As search operations for those trapped in the Chandivali building collapse continued on the third day, agitated relatives blamed the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for being “slow” in locating trapped labourers, who were part of a demolition procedure when the under-construction Crystal Business Park building caved in Saturday evening.
Laxman Gaundar, whose elder brother Rajkumar Gaundar (53) has been missing since Saturday evening, has been at the collapse site since early Sunday morning. He deputed his own poclain machine and operator, Ramesh Patil, to clear the debris on Sunday afternoon after he says, he saw a sluggish search operation. “I have to find my brother and there was no other way. No government official wants to risk his life,” Gaundar said.
On Monday, locals and relatives of labourers claimed they were handling major work of clearing concrete debris. Lalit Chawla, manager of Chamunda Earth Movers that has provided one construction machine to clear the debris, said, “We do not have the specialisation to provide round-the-clock services. We informed BMC about it. Our work order has also not been prepared. My machine operator is risking his life to clear the debris.”
Chamunda Earth Movers were working in a nearby construction site when the mishap took place and offered one poclain machine to clear the debris.
By late Monday night, locals were able to recover two more bodies of labourers Naseem Akhtar (30) and Manoj Kumar Kanojia (32). Akhtar was a migrant labourer from Malda who was working on site with brother Sharif-ul-Naseem and two brothers-in-law. Sharif is missing.
Nilesh Balshankar, a local who helped pull out two bodies on Monday night, said, “We had to make all the efforts of pulling out bodies. The NDRF and fire brigade only touched them once the body was completely out of debris. All of them were scared the structure may collapse over them.”
Kin of those trapped allege there is delay in procuring heavy equipment. The rescue officials asked for a crane at 6 am, Monday, which arrived 13 hours later. They said there was a delay in procuring a gas cutter to cut through the maze of iron rods. On Sunday, operations were halted midway after the pipe of one machine was damaged and another ran out of diesel.
Fire officials said that the slow mobilisation of equipment was due to the festive season. “Many JCB machines operators and ward officials are either on leave for Ganesh Chaturthi or are deputed for some work,” the official said.
“There is no value of a labourer’s life. If it was a rich man’s life at stake, rescue operations would have been faster,” said Zia-ul-rehman, on-site labourer who was looking for his missing brother-in-law. An apparent lack of co-ordination between BMC and NDRF began to surface in the course of the rescue operations.
An apparent lack of co-ordination between BMC and NDRF began to surface in course of the rescue operations. On late Sunday night, a dispute also arose between NDRF and the Fire brigade when the body of operator Naval Naik was found. Both got their own stretchers and wanted to carry the body. “The body fell on ground in the tussle,” Zia-ul-rehman added.
Officials have been blamed for not keeping equipment on standby. A BMC official said, “These machines have to be lifted onto trailers to bring them to the site. We have to take traffic police permission since such heavy vehicles are not allowed on the city’s roads in the day time.” Pravin Vasawe, from Building and Factory department (L ward), said the premises come under Slum Rehabilitation Authority. “BMC is aiding because it is a local body. SRA is supposed to monitor this,” he said.
Even after civic engineers informed the fire brigade that the remaining structure is unlikely to collapse, fire officials and members of the NDRF team were apprehensive about two large chunks of concrete and metal rods dangling dangerously. “We did not want to compromise the safety of the members of the rescue team and we thus had to wait for the advice of the structural engineer before forming a strategy,” a fire official said.
On-site NDRF in-charge Mahesh Nalvade said, “Our job is to aid in rescue of survivors or locate bodies. NDRF does not have heavy equipment to clear so much debris.”