NOT even a fortnight since the collapse of the 117-year-old Hussaini Manzil in Bhendi Bazaar, residents of four adjacent residential buildings that had been vacated as safety measure have now returned to their homes. While the August 31 collapse and the death of 33 people remain fresh in their memory, the residents said these four buildings were not unsafe.
The buildings are Damarwala building, Oonwala building, Fatima Manzil and Lucky building, all part of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), which is undertaking a cluster redevelopment project in the area. “It was very sad to see people we knew lying dead in the debris and their bodies being recovered one after another. But…we had to come back to our homes. We vacated the building only due to safety measures, our buildings are not unsafe,” said Sheikh Mehdi, a resident of Damarwala building.
Earlier this year, the Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property had given the Central government an approval to take over two properties on Pakmodia Street allegedly belonging to fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim. The Damarwala building was one of them.
The tribunal had declared both properties illegally acquired and approved their takeover under the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of property) Act (SAFEMA), 1976. Notices were issued to the tenants to vacate the building. However, 27 of them moved the Supreme Court claiming long-term tenancies. “Our families have been tenants in this building before Dawood Ibrahim and his brother took it over. The building has not been illegally acquired. We will wait for the apex court’s order before vacating it,” said Mehdi.
Like other lanes in Bhendi Bazaar, Pakmodia Street is thickly populated by Bohri Muslims. Most families live in century-old rickety buildings. However, the residents claim they have spent their lifetime there and do not want to leave the area.
Salman Qazi, a social activist and resident of Oonwala building, said, “Our building is not dilapidated; those claiming so will have to give us a fresh structural audit. We have got plastering done recently and will not vacate until the audit shows our building as highly dilapidated.”
Following the Hussaini Manzil mishap, Minister of State for Housing Ravindra Waikar had instructed MHADA authorities to ask SBUT to carry out maintenance and repair of other buildings in the vicinity.
The residents are hoping some maintenance and repair works would now be undertaken, especially on the upper floors facing leakages.
Aasma bi, a resident of Fatima Manzil, said, “We have children and we live with joint families. We cannot move to a relative’s home or into transit camps, which are too small for us. There are leakages in a few houses but the building isn’t dilapidated.”