The Bombay High Court Tuesday directed the Mumbai Police not to take coercive action against lawyer Sindha Sridharan, named as an accused in the FIR lodged following the collapse of the Shankar Lok building on the adjoining Catherine Chawl in Vakola on March 14. It also questioned the role of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials in the collapse.
Shirdharan, whose sister Sudha was among the seven people killed in the collapse, told the court that there was a threat to her life. Seeking protection from arrest, Sridharan told the court, “I am being targeted. There is a threat to my life. They will murder me in custody.”
She said she should be allowed to carry on with her proceedings before the court in which she had challenged the “high-handedness of the BMC, the local corporator and land sharks who wanted to grab the property and tried to dismantle the building.” She added that she had sought an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the “racket”.
“Today I am a victim. I have lost my sister. My articles are under the debris, I have no roof over my head, no clothes and for no rhyme or reason there is an FIR against me,” said Sridharan, who faces charges of culpable homicide.
In an interim order, Justices Anoop V Mohta and M S Sonak asked the police not to take coercive against Sridharan, BMC officials, their legal department or the owner of the building. The court, however, said the corporation cannot place the entire blame on Sridharan.
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“Will you blame only the petitioner (Sridharan)? Why not officers of the corporation? According to you this happened for the first time in the history of Mumbai? Why target just one or two people? You can’t blame one party in this matter,” Justice Mohta told the BMC.
The BMC’s counsel Anil Sakhare told the court that another bench of the court had already observed that the BMC cannot be held responsible for any untoward incident as Sridharan had been living in the dilapidated building at her own risk. The corporation had maintained that it had issued eviction notices to the residents but Sridharan, who refused to vacate, had obtained an injunction from the court.
Sridharan said she had obtained a stay on the eviction notice in March 2010 and the BMC had challenged it only in 2013.
“If the corporation was desperate to demolish the building, someone needs to challenge it (stay order) or not? At present no one is in a position to deny that in three years nothing happened,” the court said.
The court also asked how the corporation or the owner of the building Ashok Mastekar propose to rehabilitate Sridharan. Stating that there were no such norms, Sakhare said, “Building collapse is a rare thing.”
The court retorted, “What rare thing? Every month there is one building collapse.” Sakhare, however, clarified that Shankar Lok was a private building and not corporation-owned.
Mastekar’s lawyer Nilesh Das told the court that he did not recognise Sridharan as a tenant as the premises she occupied were originally a car-park.
“And still you waited for her to vacate? We will hear all your excuses now. What must have happened is very clear now,” Justice Mohta said.
Das, however, offered to pay Rs 8,000 as rental expenses to Sridharan until her tenancy is decided or a lump sum of Rs 10 lakh. Sridharan, however, said the amount was insufficient.
“This is a matter of settlement. No point in contesting,” the court said. The judges issued notices to respondents including Vaibhav developers, who had entered into a development agreement with Mastekar, Shiv Sena corporator Sunaina Potnis and her husband and former corporator Sanjay Potnis. The case will be heard further on April 15.