Wellawatte building not according to stipulated instructions - Minister Ranawaka | Sunday Observer

Wellawatte building not according to stipulated instructions - Minister Ranawaka

Operations to find the bodies of the two missing people believed to be under the rubble of the Excellency Hall in Wellawatte which collapsed on Thursday morning (18) went on till late last evening.

According to the OIC in charge of Wellawatte Police, Kapila Jayamanne, a male and a female, identified as a waiter and a labourer were later located ten feet below the rubble.

The waiter, Ramar Niroshan’s uncle Paramesh arrived at the site upon hearing that his nephew is missing. Two days after the incident he is still lingering outside the cordoned area waiting for some news.

Paramesh says his nephew is still stuck under the rubble. Niroshan is his brother’s son and has been working at the Excellency only for about a month. The 20 year old, a resident of Hatton came to Colombo in search of employment.

“He was hired to carry out odd jobs in the building including serving. He went to work on Thursday and then we heard this news,” Paramesh said.

For one of the neighbouring residents near the Excellency, who wished to remain anonymous, it was a busy morning as she was having guests over when the incident took place. “This happened around 10.30 in the morning and we were inside the house. We heard what could be explained as a loud thundering noise but it was very dissimilar. We walked out of the house to gather what was happening, and all we could see was smoke,” she explained.

According to her the rumbling noise which engulfed the area was terrifying.

“We had children at home, they screamed and started crying even before they saw what had happened.” The smoke that covered the whole area had disappeared within a matter of five minutes unveiling the rubble of the collapsed building.

“It was a very sad sight. Since I live only fifty feet away, the only thing that separates my house is the canal; my whole house was covered in dust. We had food served and it too was covered in dust. We had to throw away the food and buy from out. ”

The construction of the seven storey building started in 2009 after approvals were obtained for its plans from the relevant local authorities. They had failed to obtain subsequent compliance approvals, Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Champika Ranawaka explained at a press conference held on Friday.

“The seven storeyed building that collapsed in Wellawatte has not been constructed according to the stipulated instructions. Therefore, the standard of the building was not satisfactory,” Minister Ranawaka said.

Construction industry experts were of the view that the government should be held responsible as industry regulations have not been passed and enforced at present.

“This is the first time that a major collapse of this nature happened in the recent past. However, the construction industry experts foresaw this as the construction industry is not regulated properly. Though the new version of the Construction Industry Development Act was passed in 2014, the enabling regulations have not been passed for the last two years,” Chamber of Construction Industries CEO Eng. Nissanka Wijeratne said.

The Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) cannot implement their mandate due to the non-passage of regulations. The main purpose of the CIDA is to regulate, monitor and develop the construction industry, he said.

According to the information available, the collapsed building was constructed by a wayside contractor and there were no qualified engineers to carry out the necessary activities. The foundation of the building was not strong enough to hold the seven storeys and this may be the reason for the collapse,” he said.

Emphasizing that the building was not properly constructed, Eng. Wijeratne said, most apartment buildings and restaurants need to be monitored for safety.

“At least now, housing and other construction activities should be properly regulated. The government needs to enforce the regulations and implement them. It also needs to strengthen the capacity of the CIDA,” he said.

Another grave breach of law was that constructions which took place subsequent to the initial phase had encroached into the reservation that was between the building and the canal.

“The reservation ought to have been 21 feet, as per the local authority regulations, the distance between the building and the canal was also subsequently encroached. The building consists of seven floors. Initial investigations revealed that the collapse was due to a structural failure. This incident resulted in damaging the adjacent building too,” the Minister said.

This has opened the eyes of relevant authorities to illegal constructions that are scattered throughout the country and the failures and lacunas in enforcing the laws.

The Urban Development Authority conducted a census in February in the Wellawatta and Bambalapitiya areas which found that around 1,800 buildings have been built illegally.

According to the Minister, the IGP has been informed to take necessary action on these illegal constructions. The Minister further ensured that persons who are responsible for this will be dealt with severely under the Penal Code.

According to police records 35 persons had entered the building, identified mainly as employees.

“There were no functions scheduled for that day but most of them were preparing for a wedding that was to take place in two days,” OIC Jayamanne explained. The 21 persons who were rescued from the rubble had been transferred to the Colombo South Teaching Hospital and the National Hospital.

Pix: Malan Karunaratne