Roof unsafe over Prime Minister's head

New Delhi, Jan. 31: If those in charge of running India are looking to set their house in order, they know where to start.

The Prime Minister's 7 Race Course Road residence. And a touch of concrete should work wonders.

Nearly 500 bungalows in Lutyen's zone, including Manmohan Singh's official dwelling, have been found to be structurally unsafe.

All these houses came up between 1912 and 1930, when concrete was not used for construction. The structures are made of mud and, by modern building standards, have been found to be unsafe.

The list of 487 bungalows also includes the 10 Janpath home of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and the houses of a host of ministers.

For the past five years, a note prepared for the cabinet on "rebuilding" the unsafe bungalows has been doing the rounds. But the urban development ministry, the parent ministry for the central public works department (CPWD), has not yet decided whether to place the note before the cabinet.

"Other than structural safety, these houses have outgrown their lives. Most of them leak and get damp in rain. We will end up spending much more on their maintenance over the years," said a senior engineer.

The issue first cropped up in 1999, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. A survey to assess the structural safety of Lutyen's bungalows followed in 2001-02. Based on the survey's findings, the CPWD came up with a detailed report by 2004.

The report identified most of the 1,200 bungalows ' spread over 2,800 hectares in the heart of the city ' as unsafe, but suggested rebuilding 487 in the first phase. The bungalows have to be pulled down and rebuilt, it said, and added that it would cost around Rs 3,000 crore.

The public works department proposed completing the work in 20 years, taking up two bungalows at a time.

Over eight years have passed since and the cost of building materials has gone up apart from labour and other expenses.

The cabinet note also says the houses need to be rebuilt because of increasing complaints from VIPs over their condition. But the urban development ministry appears to be hesitating.

"Dismantling these houses will mean the VIPs will have to be accommodated elsewhere. No one wants to face the discomfort of shifting. Then, security clearance is mandatory for any such move. Overall, it involves a gigantic exercise and there is inertia within the government to undertake it," said a senior ministry official.

Till the ministry decides to go ahead with the rebuilding, the public works department has to go on pumping in money to maintain these bungalows.

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