Mumbra house collapse toll reaches 58

Builders face culpable homicide charges,civic officials say poor,illegal construction rampant in the area

Written by Express News Service | Thane | Published:April 6, 2013 4:37 am

The death toll in the “pancake” collapse of a seven-storey building in Mumbra rose to 58 by midnight Friday as bodies continued to be found in the debris. Sixty-one people had been pulled out alive,Alok Awasthi,commandant of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF),said.

The NDRF,fire brigade and local people continued to search for survivors. Life sensors had been employed at the site and cranes were being used to remove massive chunks of rubble,but the 45-member NDRF team was still mainly chipping away painstakingly with hammers and chisels,an official said.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,who visited Mumbra during the day,informed the state Legislative Council in the evening that Thane had 57 “very dangerous” and 1,159 “dangerous” buildings that were illegal,and in which nearly 88,000 people lived.

The illegal building that fell like a house of cards on Thursday evening had come up in barely three months. It was fully occupied,even though construction was not yet complete. The chief minister announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for each of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

Police have slapped the charge of culpable homicide on the builders,Jameel Qureshi and Salim Sheikh,who are on the run. The government has suspended a senior police inspector of the Shil-Daighar police station and the deputy municipal commissioner of zone 1 of Thane Municipal Corporation.

Till late on Friday,the government was not sure whether the collapsed building stood on forest land or tribal land. “The available records do not make the survey number of the plot very clear,and we cannot ascertain whether the plot falls under forest area or tribal area,” Chavan said.

He added that if the building was found to have come up on forest land,the regional forest officer too would be suspended.

Municipal Commissioner R A Rajeev said,“There are at least 2,000 illegal buildings in Mumbra,which is one of the most difficult areas under the Thane Municipal Corporation.” He said tenants and builders often collaborate to bypass the law,and use Mumbra’s predominantly Muslim demographic to pressure the administration.

“Construction happens mostly without architect consultancy and planning. The tenants help the builders bring in raw materials. When civic officials go for demolition actions,people collectively come together and start offering namaaz loudly,” Rajeev said.

Chief Minister Chavan conceded that the problem was complex,and the state was not sure what it should do. “Do we regularize those illegal buildings that are in a good condition and demolish the illegal ones that are dilapidated? What do we do about the rehabilitation of thousands of people currently living in these buildings?” he asked.

Chavan said that in the longer run,schemes for slum rehabilitation and cluster redevelopment would have to be introduced in Thane.

A Thane Municipal Corporation official said the building had no occupation certificate for residents. Four of its 36 flats had been let out to coaching classes. The builder had let people occupy the flats to thwart possible demolition by the civic body,the official said. Some residents in fact paid no rent,only water and electricity charges,he said.

Municipal officials said it normally takes at least 20 days for a slab in a new building to set; in this case,each slab had been completed in less than two days. This kind of fast,poor construction is widespread across the Mumbra and Diwa belts,they said.

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