Two weeks before the building at Siddhi Sai Cooperative Housing Society collapsed on July 25, the society secretary, Sunil Shitap, had placed an order for 20 iron scaffolding props to hold up the structure after he allegedly cut the reinforced concrete columns on the ground floor.
Shitap, who owned three flats on the ground floor of the building where he planned to build a nursing and maternity home, had allegedly opened up the entire space for the new construction. Investigations have revealed that Shitap had created a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate the construction work and included contractor Anil Mandal, architect Ranjit Agale and several construction material suppliers in it.
Shitap had terminated the contract of Dr Padma Khade, who ran his clinic earlier, and planned to run the new facility himself, the police said. On Monday, the police informed the Vikhroli court that Shitap had placed orders for sand, cement and other fabrication material with three vendors on the WhatsApp group. The police that seized three cell phones belonging to Shitap and Mandal, have taken screenshots of all communication that took place on that group, the officers informed the court.
In its application seeking further custody of Shitap and Mandal, the police also told the court that on July 11, the accused had placed an order with a vendor for 20 iron scaffolding props. On Monday, Shitap and Mandal were remanded in judicial custody till August 19 by magistrate S S Pallod of the Vikhroli court.
According to the remand application, Agale, who is still absconding, called the vendor to rent 20 props worth Rs 100 each. The same day, the police said, Agale sent a man to the vendor’s shop with an advance payment of Rs 6,000. Scaffolding props are iron pipes whose height can be extended with jacks and are used to hold up heavy weight.
“The accused had only rented the props and was to return them to the vendor after the work was done. But 20 props were never going to be enough to support the space where the pillars had been broken, said an officer at Park Site police station, which is investigating the case. The police have so far recorded statements of 30 witnesses and 13 survivors. The building collapse had claimed 17 lives on July 25.
The police have also informed the court that several residents reported hearing loud noise from the ground floor of the building where pillars had allegedly been broken with an electric concrete breaker. The police have recovered parts of the tool from the ruins of the building, along with a board bearing the name of Shitap’s nursing home.