Tallest Valley house may be three-storeyedThree storeys. That could be the limit for buildings to be constructed after the April 25 earthquake.
The height restriction, say stakeholders, could help ensure the safety of both the occupants of buildings and that of their neighbours’. Initial assessments by the authorities show that many tall structures built without following the prescribed building code were among the worst-hit during the quake.
“Tall buildings erected in a few anas of land are, for example, unsafe for either their occupants or those living in their vicinity. We have held discussions with other stakeholders to limit the building height to three storeys,” said Bhai Kaji Tiwari, commissioner at the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority.
Officials have been discussing whether the limit will apply to big complexes that are built on bigger spaces following the safety requirements. Commercial complexes may be permitted to build taller structures if they meet all the requirements.
Som Lal Subedi, secretary at the Ministry of Local Development, said there is now a need to perform a major overhaul of the existing building code and its enforcement and monitoring. “It’s not just about limiting the building to three storeys but also about meeting minimum technical requirements in design, construction, permitted alterations and the maintenance of structures,” said Subedi.
Subedi added that the ministry has been assigned to make required changes in the building code. He said that equal consideration should be given to enhancing the building code, provisioning harsher punishment for rogue builders and a better monitoring mechanism.
Although a standard building code is in place, stakeholders say very few houses in Kathmandu Valley have fulfilled all the requirements.
“People want to make houses at low costs, and the developers want to reach for the skies. Many house owners even make compromises on basic ingredients such as cement and galvanised rods. Many don’t hire engineers to prepare house designs. Owners tend to be even more careless if a house is to be rented out,” said Tiwari.
Initial assessments by authorities have found that among the newly built structures mainly those constructed without acquiring municipal clearance were worst affected by the quake. Most of the new buildings that collapsed in areas like Gongabu, Balaju, Kalanki, Thamel and Chabahil had initially got permits to build two- or three-storey structures for residential use, but they were transformed into high-rises without fulfilling the legal and technical requirements when the areas turned into commercial hotspots.
The Ministry of Urban Development says the proposed building code may necessitate the land to pass “risk-sensitive” tests before clearance and professional engineers to prepare a blueprint for buildings.
“People are building homes everywhere without assessing the risk—on top or lap of hills and riverbanks,” said Tiwari. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City has supported the curbs though it wants a different set of rules for big complexes. KMC chief Purna Bhakta Tandukar said shorter houses are safer when an earthquake strikes.
“Discussions are going on and it will take a few more days to decide the code. But there has been an agreement in principle on the need for a better building code,” said Tandukar.