I browse through BBC News on my newly acquired iPad mini, and my glee at trying out my new toy abates as I read about the horrendous building collapse in Thane, Mumbai that has killed 45 and injured over 70 people. It’s one of those aspects of the construction industry hardest to reconcile, this widespread prevalence of low quality and illegal building practices that goes unnoticed across India, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Whereas preventive measures have been accepted as necessary by citizens in the field of health (think immunisation, health check ups) to some extent, an investment in quality and safety while constructing a roof over their heads does not seem to command high priority for the masses in India. This has been the experience of many organisations like mHS that work in the field of mass housing. Increased pressure on urban land and rising home prices make it imperative to find policy measures that enforce minimum standards for construction but also find ways to offer cheap and widely accessible technical assistance to all those who build their homes. Plus strict penalties for contractors and builders who indulge in malpractice.
On another note, I was amused to see in this morning’s paper that Google is facing a police enquiry basis a complaint from Survey of India because they consider their Mapathon contest a threat to national security. As planners, community-driven mapping is a powerful tool we use to help prioritise and even design interventions. If calling upon people to map their neighbourhood is illegal, then the profession of planning is illegal too! And if city maps that mark landmarks and buildings of national importance like the Parliament House are illegal, then the same goes for all those involved in tourism, business development, marketing or indeed anyone who needs to use a map to get around! Bizarre, to say the least!
Not a day goes by when I don’t find one or the other news item in the general news that directly pertains to the work I do as an architect-planner working on affordable housing. Yet it takes me several minutes to explain what I do to most people outside of my profession. Ironic!