
At Surabhi Apartments, Sector 12, the headroom in staircases on the ground floor and that on the first are different – but both below the 2.2-m mark. A DDA engineer measured it and said the headroom on the ground floor staircase was about 1.84 m, whereas that on the first floor was about 1.72 m.
Same is the case at Dwarkadheesh Apartments in Sector 12. Anjana Sinha, a resident of the society, is 5 foot 4 inches tall, but even she has difficulty trying to navigate the stairs.
DDA, surprisingly, accepted the flaw in design, saying these crept in during the architectural drawing stage. They also accepted that poor monitoring and lack of proper inspection of the buildings were to be blamed. One of the engineers also said that such architectural flaws could be seen in Rohini buildings as well.
An expert in civil engineering and design working in the public sector, Anuj Sinha, shed light on the flaw. He said, “The standard headroom should be 2.1 m to 2.3 m. If the headroom is any lower, the architect is to be blamed. However, the executive authority must ensure that the minimum height is being maintained during construction. If he sees such a thing happening, he should approach the architect and the structural designer.”
He added, “Lack of headroom creates a psychological fear among residents who need to constantly be aware of the speed at which they are going up or down the stairs. Also, in case of incidents such as a fire or an earthquake, this will restrict normal movement along the staircases and may lead to a stampede.”
“The architect and the chief engineer of DDA are responsible for these flaws. However, the contractor is equally responsible, as he has to provide a sufficient number of engineers at the site to oversee construction. These flawed staircases can’t be tweaked or improved, just demolished and rebuilt,” he said, in conclusion.