Third official report calls for evacuation of Kochi army tower residents; authorities await fourth

Chander Kunj Army Towers at Silver Sand Island, Vyttila. Photo: Onmanorama

Kochi: After Tripunithura municipality and the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), a report from the Public Works Department (PWD) has also called for immediate evacuation of the residents of two blocks of the Chander Kunj Army Towers (CKAT) at Silver Sand Island, Vyttila, citing severe structural distress in the 29-storey residential buildings.

The report submitted by the joint director of PWD’s Regional Design Office here clearly states that occupancy of the buildings poses high risk to the safety of the occupants at their present condition.

"Since the RCC (reinforced cement concrete) elements near to the substructure are under severe distress the structural ability of the building is at risk and immediate evacuation is found necessary before any detailed study to know the exact extent of the damage,” the report reads.

The report was submitted to the district collector on December 21, 2023 based on a visual examination of the B and C blocks of CKAT conducted on November 20, 2023. The joint inspection by experts from different departments was conducted as per the instruction of the district collector who also heads the District Disaster Management Authority.

This is the fourth expert report sharing similar concerns and recommending evacuation as a safety measure. Apart from the reports submitted by the executive engineers of the municipality and the GCDA, an independent study conducted by a faculty member of IIT-Madras had also found structural defects in the buildings.

Entrance to the Chander Kunj Army Towers at Silver Sand Island, Vyttila. Photo: Onmanorama

The CKAT towers were built by the Army Welfare Housing Organisation (AWHO) and the apartments were bought by over 260 families of serving or retired army personnel. The buildings have been at the centre of controversies and legal battles for a few years as defects in construction started appearing soon after the apartments were handed over to the occupants in 2018.

The PWD design office’s report states excessive cracking and spalling of concrete were observed in columns, shear walls and beams in the basement. It said cracks were found reappearing at areas where patch works were done.

Other observations in the report include:
The beam on which the glass doors at entry portion are supported is heavily cracked and the stability of the door cannot be ascertained.

2. Severe cracks were found in the bottom slab, landing beam and landing slab of the stairs.

3. Tenting, popping-up and cracking of floor tiles in the landing of stairs were observed a various locations on multiple floors.

The report also sounds critical of the manner in which de-bonded granite panels on shear walls have been fixed using duct tape. "This pose highr isk to users as in a high-rise building like CKAT as lift and the area near the lift are commonly used by occupants almost all the time,” the report states.

Chander Kunj Army Towers at Silver Sand Island, Vyttila. Photo: Onmanorama

The observations made during the site visit endorse the recommendations prepared by Radhakrishna G Pillai, a professor of Civil Engineering at IIT-Madras.

The AWHO has repeatedly rejected the findings of the purported IIT report, calling it unauthorised. The organisation’s stand is that it is ready to restore the buildings as soon as they get permission from the Kerala High Court or civil administration. The welfare organisation is pinning its hopes on a very detailed report submitted by Bureau Veritas India Ltd, a private firm hired by it to assess the condition of the structures. The firm has reportedly made a plan to restore the building and extend its life by 30 years. A section of the occupants, though small in number, has challenged the findings in the report.

No action yet
Even after three official reports recommending “immediate evacuation”, the district authorities have not initiated any action yet. An official of the DDMA said the authorities are awaiting another report from the buildings wing of the PWD which was also part of the joint inspection in November 2023.

Anti Corruption People’s Movement, a civic group, has written a letter to the state and national disaster management authorities requesting evacuation of the people from the buildings, citing findings in the expert reports. The group, in its letter dated February 18, 2024, has also raised concerns over the crumbling structures posing a threat to the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd’s poperty as the rail lines are passing approximately 40 metre from tower C.

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