When will we learn to avoid disasters?

Panduranga Mhaske
Saturday, 29 July 2017

All these buildings were legally constructed, all tenants were well-educated and no natural disaster caused the mishaps. Then who is responsible for the horrifying incidents? The answer is apathy of the civic body towards such buildings and illegal construction within the building and negligence or nexus with anti-social elements causes the mishaps

Building collapses are, unfortunately, becoming routine every monsoon in Mumbai. As Mumbaikars begin to forget an earlier horrifying incident, a new building collapse takes place. It is a nightmare for the residents of the buildings. In the last few years, there have been many such incidents in in Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, resulting in the deaths of over 100 and injuries and loss of property to many residents. 

Tuesday’s building collapse in Ghatkopar in Mumbai, where at least 17 people were killed, once again brings to the fore the issue of the city’s many dilapidated structures and the nexus between the civic officials, local politicians, builders and anti-social elements, who dare to tamper with the original structure of the building for their benefit.

Sai Siddhi building in Ghatkopar, which collapsed on Tuesday, was built in 1980. Part of the structure was being renovated by Sunil Sitap. Sitap, a Sena party worker, owned three flats on the ground floor which he had rented to a nursing home. He now wanted to start a restaurant there and for that, he was renovating the floor. He combined the three flats into one and allegedly removed the pillars of the building to make more space for the restaurant.

Most of the building collapse incidents in Mumbai occur  because of tampering with the ground structure. 

The Laxmi Chhaya building in Borivali collapsed in July 2007, as one Kailash Jain removed the pillars during the renovation of his jewellery shop on the ground floor. This building was constructed in 1990 and collapsed in 17 years. It claimed 28 lives and injured 17. Jain lost three family members in the accident. 

The five-storeyed Altaf Manzil building, located near the famous Mahim Dargah collapsed in June 2013, a day after heavy rains lashed the city. In the collapse, more than 10 people lost their lives. 

In September 2013, a four-storeyed building collapsed in Mazgaon, which left 60 people dead and 30 injured. This building was owned by the BMC and the BMC’s employees were staying in the building.

It was BMC’s market department’s building and the BMC had categorised this building as ‘C-2 B’ (needing urgent repairs), but that was neglected. The tenders for repairs were in process, the civic officials claimed. Officers of planing and design department of BMC visited the building and categorised it as C-2. They couldn’t make out that the structure was weak.

All these buildings were legally constructed, all tenants were well-educated and no natural disaster caused the mishaps. Then who is responsible for the horrifying incidents? The answer is apathy of the civic body towards such buildings and illegal construction within the building and negligence or nexus with anti-social elements causes the mishaps.

In the Laxmi Chhaya building collapse in Borivali, the owner of the jewellery showroom, Kailash Jain was charged with carrying out illegal construction in the old building. Kailash is out on bail and his brother Sanjay has been discharged from the case. The hearing of the case is going on. 

In the Mahim building collapse, the FIR registered against the accused had named sons of the erstwhile landlord of the building, Irfan Furniturewala, Sharif Furniturewala and Mohammed Furniturewala, besides Iqbal Ibrahim, owner of the shop and the basement on the north side, Sandeep Bafna, the lessee of the shop and basement on the south side. The BMC suspended three engineers for negligence. Later they were arrested by the police and released on bail. 

After the Mahim building collapse, the BMC registered an FIR against their own employees and suspended seven engineers for negligence. The police arrested 4 engineers along with the decorator, Ashokkumar Mehta. All are released on bail and the case is pending. 

Now, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced in the Assembly that tampering with pillars of the building or with the original structure of the building will be prosecuted under the provisions of culpable homicide.  The CM announced a structural audit of the building after 30 years of its construction, but there is already a provision of a structural audit of the building after first 25 years and then 15 years and then again after five years. But these buildings collapsed before the stipulated time of the first structural audit. 

Secondly, every time the accused, may be a builder or the person who tampered with the structure, goes scot-free on technical grounds. Many times, if any tenant complains about the illegal alteration of the building, the civic officials neglect it or go for settlement to the person and no action is taken. 

Sometimes, the BMC officials alert the culprits that someone is complaining against them and then the culprits threaten the complainant with goons. As a result, the tenants are not willing to complain against such anti-social elements. 

A report of June 2014 states that between 2008 and 2013, the BMC detected 56,266 illegal structures. Of these, demolition was initiated against  45,000 structures. This was stated by the BMC in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court.

A total of 791 buildings in Mumbai are dangerous to live in. As part of its pre-monsoon preparedness, the BMC identified 791 buildings in the C-1 category - the most dangerous. Of these, it has demolished 186 (23 per cent) buildings and evacuated 117 (14 per cent) buildings as of March-end. Clearly, 63 per cent of the dangerous buildings are still standing on a shaky foundation. 

Timeline of Buildings that collapsed in Mumbai in last seven years

2017 
July 21: A three-storeyed building collapsed in Dharavi, injuring all 12 male occupants.

2016
December 15: A single-storeyed building collapsed due to a cylinder explosion at Mankhurd. The incident left three dead and 12 injured.
October 16: A five-storeyed building collapsed in the suburb of Bandra, killing six children.
July 31: A building collapsed in Bhiwandi. Eight people died.

2015
August: A three-storeyed building collapsed in Thane, which left 12 people dead.
July 15: A two-storeyed building partially collapsed in Thakurli in Dombivali, killing nine people. 
September 27: A four-storeyed building collapsed in Mazgaon, leaving 60 dead and another 30 injured.

2013
April 4: Lucky Compound at Mumbra in Thane collapsed, killing 72 people including 11 children. The building was under construction.

2012
December 4: One office building in Lower Parel collapsed, which left two dead and six injured.

2011
September 23: Six people, including three minor girls, were killed in Bhayandar (East) when a three-storey building collapsed.

2010
October,8 : A CNG cylinder exploded in Bhendi Bazaar, causing a building to collapse, killing five and injuring 26 people.
 

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