The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) inquiry report on the death of noted gastroenterologist Dr Deepak Amarapurkar (58) during the August 29 deluge after he fell into an open manhole has blamed “six locals” for removing the manhole cover. The report released on Friday revealed that these six – police have arrested five men and and searching for the sixth – had opened two other manholes in the area on the day of the heavy downpour and left them unattended.
Following Amarapurkar’s death, the civic body had faced flak for “negligence”. Dr Amarapurkar’s body was found on August 31 at the Cleveland drain in Worli. The fact-finding committee headed by Vijay Singhal, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Eastern Suburbs), appointed by BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, has let the BMC employees off the hook basing its finding on CCTV footage of the area. The report was submitted to Mehta and Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar on Friday.
The report states: “The staff of G/South ward, where the incident took place, and SWD central agency were on duty that day and attending various spots of flooding and areas hit by traffic snarls due to water-logging like the Bandra Worli sea link. The job slips of the staff concerned and the CCTV footage and their statements confirm that BMC staff did not remove the manhole cover. Thus, BMC staff is not responsible for the incident.”
The report stated that around six locals – no one is named in the BMC report – were seen illegally opening the storm water drain (SWD) cover on August 29 using an iron bar to allow the water to recede. The low-lying area of Elphinstone Road was flooded after parts of the city recorded 315 mm rainfall on August 29, the city’s highest since 2005.
These men, the report stated, opened three manhole covers between N M Joshi Marg and Senapati Bapat Marg. CCTV footage shows these men opening the first manhole marked MH-25 (the one Dr Amarapurkar fell into) on S L Matkar road near the Senapati Bapat Marg junction at Elphinstone Road. They are then seen moving towards another manhole marked MH-33 and opening it.
They further move towards the N M Joshi Marg and open the third manhole marked MH-29, the BMC report stated. According to the report, the men opened these manholes and a water vortex is seen forming due to water gushing into the manholes. However, as soon as it started raining heavily, these men dispersed leaving the manholes open. The Dadar police have arrested five of them, four on Saturday last week, and one on Monday.
The police are on the lookout for the sixth accused. “The BMC has already completed the inquiry. The locals are responsible and not the BMC staff,” said a member of the fact-finding committee. The three-member committee headed by Singhal included Deputy Municipal Commissioner (improvements) CD Chore and Chief Engineer (roads and traffic) VP Chithore. The committee also had four other officers to assist in the inquiry.
In response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association in the Bombay High Court against BMC for “gross negligence” that led to the death of Amarapurkar, the BMC filed multiple affidavits on behalf of its various departments. None of them, however, included any information about the doctor slipping into the manhole while wading through rainwater towards his residence in Prabhadevi on the day of the floods. Bombay HC issues notices to civic authorities, others on Dr Deepak Amarapurkar’s death
Locals refused to give statement: BMC panel
According to BMC officials, most locals of the area where the incident took place spoke to news channels but refused to give an official statement to BMC officials. When BMC officials visited their homes, only two residents interacted with them but declined from giving an official statement.
The police also did not provide an NOC to the Sion Hospital for sharing the post-mortem report of Dr Amarapurkar with the BMC fact-finding committee. A committee member said, “We requested Dr Anjali Amarapurkar (Amarapurkar’s wife) several times to interact with us and give inputs on the entire incident. However, she declined. We even tried contacting their friends who have spoken to new channels, however, they too could not be available.”
Preventive measures suggested
The report includes suggestions from BMC officers and residents, besides those received on social media, to prevent such mishaps. The BMC fact-finding committee has, in fact, focused more on the recommendations for better monitoring of manholes, than fixing responsibility on those who left the manhole open. Members of the committee said they had even put out an advertisement in newspapers inviting suggestions on safer designs of manhole covers on September 9.
“We had given a week’s time for suggestions. We are yet to finalise a design though we have included a few suggestions in the report. The investigation behind Dr Amarapurkar’s death is being conducted by the police and our inquiry can only look into the SWD’s role,” said a member. A suggestion by restaurateur Ketan Kadam recommended a bucket-like mesh of iron rods below the manhole cover. A netizen, Jatin Khandwala, suggested on Facebook a wire mesh cover over manholes.
Satyajit Patil, Assistant Engineer (Solid Waste Management) M West (Chembur) ward suggested that RFID (radio frequency identification device) tags be fixed on all manhole covers, which will alert the disaster management control room as soon as a manhole cover is displaced. He said below the cover, a net or a mesh can prevent people from falling in, while allowing the water to flow.