Ten people died, nine were injured and 30 were feared trapped after an illegal extension of a 100-year-old four-storey building collapsed in south Mumbai Dongri area on Tuesday morning, spotlighting the decaying infrastructure of India’s crumbling financial capital that is corroded by poor oversight and monsoon showers.
The extension of Kesarbai building, which housed 16 families and four shops on the ground floor, caved-in at around 11.40am, causing tremors in several dilapidated buildings in the low-income neighbourhood in south Mumbai, which also houses some of the city’s most upmarket areas. Chief fire officer P Rahangdale said many adjoining buildings were rendered unstable, and had to be evacuated. Some part of Kesarbai building was left standing after the collapse.
Cramped and crowded lanes leading up to the site made it challenging for rescue equipment to reach the building, added Rahangdale. Rescue personnel were seen clearing rubble and cutting through iron girders by hand, and taking the help of local residents, who had formed a human chain, to pass the debris.
“My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted earlier in the day. “I hope the injured recover soon.” Union home minister Amit Shah called the collapse “ very tragic”. “Rescue operations are in full swing,” he added. There was no clarity on the number of people stuck under the rubble, which was yet to be fully cleared at the time of going to press even as rescue operations were in their tenth hour. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis said the building was roughly 100 years old and illegal, promising that an inquiry will be ordered.
As night fell on the city, hundreds continued rescuing people from under the rubble of the building, located in a bustling lane off Tandel Street. Television channels showed dramatic visuals of a child, wrapped in a cloth, being carried out of the debris by rescue workers. The child is alive, officials said.
Building collapses are common in Mumbai during the June-September monsoon season, when heavy showers lash India’s largest city and weaken the foundation of already decrepit structures. Earlier this month, multiple wall collapses killed 27 people. This was the deadliest collapse of a building since September 2017, when the 117-year-old Husaini building crumbled in Bhendi Bazaar, killing 33 people.
Moreover, ageing infrastructure, poor planning and a maze of conflicting by-laws, building codes and jurisdiction mean that no single authority is responsible for the upkeep of structures, leading to a cycle of accusation after each tragedy.
This was on display on Tuesday. Within minutes of the collapse, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) clarified the building was owned by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). It also confirmed that in July 2017, the BMC brought to the Mumbai’s building repair and reconstruction board’s (MBRR) — a wing of MHADA — notice that the building was dilapidated and unfit for habitation. A senior BMC officer told HT, “There is no doubt that the collapsed Kesarbai building is owned by MHADA.”
Hours later, Vinod Ghosalkar, chief of the MHADA repair board, denied that the agency owned the building. “So the responsibility of evacuating it or taking action against any persons for its collapse does not rest with MHADA. This is an illegal building, even though it is in the middle of MHADA colony in Dongri,” he said. State housing minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who visited the spot in the afternoon, said, “The building is illegal, and it is privately owned. We are probing about who will be held responsible for the collapse.”
Residents of neighbouring buildings recalled hearing a loud boom. Abdul Gaffar Shaikh, 85, who lives in nearby Kasai building that was among those vacated, said, “Our building experienced tremendous vibrations when the other building collapsed. Everything shook.” BMC opened a shelter centre at nearby Imamwada School for residents of nearby evacuated buildings to take shelter.
Congress leader Milind Deora said it was time for the people of Mumbai to seek an explanation from the government. “This is unfortunately something that happens in Mumbai every year during monsoon. Walls collapse, there are potholes on roads where people die and young boys fall into manholes,” he added.
(With agency inputs)
First Published: Jul 16, 2019 23:51 IST