Departmental store was twice warned about constructing warehouse in basement
The basement warehouse, which caught fire on Wednesday morning, had been illegally built and despite multiple notices from the building control authorities, it was not demolished, SAMAA TV has learnt.
A fire had erupted in the basement of a residential high-rise complex located at the intersection between University Road and Shaheed-e-Millat Road, opposite Karachi’s Central Jail, on Wednesday morning. A warehouse set up by a departmental store operating in the building contained flammable materials including cooking oil, ready-to-wear garments and other food and non-food goods.
Due to a lack of ventilation and access points, firefighters were challenged to put out the fire which continues to rage for over 36 hours.
However, it has now emerged that the warehouse built in the basement was constructed in violation of the building control laws and the approved layout of the building.
An officer working in SBCA’s District East officer told SAMAA TV, on the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media, that the authority had served the owners of the departmental store two show-cause notices over a year ago.
“They did not respond to the show-cause notices issued by SBCA,” he added.
One of the show-cause notices, a copy of which was seen by SAMAA TV, was dated January 27, 2021.
Titled, “Construction in violation of approved building plan”, the notice had been issued by the SBCA Jamshed Town-II assistant director, and read that this was the “final show cause notice”.
It referred to an earlier show-cause notice issued to the owners, occupants and tenants of the building, that construction had been raised on the site “in violation of approved building plan from the competent authority”.
Enumerating the deviations, the notice made specific mentions of the conversion of the parking area in the basement of the building into shops and a warehouse.
“Converted the basement area (parking) into shops/store/godowns.”
The notice continued to point toward the misuse of an arcade area.
“Covered the Arcade area at the right side of the building and being misused for illegal commercial activity.”
The notice added that the directorate of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE)
The notice further suggested that the store was operating without obtaining the necessary documents.
“It is also revealed that you have occupied the premises without obtaining the completion plan/occupancy certificate from this authority (SBCA).”
The owners, tenants and occupants of the building were then directed to remove the illegal constructions in violation of the building plan and to explain their position on the matter with supporting documents such as approvals for such constructions.
The show-cause notice had given the owners and tenants three days to comply with that notice. Failure to do so, the notice had warned, would incur legal action.
However, it seems as if the SBCA failed to take any action to remove the illegal structures for over a year.
Empowered in law
The Sindh Building Control Ordinance 1979, which was further amended in 2014, granted the authority power to regulate illegal constructions and take direct action where necessary.
In fact, the law was amended in 2014 to grant, among other powers, specific powers for the authority to take direct action against structures built in violation of the approved building plan.
7-C. Site Development Scheme. (1) Where a master plan has been drawn up and has been approved by the Government with or without any modifications, no owner of land exceeding such areas as may be specified in this behalf in the master plan shall develop the site or erect or re-erect a building on any plot or land covered by the master plan, except in conformity with the provisions of a site development scheme sanctioned for the area in the prescribed manner.
Further, the law granted greater powers to SBCA to act where it found violations.
7-D. Execution of Site Development Scheme. (1) The execution of a site development scheme shall be subject to the inspection of the Authority which may issue such directions with regard to the execution of the scheme as may be necessary and proper for the development of scheme. (2) If any area is developed in contravention of the provisions of approved site development scheme, the Authority may, by notice in writing, require the owner of such area or the person who has contravened the provisions by making alteration in the site as may be specified in the notice, and where such alteration is not made or notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law be carried out or caused to be carried out by the Authority in the prescribed manner, or the Authority may require and enforce the demolition of the offending structure and no compensation shall be payable, therefore, to such owner or person. (3) If an area for which a site development scheme has been approved, is not developed within the period provided in the site development scheme and further extension is not allowed by the Authority or if the development is not in conformity with the Site Development Scheme, the Authority may in the prescribed manner take over the development of the site and execute the necessary works and the cost incurred thereon by the Authority shall be deemed to be tax levied on the owner under this Ordinance. (4) The Authority may for reasons to be stated in writing reject a site plan or a building plan, but any person aggrieved thereby may appeal to government within thirty (30) days of the order of rejection, and the order passed by Government in appeal shall be final. (5) The Authority may sanction a site plan or a building plan, subject to such modifications or terms as may be specified in the order of sanction. (6) Nothing in this paragraph shall apply to any work, addition or alteration which is declared by bye-laws to be exempt. (2) The Authority shall cause every building which has been completed to be inspected, and if it has been constructed in violation or contravention of any provisions of this Ordinance if any, the Authority may require the alterations of the buildings so as to be in compliance therewith, and where such an alteration is not possible, the Authority may require the building or any part thereof to be demolished or, on the application of the owner of such building, compound, the offence of such contravention; provided that no offence shall be so compounded if it involves any violation or contravention of the provisions of a master plan or of a sanctioned Site Development Scheme. (3) If a building is required to be demolished under the provisions of clause (2), and such requirement is not completed with, within the specified period, the Authority may have the building demolished through its own agency and the cost incurred thereon shall be deemed to be a tax levied on the owner or occupier of the building under this Ordinance and be recovered accordingly: Provided that no action shall be taken under this paragraph unless the person likely to be affected thereby is given an opportunity of being heard.
The amended law also granted SBCA powers to regulate ‘ruinous’ or dangerous buildings.
7-F. Regulation of buildings. (1) If any building or anything fixed thereon be deemed by the Authority to be in a ruinous state or likely to fall or in any way dangerous to any inhabitant of such building or of any neighbouring building or to any occupier thereof or to passers-by, the Authority may, by notice, require the owner or occupier of such building to take such action in regard to the building as may be specified in the notice and if there is default, the Authority may take necessary steps itself and the cost incurred thereon shall be deemed to be a tax levied on the owner or occupier of the building under this Ordinance and be recovered accordingly. (2) If a building is in a dangerous condition, or otherwise unfit for human habitation, the Authority may prohibit the occupation of such building till it has been suitably repaired to the satisfaction of the Authority.“