Regional News

Mumbai tragedy: Debris, death, despair again

Even as the rescue operations at the site where part of Kesarbai building collapsed in Dongri on Tuesday, killing at least 10 people, were on, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) got into a blame game over the ownership of the building, and accountability for the loss of lives.

Within minutes of the incident, the BMC clarified the building was owned by MHADA and that in July 2017, they had brought its condition – “dilapidated and unfit for habitation” – to the notice of Mumbai’s building repair and reconstruction board (MBRR), a wing of Mhada. A senior BMC officer told Hindustan Times, “There is no doubt that the collapsed building is owned by Mhada.”

However, according to a statement issued by Mhada, the collapsed building was illegal, and it was not under their jurisdiction. Vinod Gosalkar, president of Mhada’s repair board, said: “The building was completely illegal, and not under Mhada’s jurisdiction for us to act. Hence, it will not be our responsibility to vacate it. Whether or not it was the BMC’s responsibility, can only be concluded after an inquiry.”

Mhada in the statement said, “Kesarbai Housing society is a cessed building, and is located near an illegal building that collapsed. It was declared dilapidated and vacated in 2018.”

The building that was constructed in the 1940s and vacated by Mhada in 2018 was declared cessed later.

The state, on the other hand, maintained the building was illegal, and not owned by Mhada. Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, minister of housing during a visit to the site of the collapse, said, “The building is illegal, and is privately owned. We are probing who will be held responsible for the collapse, and the number of lives lost in the incident.”

However, Safdar Karmali, trustee of Aloo Paroo Trust, said, “The trust owned both the buildings, of which one was vacated, and one collapsed. The building is legal, and I am paying cess for it. Mhada had also conducted audit of the building seven months ago, but nothing was communicated to us.”

Karmali said, “The redevelopment of the building is stuck for long, and there are problems in carrying out redevelopment of cessed buildings, considering Mhada offers temporary accommodation in Mahul, and nobody is ready to go to Mahul from south Mumbai. Somewhere, it is the government authorities who are responsible for the delayed redevelopment of the society.”

Barkat Umia, from the Aloo Paroo trust, said, “How can the government say it is an illegal building, when they sent us a notice under the MMC Act in 2017, because the building was in a dilapidated condition. The BMC asked the trust to appoint a structural auditor for the building. The trust appointed the auditor in the same month in 2017, who confirmed the BMC notice that the building was dilapidated.”

Umia said the trust then sent notices to all tenants to vacate the building. However, as the tenants did not heed to the notice, in February 2019, the Aloo Paroo trust sent a letter to the BMC, asking it to disconnect the electricity and water supply of the building, to force the tenants to vacate it.

“The BMC still took no action” Umia said.

There are total 499 buildings in the city that are in extremely dangerous conditions owing to their dilapidated status, and require immediate vacation. The BMC declares a list of dilapidated buildings every year before the monsoon.

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